RAPID CITY, S.D. — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke advocated for American energy development and the reorganization of his vast department of the federal government Tuesday in a speech to members of the Western Governors’ Association at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said his military service exposed him to regions of the world where energy production is conducted irresponsibly.

“It’s better to produce it under reasonable regulation here than overseas under none,” Zinke said.

He also described domestic energy production as good for national security.

“There are a lot of reasons to go to war,” Zinke said, “but energy, when we have it here, is not one of them.”

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Zinke spoke from the stage of Mount Rushmore’s outdoor amphitheater to an audience of perhaps several hundred, consisting of corporate and nonprofit sponsors of the association, plus others attending the association’s annual meeting and curious onlookers. The three-day association meeting began Monday with events in Rapid City.

Zinke’s speech was well received by most of the audience members, including some whose name tags identified them as representatives of energy companies such as BP and TransCanada. But, at one point during Zinke’s speech, he was briefly interrupted by a protester. It was one of several instances of anti-Zinke activism Tuesday in the Black Hills.

The Interior Department that Zinke leads has 70,000 employees and a $12 billion annual budget. The department’s umbrella extends over a diverse group of public bodies including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The department also oversees 700 million acres of subsurface minerals, mostly through the Bureau of Land Management.

Zinke said Tuesday that the department is the federal government’s fourth oldest, and he described it as a “labyrinth” that has gone about 150 years without a reorganization. His pending efforts to reorganize the department, he said, are built around the three components of recreation, conservation and permitting.

Among other reorganization goals, Zinke said he wants the Interior Department to do better at maintaining and connecting recreational trails, protecting wildlife corridors and bird flyways from encroaching development, and eliminating unnecessarily long waits for permits to conduct business on federal land.

While Zinke spoke, the governors of seven Western states, plus the executive director of their association and the premier of Saskatchewan, baked under direct sunlight as they sat on the concrete stage of Mount Rushmore’s amphitheater. Some of the dignitaries wore hats and dark sunglasses, and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, wore shorts. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock attended.

All looked uncomfortably hot as the morning’s business wore on. After Zinke’s speech, another speech was delivered by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire whose Anschutz Corporation is listed as one of the sponsors of the governors’ association. Anschutz spoke for approximately 25 minutes about two books he authored on the American West.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gave Anschutz a laudatory introduction but was quick to quash a planned Q&A afterward.

“It is extremely hot,” Hickenlooper said, “so I think we’ll forgo questions.”

A spokesman for the governors’ association said Anschutz’s speech was not a result of the Anschutz Corporation's sponsorship of the association. But Anschutz’s presence was reflective of the dual roles of the association’s annual meeting. Beyond bringing Republican and Democratic governors together to talk about public policy in a bipartisan way, the meeting also brings paying sponsors from the corporate and nonprofit worlds together with the governors at several social events.

According to attendees interviewed by the Journal, the social events this week have included a reception Monday evening at the home of Rapid City real estate developer Hani Shafai and a breakfast Tuesday morning at Mount Rushmore featuring comments by South Dakota native and California winemaker Jerry Lohr.

Although the amount of a particular company's or nonprofit's sponsorship is not disclosed, the website of the Western Governors’ Association lists 113 sponsors, and the association’s annual report for the 2017 fiscal year lists $2.15 million in revenue from meeting sponsorships and registrations. The online registration page for the annual meeting lists fees ranging from $325 to $1,275.

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