Sitting before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana, was challenged by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on his beliefs regarding climate change and questioned about what, if anything, he would do to protect federal lands from drilling and corporate exploitation.
In his first question, Sanders asked Zinke if Trump is correct when he posits that climate change is a "hoax."
Zinke responded by saying that while he does not believe climate change is a hoax, he qualified that statement by saying he was "not a climate scientist expert"; that he "didn't know definitively" about how much human activity is causing climate change or what can be done about it; and that there remained "a lot of debate on both side of the aisle" on such questions.
"Actually," Sanders interjected, "there's not a lot of debate. The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems."
Sanders looked around at some of his Republican colleagues before adding, "There is a debate on this committee, but not within the scientific community."
Watch the exchange:
On his next question, Sanders asked if Zinke believes drilling for fossil fuels should be allowed on federal lands, an issue which has become a hot button for environmentalists who say that all such activity must be halted if the U.S. is to meet emission reductions in accord with the international climate treaty that was signed last year by President Obama.
"I'm an all-of-the-above energy guy," Zinke responded. Asked if would support wind and solar on public lands, Zinke began his answer, "I would..." but then quickly transitioned to, "all of the above. I think that's the better solution going forward: all-of-the-above energy."
However—and even Obama was also widely and repeatedly criticized on this point—an "all-of-the-above strategy" is regarded by climate experts and renewable energy advocates as a coded refusal to ditch fossil fuels once and for all.
As Zinke's testimony continued, the Center for Biological Diversity released a statement saying that Zinke would be a "disaster" for the nation's public lands, and the animals and people that depend on them.
"Zinke champions turning control of public lands over to states and private interests to greatly increase logging, livestock grazing, mining and oil and gas drilling while significantly reducing environmental protections and public input," said CBD executive director Kieran Suckling. "Under such a scheme, the federal government, taxpayers and wildlife would bear the costs through nominal retention of land title."