Top interior staffer who backed shrinking national monuments to join BP

• Aug 28, 2018

Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post

For much of last year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s deputy chief of staff pursued his agenda with vigor.

Downey Magallanes led an effort to cut the size of two vast protected areas in southern Utah, opening public lands to possible development and energy exploration. She participated in deliberations over how to scale back safety monitoring rules for offshore oil and gas operations. And she helped develop a leasing plan that would permit drilling in most U.S. continental shelf waters.

As of next week, Magallanes will have a new job: working for the energy giant BP, on its government affairs team.

“I am grateful to Secretary Zinke and President Trump for giving me the chance to serve in the Department of the Interior,” she said in an email. “I look forward to this incredible new opportunity with BP.”

Magallanes met with BP representatives five times between January 2017 and March 2018, according to official calendars released under the Freedom of Information Act. Those sessions included a March 16, 2017, meeting with top officials from BP’s government and regulatory affairs division; an April 25, 2017, meeting with BP Exploration (Alaska); and an Oct. 23, 2017, session with BP senior director of regulatory affairs James Nolan.

BP spokesman Jason Ryan confirmed Magallanes’s hiring, but he declined to elaborate on what she would do in her new job.

Trump’s ethics pledge bars political appointees from lobbying their respective agencies for five years after leaving office, and from lobbying anyone in the executive branch for the rest of his administration. According to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it involved a personnel issue, Magallanes, a former aide to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would work on congressional relations. Her father, Frederick Palmer, served as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy from 2001 to 2015.

But Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an advocacy group, said in an email: “Her prior work on behalf of oil, gas and coal, her family’s ties to the coal industry, and the fact that she is headed to BP all point in one direction: that she came to Interior with an agenda to promote fossil fuel development over the interest of the American public.”

He added: “Magallanes was intimately involved in the lead up to President Trump’s unlawful attack on the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, a decision that was immediately challenged by Native American tribes, conservationists, and businesses. We’ll be working to undo that mischief long after she’s gone.”

Magallanes is the second high-ranking official to leave Interior within a week. Vincent DeVito, the department’s energy counselor, stepped down late last week and will return to private practice, a move first reported by E&E News.

Zinke lauded both of his former staffers as aides who had helped carry out key aspects of Trump’s agenda. Magallanes’s portfolio included policy as well as operations, while DeVito focused on overhauling federal royalties for energy exploration as well as federal permitting rules.

“Downey was an incredible asset and I trusted her to carry out some of the Administration’s highest priority projects,” the secretary said in a statement. “She will be missed in our office and I wish her all the best.”

Trump’s decision in December to shrink the boundaries of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments by 85 percent and 46 percent, respectively, is likely to open up parts of once-protected areas to oil and gas drilling, as well as mining claims.

DeVito, a former Energy Department official and Zinke campaign aide, won praise from the secretary for helping “set the course for energy dominance in the first term of this administration.” DeVito has not announced where he is headed.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in an interview that DeVito “got the ball rolling” on several key initiatives that will take months to play out.

“He’ll be missed,” Luthi said.

Aaron Weiss, spokesman for the environmental group Center for Western Priorities, cited the two departures as evidence that the Trump administration is “filling” the swamp in Washington rather than draining it.

“In the last week, two of his top lieutenants have left to cash in on their policy decisions by moving to the private sector,” he said in an email.

But Kathleen Sgamma, who represents oil and gas firms as president of Western Energy Alliance, disputed that assessment in an email.

“The suggestion that promoting an energy dominance agenda is not in the interests of the American people, who use fossil fuels on a daily basis, is laughable.”

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