After spending close to two years in President Donald Trump's Interior Department advocating to open federally protected lands in Alaska, Joe Balash is joining a company drilling for oil and gas in the nation's northernmost state, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
"Potential conflicts of interest, utilizing the D.C. revolving door, and looking to drill on federal public lands?" tweeted public land advocacy group the Weestern Values Project. "Balash is just another example of the mess and mismanagement within Secretary David Bernhardt's Interior."
According to the Post, Balash, who resigned his position as assistant secretary of the Interior at the end of August, will join the fossil fuel extraction company Oil Search.
SCOOP: Joe Balash worked to widen oil and gas leasing on federal land until he stepped down from @Interior Friday. This week, he's joining @OilSearchLtd -- a firm that's expanding its drilling operations in Alaska. W/ @StevenMufson https://t.co/uEIL25AsNt— Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) September 4, 2019
Oil Search, which is based in Papau New Guinea, is operating in state land on Alaska's North Slope, the Post reported:
The company is drilling on state lands that lie nearby—but not inside—two federal reserves where the Trump administration is pushing to increase oil and gas development: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. During his time at Interior, Balash oversaw the department's work to hold lease sales on the coastal plain of the 19.3 million-acre refuge and to expand drilling on the 22.8 million-acre reserve to the west of the refuge. Both sites are home to large numbers of migratory birds as well as caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.
"The revolving door of the Trump Administration continues to spin—and it's wider than ever before," Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said on Twitter.
Balash told the Post that he won't be violating ethics rules by lobbying or working with his former employer.
"I have a ton of restrictions dealing with the Department of Interior," Balash said. "Most of Oil Search's properties are state lands. There isn't really the federal nexus."
Those comments notwithstanding, Balash's work to open the region up to exploitation and then taking a job with a company that has energy interests nearby can't help but raise questions, as the Project on Government Oversight's executive director Danielle Bryan told the Post.
"If this ends up being legal, it's further confirmation to me that our laws are simply inadequate," said Brian. "It is hard to have confidence that decisions he was making while he was working for the taxpayers were not impacted by his aspirations or hopes to go work for a company that was materially affected by his work."
Balash was a vociferous proponent of opening up Alaskan lands to drilling during his time at the department, as E&E News reported in August:
Balash's BLM is also in the midst of rewriting a management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve, west of ANWR. Despite its name, about half that area is off limits to the oil and gas industry due to wildlife and habitat protections. That is expected to change under the Trump administration rewrite.
The jump to the private sector, tweeted Conservation Lands Foundation government affairs director David Feinman, "showcases the deeply corrupted world in the Trump cabinet."
Feinman wasn't the only administration critic on social media to take that approach to interpreting the Balash move as corrupt.
"Just another day in the kleptocracy," said Newsweek columnist Jeff Stein.