By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

With members the Montana School Board Association in attendance, a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday approved Rep. Ryan Zinke's nomination to serve as Secretary of the Interior in the Trump administration.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the Montana congressman's nomination on a 16-6 roll call vote. It now goes to the full Senate for final consideration.

“I want to congratulate Congressman Zinke for making history today,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, said during the hearing. “As fellow Montanans, we became a state in 1889, and Ryan Zinke will be the first Montanan to ever serve in a president's cabinet.”

Daines, who defined Montana as a blend “between George Strait and John Denver,” said Zinke brings the right balance to the post.

But Sen. Marie Cantwell, D-Washington, opposed Zinke's nomination, citing concerns over coal policies and Trump's goal to undo environmental protections. She said the residents of the Pacific Northwest want a “fair and judicious arbiter” of those issues.

"The Trump administration has made it clear it wants to pursue an aggressive energy development agenda undoing reasonable protections on environmentally sensitive lands and waters," said Cantwell.

“I know you want to be a Teddy Roosevelt kind of secretary of Interior, but right now you’re working with an administration who, in their own infrastructure bill, say they’re going to pay for it by oil and gas on federal lands. I don’t know where that stops."

During his confirmation hearing this month, Zinke said he would consider an expansion of energy drilling and mining on federal lands, but would ensure sensitive areas remain protected. He also vowed to keep federal lands under federal control and acknowledged that humans contribute to climate change.

Zinke has described himself as an “unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt.” Four Democrats joined every Republican on the committee in backing Zinke. One Democrat abstained from the vote.

“Know that you will have my strong support as we move to the floor,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “I would hope we would see speedy confirmation for both you and the Department of the Interior, and Gov. (Rick) Perry with the Department of Energy. We need to get to work early and quickly to advance some of the priorities that have been laid out.”

The committee also advanced Perry's nomination.

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