The perfect swamp: Trump officials who tore down environmental protections are now cashing in

The perfect swamp: Trump officials who tore down environmental protections are now cashing in
(Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Until last week, Joe Balash was the assistant secretary of the interior in charge of land and minerals. This week he’s an executive at a foreign oil company. That oil company is planning to drill on land adjacent to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge … which Balash was instrumental in opening to exploration.

As The Washington Post reports, Balash’s move to the Papua New Guinea-based company Oil Search is just one of several high-profile instances in which members of the EPA or Interior Department moved directly from creating profitable situations for fossil fuel companies to cashing in. That includes former EPA administrator (and world’s worst houseguest) Scott Pruitt who left town on a raft of corruption charges, then cemented those concerns by moving directly into acting as a “political consultant” for a coal company. It also includes former counselor to the secretary for energy policy Vincent DeVito, who helped shepherd through opening up vast areas of the sea floor for drilling, then shifted directly to a role as general counsel for Cox Oil Offshore.

Donald Trump has bragged about the pipelines he’s authorized to crisscross America and deliver tar at a risk to property and water supplies. Those projects are still in the works. But the real pipeline Trump should be bragging about is the one between his Interior Department and the oil industry, because that one is wide open for business.

In his stint at Interior, Balash directly oversaw lease sales on the environmentally sensitive refuge that has been called “America’s last true wilderness.” Altogether, Balash opened more than 40 million acres of federal land in and around the refuge to drilling, overriding concerns about the delicate nature of Arctic ecosystems or the migratory paths of birds and animals that visit there.

But don’t worry. Balash says he is sticking to his “ethics pledge” not to directly lobby the government. Instead he will just “supervise those who do.”

The kind of scum being generated through the actions of former staffers like Pruitt, DeVito, and Balash could not be removed with a barrel full of Dawn. The three are just some of those moving through the Trump pipeline to make a laughingstock of regulation. Trump’s swamp is black with coal slurry and spilled oil, all of it made possible by the men who cut regulations, then hurried off to collect their payment.

At the moment, Oil Search is claiming no harm, no foul because the land they are drilling on is state-owned property adjacent to the federal lands, and not directly over areas that Balash made available. However, they would not promise that moving their rigs next door wasn’t part of future plans.

And there’s the little matter of how Balash did a job interview with Oil Search while still nominally working for the government. On Jan. 10, 2018, Balash held a video call with the head of Oil Search’s Alaska operations that was described as a “meet and greet.” Then four months later, he did it again. Then he did it again seven months after that. Then, two months before leaving Interior and moving to Oil Search, Balash met the Oil Search boss face-to-face at an industry luncheon. All of this was supposedly part of his job. All of it was on the taxpayer’s dime.

In addition to helping to hand over millions of acres for oil and gas exploration, Balash also used his time in office to rollback regulations that regulated methane emissions from drilling on federal land. He also worked for Sarah Palin for all the time she was governor, so … a brief job.

And Balash had big praise for how Donald Trump could say things to distract the media while he was busy raiding the nation’s pantry. “One of the things that I have found absolutely thrilling in working for this administration,” said Balash, “is the president has a knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else while we do all the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.” Where the work is handing America over to foreign oil companies, of course.

Meanwhile, the departed DeVito had a role that helped out both his employer and that of Balash—cutting the federal royalties on oil, a massive wealth distribution from the American public to energy companies.  DeVito also had a hand in destroying the Endangered Species Act. Definitely the kind of performance that Trump, and all the other members of his swamp, would applaud.

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