Oil drilling advocate expected be Trump's pick to head Interior Department: sources

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 11:08 AM

By Ginger Gibson and Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is expected to pick U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a strong advocate of increased oil and gas development who is skeptical about climate change, to run the Department of the Interior, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Friday.

The appointment could mean easier access for industry to more than a quarter of America's territory, ranging from national parks to tribal lands stretching from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, where energy companies have been eager to drill and mine.

Three sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Trump was expected to nominate the congresswoman from Washington state to head the department, which is charged with the management and conservation of federally-owned land and administers programs relating to Native American tribes.

The pick dovetails neatly with the Republican president-elect's promises to bolster the U.S. energy industry by shrinking the powers of the federal government, and follows his nomination earlier this week of an anti-regulation climate skeptic, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

McMorris Rodgers, the fourth most senior member of the House leadership, has been a supporter of efforts to expand the U.S. oil and gas industry. She voted for the Native American Energy Act, a bill that was vetoed by Democratic President Barack Obama in 2015, that would have made it easier to drill on tribal territories.

On her website, she also touts her support of the recent repeal of the decades old ban on oil exports, and for a bill to reject the EPA’s Waters of the United States Act as some of her key achievements on energy and environment.

She has also expressed skepticism about climate change, consistently opposing Obama’s measures to combat it, and once arguing that former Vice President Al Gore, a longtime advocate for steps to combat global warming, deserves an “F” in science and an “A” in creative writing.

The League of Conservation Voters, which publishes a score card ranking the environmental record of each member of Congress, gave McMorris Rodgers a zero in its most recent ratings.

"Donald Trump just posted a massive 'for sale' sign on our public lands," the LCV said in a statement about McMorris Rodgers' nomination to the Interior post.

The Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, said it was also concerned that McMorris Rodgers would pursue efforts to sell off federal lands after she co-sponsored a bill in 2011 to place more than 3 million acres (1.21 million hectares) up for auction.

Efforts to reach McMorris Rodgers were not immediately successful. An official from Trump's transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

TRUMP'S DEREGULATION DRIVE

McMorris Rodgers has been a member of the House/Senate energy conference committee, working to pass bipartisan energy legislation that included provisions to boost hydropower and update forest policy. In her role as interior secretary, she would oversee over 70,000 employees.

Trump, a real estate magnate who takes office on Jan. 20, is in the midst of building his administration and is holding scores of interviews at his office in New York.

On Thursday he announced Pruitt as his pick for the EPA, cheering the oil industry but enraging environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers who vowed to fight his appointment.

As the top prosecutor for Oklahoma, a major oil and gas producing state, Pruitt has sued the EPA repeatedly, and is part of a coordinated effort by several states to block Obama's Clean Power Plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

Trump vowed during his campaign to undo Obama's climate change measures and pull the country out of a global accord to curb warming agreed in Paris last year, saying they put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Since the election, however, Trump has confused observers by saying he will keep an "open mind" about the Paris deal, and also meeting with Gore to discuss the issue.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson, David Shephardson and Valerie Volcovic; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Frances Kerry)