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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks on the Trump Administration's energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Washington Post fact-checkers claim Secretary of the Interior and former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke “obscures the reality” of domestic energy production as the Trump administration reduces regulations around the energy sector.

In a late September speech to the Heritage Foundation, Zinke told the group, “Our country has inherited an energy-dependent country from previous generations, and in recent years, we’ve struggled to be self-sufficient in producing low-cost, abundant and reliable energy.”

The newspaper’s “Fact Checker” column published Wednesday graded Zinke’s statement with “Four Pinocchios” – the lowest rating on its accuracy scale. The column uses the Pinocchio scale to analyze and often chastise statements from lawmakers and other public officials for misrepresentations.

The column analyzes domestic energy sources, production and use, noting that production is up from a historic low of 69 percent in 2005 to 2016, when the U.S. produced 86 percent of the energy it consumed. The increase is primarily due to an uptick in natural gas and crude oil via fracking.

As domestic crude production and efficiency has increased, foreign imports have decreased. The 2008 financial crisis also contributed to the drop of imported crude oil and other fuels, the column says.

As production of natural gas increased, the price plummeted to its lowest level since 1999 and in 2016, retail gasoline prices hit their lowest point since 2004, corresponding to increased crude production. An abundance of cheap natural gas has largely replaced coal as a primary source of electricity generation, the column says.

While prices dropped, the column points out that residential electricity prices continued to climb over the last several years due to infrastructure investment and new requirements to generate electricity from renewable sources.

Finally, the increasing capacity of renewables is also factoring into the overall energy portfolio.

Interior Department spokesman Alex Hinson told the Post that Zinke is focused on rolling back Obama-era regulations. In defending Zinke’s statement, he said “while some energy sources may have been either low-cost, abundant, or reliable in recent years, very rarely have the sources been all three at once.”

In its Four Pinocchio grade, the Post says that Zinke’s statement “just doesn’t square with the current state of domestic energy production,” and the outlook on domestic energy production remains promising.

“The crux of Zinke’s claim is that regulation increases the cost of U.S. production, and to achieve his vision of becoming an ‘energy superpower,’ the United States needs to cut the red tape,” the column concludes. “But instead of focusing on all the gains made by the energy industry over the past several years, Zinke obscures the reality of the domestic energy production.”

In Montana, energy production has become a hot button issue with the decline of coal and downturn in the Bakken oilfield. Officials have also pinned the state’s fiscal crisis in part on lower tax revenues from extractive industries.

The Interior Department did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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