‘Electronic measures’ might be best in some areas — Zinke

By Jennifer Yachnin | 03/29/2017 01:24 PM EDT

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed President Trump’s plans for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but cautioned that in some areas — such as the rugged terrain along the Rio Grande — "electronic measures" will be more appropriate than a physical barrier.

Zinke briefly talked about the border wall in a news conference with reporters to discuss Trump’s order to end the Obama administration’s moratorium on new coal leases on federal land (see related story).

Reiterating remarks he made at a meeting of the Public Lands Council in Washington yesterday, Zinke acknowledged the president’s proposal to build a structure along the 2,000-mile border could be challenging but at the same time endorsed the scheme (E&E News PM, March 28).


"The wall is complex in some areas, but I think at the end of the day, what’s really important is the security and to make sure we have a border," Zinke said. "Without a border, a nation can’t exist."

He described his role in the border wall construction as a "supporting position" to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who previously predicted the project could be completed within as little as two years (Greenwire, Feb. 21).

"The president has directed that we build a wall," Zinke said, referring to the project estimated to cost as much as $25 billion. "I am a supporting commander in that role. My job is to help Secretary Kelly, for instance, with consultations with the tribes who are on the border."

The Interior Department manages nearly 800 miles of border territory, or about 40 percent of the border across California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

In addition, within 100 miles of the boundary, Interior oversees more than 25 million acres of public lands, including six wildlife refuges, lands held in trust for four American Indian tribes, a half-dozen national parks and Bureau of Land Management districts.

"I pointed out some of the challenges on it yesterday," Zinke said.

He noted that in some areas, the border is in the middle of the Rio Grande and raised the question of on "what side do you put the wall," suggesting Kelly would decide whether "electronic measures" are more appropriate in those areas.

He also suggested new walls may not be needed in areas with natural boundaries, such as steep cliffs in some national parks.