Today, Western Values Project releases nine new profiles to the Department of Influence, tracking the revolving door between lobbyists, special interests, and Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Department of the Interior. Today’s batch of profiles includes two members of the failed land transfer movement as well as a several former lobbyists.
“Each day, Secretary Zinke continues to stack the deck against Western communities, sportsmen and women and the outdoor industry by filling Interior with special interests and D.C. insiders who are working against them,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of Western Values Project. “With Zinke aiming to shrink at least four national monuments and gutting public land protections, we already can already see the influence these special interests are having at Interior. It’s clear that Zinke has lost touch with his roots and has chosen to ignore Western voices.”
Secretary Zinke continues to stack the deck at Interior. His political appointees and nominees now include 14 former lobbyists, 14 Trump campaign workers, 34 former extractive industry employees, and no one from the outdoor recreation industry.
Profiles of Interior’s latest additions to the swamp include:
- Austin Ewell: Now Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Ewell previously worked for real estate companies, as an attorney “specializing in land use, water supply and regulatory matters,” and as “a regulatory consultant on a variety of projects, including water rights, development entitlements, [and] natural resource mitigation.” Ewell is currently the manager of Ewell Consulting Group LLC, which works on land, water and environmental consulting. Potential conflicts of interest could arise between Ewell’s involvement in his company and his government position: as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Water and Science, Ewell helps oversee the Bureau of Reclamation, a water management agency.
- James “Steven” Gardner: Nominated to serve as the Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), Gardner is a coal consultant. Since 1983, Gardner has been the president and CEO of ECSI, LLC, an engineering consulting firm. He has also worked for mining and engineering companies including: Big K Operating Company, Specialty Coal Processing Inc., Kenwill Inc., and Bethlehem Mines Corporation.
- Jason Larrabee: Now Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Larrabee has gone back and forth through the revolving door between government and lobbying. In the 2000s, he worked on Capitol Hill for Congressman John Doolittle. In 2007, Larrabee ran for a California Assembly seat but dropped out while federal investigators were looking into connections between Larrabee’s former boss and the Jack Abramoff scandal. In 2008, Larrabee launched his own lobbying firm where he lobbied the federal government on behalf of water agencies. In 2011, he returned to Capitol Hill as Congressman Jeff Denham’s Chief of Staff.
- Brian Steed: Currently the Deputy Director of Programs and Policy, Bureau of Land Management, Steed is a public lands opponent who has alleged that wilderness designations “‘impose costs on local economies'” and is a harsh critic of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Designation. In 2011, while he was a professor at Utah State University, Steed published a study claiming the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument harmed Kane and Garfield counties “by an estimated $146 million.” An economist cited by Steed would go on to say Steed’s statistical model “‘made no sense at all'” and called some of Steed’s conclusions “‘nonsense.'” Most recently, Steed was Chief of Staff to Representative Chris Stewart, one of the cofounders of the Federal Lands Action Group, an organization committed to the transfer of federal lands.
- Tara Sweeney: Trump’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Sweeney has spent her career lobbying to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. She is currently the Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), an Alaskan oil and coal organization that has leased millions of acres of land to Anadarko, Chevron Texaco, and BP for oil drilling. Sweeney is also married to Kevin Sweeney, who until March 2017 was a top aide to Senator Lisa Murkowski.
- Andrea Travnicek: Now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Water and Science, Travnicek was a registered lobbyist in the state of North Dakota for Allete, a natural gas and coal energy company.
- Todd Willens: Now Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Willens has a long anti-environmental record, including: serving as Legislative Director to notorious anti-environmentalist Representative Richard Pombo; lobbying against animal welfare rules while at Feld Entertainment; and, while he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for George W. Bush’s Interior Department, fighting against endangered species listings for wolves and manatees and having the Everglades removed from a United Nations list of endangered sites. While working for Bush’s Interior, the Government Accountability Office accused Willens “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species.” Willens denied the allegation but left the Interior Department of his own accord shortly thereafter.
- Todd Wynn: Now the Director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at Interior, Wynn has worked at the Cascade Policy Institute, which is part of the Koch-backed State Policy Network, and at American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where he was the Director of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, a task force whose membership was heavily stacked with oil and gas interests. Most recently, he worked for the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association for the power industry. Wynn also praised Utah’s HB 148, the Transfer of Public Lands Act, and is Facebook friends with land transfer enthusiast Ken Ivory.
- Cally Younger: Counselor for the Bureau of Land Management, Younger was the Counsel to Governor C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter of Idaho before she joined the Interior Department. While working for Governor Otter, Younger represented the state of Idaho when it challenged “the U.S. Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture’s plan to protect the greater sage grouse in the state.” Younger has called the sage grouse land use planning effort “unprecedented” and has claimed that it “ended with distrust and failed promises.”