Conservation Groups Voice Concern Over Interior Secretary Pick
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to head the Department of the Interior.
McMorris Rodgers, a Republican Representative from eastern Washington state, would be in charge of a department that manages federal public lands and natural resources. That's raising concerns with Northwest conservation groups.
The League of Conservation Voters gave McMorris Rogers' environmental voting record a four percent. Defenders of Wildlife gave her a zero. Kevin Lewis is the executive director at Idaho Rivers United.
"Secretary of the Interior is a critical job when you're looking at managing public lands across the American West," Lewis said. "And for starters, McMorris Rodgers is a proponent of privatizing these public lands and giving them to the states. That's kind of like the fox guarding the henhouse."
McMorris Rodgers is also in favor of keeping four lower Snake River Dams that Lewis said hurt endangered salmon populations in the Northwest. The Congresswoman recently wrote an editorial for an eastern Washington newspaper in which she said she has, "long been a champion of dams" - in part, she said, because they help keep energy bills low.
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation at the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said McMorris Rodgers' voting record shows her support for oil and gas development on public lands.
"She has a very cozy relationship with resource-extractive industries, especially including the oil and gas and coal industries," Caputo said. "So, for example, she last year voted against fracking protections for oil and gas drilling on public land."
McMorris Rodgers also voted for the Native American Energy Act, which would have made it easier to drill on tribal lands. The bill was vetoed by President Obama.
Caputo said the U.S. has strong environmental protection laws, and that conservation groups will use the courts if necessary to oppose steps by a new Interior Secretary that could harm wildlife or public lands.
"If Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers is going to try to implement as Secretary of the Interior the anti-environmental agenda that she has pushed as a congresswoman, then Earthjustice and our lawyers look forward to seeing her in court to stop her," Caputo said.