Washington • Rep. Rob Bishop and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes are reportedly on the short list to replace outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Bishop, a Utah Republican who is losing his chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee when Democrats take control of the chamber next month, isn’t saying whether he’s had any conversations with the White House about taking the job or if he’s even interested.
Reyes, though, says he’s happy to be considered.
“For western America, there will be few decisions as consequential as choosing the next secretary of the Interior,” Reyes said in a statement. “With so many stellar public servants on the short list, it’s an honor to even be thought of as a possible replacement.”
Reyes angled for a job in President Donald Trump’s administration previously and was a candidate to head the Federal Trade Commission. Trump instead picked lawyer Joseph Simons for the post.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL who faced a referral to the Justice Department by the Interior’s inspector general over a Montana land deal he was involved in, submitted his resignation to the White House on Saturday. Trump tweeted about Zinke leaving the secretary’s office and thanked him for his service. The president also tweeted that he’d pick a replacement “next week."
The Washington Post, citing anonymous White House officials, said Zinke was told to resign by the end of the year or he’d be fired.
The Interior secretary had held to his promise that public lands should not be sold to state, local or private interests, but his efforts to shrink national monuments — including shaving 2 million acres from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah — raised alarms with environmental groups.
Bishop, who helped lead the charge to diminish the size of the Utah monuments, would be a prime candidate to lead the Interior Department, which manages hundreds of millions of public lands, mainly in the West.
In the incoming Congress, Bishop will be in the minority and while still the top Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, he won’t be able to guide the panel’s agenda. He said he intends his ninth term to be his last two-year stint in Congress. His office declined to say Monday whether he’s interested in the Cabinet post.
“Whoever is selected as the next secretary of the Interior, they must continue addressing the maintenance backlog on public lands, continue the effort to reorganize the department, and continue to engage state and local officials,” Bishop said in a statement. “Secretary Zinke had the vision to start this process and his successor must have the know-how to bring it to a conclusion.”
Zinke, who will be out by the end of the year, had pushed a reorganization of the Interior Department and touted the idea of moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management out West, where most of the land it manages is located. One of the possible new locations is Salt Lake City or Ogden, a move pushed by Bishop.
Environmental groups, which cheered Zinke's resignation, said they were concerned that Bishop and Reyes were in the mix to take over Interior.
"These are not serious candidates for secretary of the Department of the Interior," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“Time and time again Mr. Bishop has demonstrated his utter contempt for the very concept of federal public lands that are owned by all Americans and managed on their behalf by the Interior Department,” Bloch continued. “For his part, Attorney General Reyes has taken up the mantle of ignominy and advocates suing the United States to dispossess the American public of millions of acres of federal lands in Utah and handing them over to the state. Neither [is] fit to be the steward of this nation’s most treasured landscapes.”