WASHINGTON—Donald Trump has selected Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department, according to a transition official, tapping a freshman Republican congressman who, like the president-elect, is often at odds with environmentalists but has opposed efforts to sell federal lands to states.
If confirmed by the Senate, the former U.S. Navy SEAL would lead Mr. Trump’s efforts to open federal lands and waters to fossil-fuel development and reverse environmental policies the Obama administration has pursued over the past eight years.
In the short time he has been in Congress, Mr. Zinke has shown aspirations for higher office. He considered running for speaker last fall, when he had been in the House for less than 10 months.
Mr. Zinke’s selection could indirectly benefit Democrats. Montana’s sole House member, he was potentially a leading challenger to Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), considered one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats, and joining the Trump cabinet could take him out of the race.
Mr. Zinke’s office declined to comment.
The Interior Department has responsibility for energy leases on millions of acres of federal lands and waters around the U.S., as well as for conservation of national parks.
Mr. Zinke, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, has opposed legislative efforts to sell federal lands to states, a position shared by Mr. Trump. Some Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have pushed for more state ownership.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) was considered the front-runner for the job last week and has recently met twice with Mr. Trump. In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Ms. McMorris Rodgers said she was honored to meet with the president-elect and is “energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress.”
Mr. Zinke’s selection completes an initial picture of what Mr. Trump’s energy and environmental agenda might look like. The president-elect has selected Republican Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, picking one of the leading state officials fighting the EPA in court, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Energy Department.
Taken collectively, the selections suggest Mr. Trump will follow through on his campaign promises to roll back Mr. Obama’s regulations, although the individuals aren't as far to the right as some predicted Mr. Trump might go.
Mr. Zinke has generally embraced traditional GOP issues when it comes to the environment. He opposed a recent Interior Department rule setting standards for emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, for oil and natural-gas wells on public lands, and he supports the Keystone XL pipeline.
Departing from some of his GOP colleagues, though, Mr. Zinke has opposed legislation that would give states more ownership of federal lands. “The federal government needs to do a much better job of managing our resources, but the sale or transfer of our land is an extreme proposal and I won’t tolerate it,” Mr. Zinke said at a June congressional hearing.