'Just Another Day in the Kleptocracy': Trump Interior Dept. Official Heads to Fossil Fuel Extraction Company in Apparent Sequel to Alaska Plunder Push

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.

Oil Search, which is based in Papau New Guinea, is operating in state land on Alaska’s North Slope, the Post reported:

“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. 

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“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:

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. 

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“Just another day in the kleptocracy,” said Newsweek columnist Jeff Stein.

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