Learn about the people in charge of our government’s environmental and public lands agencies.
While a divided Congress has struggled to pass legislation to send to the President to achieve a conservative agenda, the current administration has been using executive powers to enact sweeping changes in environmental regulations, erase climate change from government priorities, assure budgets reflecting a partisan political agenda, and pave the way for increased fossil fuel extraction. The President’s appointments to agency leadership positions clearly indicate energy production as a priority over conservation.
This article is the first in a series of portraits of the people in charge of protecting our environmental and public health. We hope you can use this information to increase your ability to effectively let your voice be heard regarding issues of concern to you.
We will start with the Department of the Interior—the Secretary of the Interior and the Acting Director of the National Park Service. Future editions will include the Department of Agriculture, EPA, and Department of Energy and Commerce.
For clarification, “confirmed” refers to a Presidential Appointee that was confirmed by Congress, “acting” refers to an employee in acting, or temporary capacity that has not been confirmed by Congress. Since acting and deputy directors do not require Congressional confirmation, this administration has chosen to delay or skip appointees that require the public scrutiny of Congressional confirmation. Some acting officials are career employees rather than political appointees; those career employees will be noted as well.
Title: Secretary of the Interior (confirmed)
Areas of responsibility: The Secretary of Interior sets policy for and directs the heads of several
of the land management agencies including US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management
and the National Park Service. In leading these agencies he has the power to enforce conservation laws and determine how public lands will be administered.
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
Official biography: https://www.doi.gov/ whoweare/secretary-ryan-zinke
Conservation background: Zinke served as his home state of Montana’s only Rep. in the US House of Representatives before being appointed Secretary of the Interior by Trump. Though he rode to work on his first day in office on a tax-payer owned horse and invoked Thoreau and John Muir as personal influences, there has been no sign of their conservation ethics in his decisions. He has recommended major changes in boundaries of National Monuments, rescinded the ban on lead ammunition on most wildlife refuges and also rescinded the ban on sale of plastic water bottles in National Parks. More importantly, he has announced measures to increase energy extraction from protected public lands and offshore areas. He is actively diminishing or removing environmental regulations under his authority.
(Paul) Daniel Smith
Agency: National Park Service (NPS)
Title: Deputy Director (and Acting Director)
Areas of responsibility: Directly responsible for managing the National Parks system which includes 417 areas covering more than 84 million acres. In addition, the Director manages several national programs such as the National Natural and Historic Landmarks programs, List of National Historic Structures, Historic Buildings Survey, and National Trails program.
National Park Service
1849 C Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
Conservation background: P. Daniel (Dan) Smith, superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park from 2004 to 2014, was appointed Deputy Director in January 2018. Smith is an odd and controversial choice. He first made his name known when he served as a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration and was sometimes responsible for pressuring agencies to accommodate friends of the administration who were perturbed at regulatory procedures. e Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was engaged to look into an incident where Mr. Smith was involved in pushing the NPS to have trees protected under a Park Service conservation easement cut for the benefit of a wealthy landowner and owner of the Washington Redskins football team, Dan Snyder. In this report, the OIG wrote: “P. Daniel Smith…inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures.” The Bush administration rewarded Mr. Smith by handing him a permanent, high- level Park Service job through a process called “burrowing in,” where political appointees can take permanent career positions at the end of an administration. Mr. Smith retired in 2014, but has now been appointed to head the agency he once tarnished. Retired ranger Rob Danno, who was the whistleblower in the tree-cutting case, was surprised at the appointment and responded to Smith’s appointment by writing: “His [Smith’s] reputation will never recover from the Snyder experience, because he basically sold out the primary mission of the agency.”