The happenings within the Trump administration can read like a soap opera. The recent departures of two top Interior Department officials are the latest storyline.
Downey Magallanes, former deputy chief of staff and a top adviser to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, resigned on August 24. She already started a new job at BP. She worked on policy and operations, according to Think Progress, which included leading the review that ended in Zinke’s plan to shrink two national monuments in Utah last year.
The Washington Post reports that Magallanes met five times with BP representatives from January 2017 to March 2018. Stephen Block, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an advocacy group, told the Post in an email that her previous work for fossil fuel companies and her new job at BP combined with “family’s ties to the coal industry” prove that “she came to Interior with an agenda to promote fossil fuel development over the interest of the American public.”
Vincent DeVito also left. News of his leaving came days after news outlets reported Magallanes departure and both occurred while during Zinke’s trip to Turkey. A former partner at the law firm Bowditch & Dewey LLP, he worked as a key staff member of the Interior Department and served as treasurer for Zinke’s Political Action Committee. The PAC is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for failing to account for over $600,000 of contributions from 2017, Politico reported back in April.
Zinke’s scandal-plagued Interior Department
Scandals have plagued Zinke. A total of 10 investigations have been opened by the Interior’s Inspector General, and requests for another four are pending. One of the investigations involves the involvement of his family’s foundation is in a deal that gives land away to a private developer that had been set apart for public use. The chairman of Halliburton is funding the development.
“Their boss goes on a trip abroad, and within two weeks two key Interior staff who are part of Zinke’s inner circle have left the department,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger.
The departures of the two Interior officials “add to the questions already swirling about the scandal-plagued Secretary, his recent travel, and how he is managing the Department of Interior,” he added.
Worst Interior secretary ever
The Wilderness Society describes Zinke as the “worst Interior secretary ever.” The non-profit lists 14 of the “bad” things he has done, which include carving up the Utah national monuments of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. He recommended that President Trump drastically reduce both monuments, and Trump subsequently acted on it by issuing the “largest rollback of land protections in American history.”
Another deed of Zinke’s Interior department that makes the Wilderness Society’s list is pushing for seismic testing to find if there is oil on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the Interior, held a third-quarter oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico and it grossed almost $1 billion in bonus bids for 142 parcels, breaking records. The sale, held over two days, brought in more revenue than BLM oil and gas sales in 2017 combined. The Interior department characterizes the sale as one that “illustrates the Trump Administration’s commitment to sustainably developing America’s energy and natural resources to achieve American energy dominance.”
The Interior Department under Zinke is one that panders to the oil and gas industry. A Western Values Project report found that he puts special interests above public lands. It is a sure bet that whoever replaces Magallanes and DeVito will come from fossil fuel industries.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons