Quantcast

Zinke Caught in Conflict of Interest With Oil Giant Halliburton

Politics
Ryan Zinke at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC on Jan. 18, 2018. Lance Cheung / USDA / Flickr

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has spent his first 15 months opening public lands to oil and gas drilling, has been linked to a development project with Halliburton chairman David Lesar, POLITICO reported Tuesday.

Lesar is backing a real estate development in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Montana and receiving help from a foundation started by Zinke and currently run by his wife, Lola.


Lola Zinke has agreed in writing to allow the Lesar-funded development, which would convert an industrial area into a hotel and shops, to build a parking lot on land donated to the Zinke's foundation for a Veteran's Peace Park, which has remained undeveloped for nearly 10 years. The Zinkes also own land across from the development that stands to increase in value, real estate agents told POLITICO.

The development would also include a microbrewery, a project for which Zinke has spent five years lobbying town officials. Whitefish city planner David Taylor told POLITICO that the developers would allow the Zinkes to own and run the microbrewery, though the developers themselves said nothing had been decided.

"The sad fact is that this is just the latest example of Zinke attempting to personally benefit from a resource that should benefit the public," Whitefish conservation group the Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger told The Associated Press. The Western Values Project has called for an investigation into Zinke's offer of the land, donated for a park, to private interests and has asked Zinke to recuse himself from any future arrangements the Department of the Interior (DOI) makes with Halliburton.

Halliburton is the largest oil services company in the U.S., and ethics experts told POLITICO any deal between the company and the Zinkes presents a conflict of interest, since Halliburton stands to benefit from DOI plans announced under Zinke to open public lands to fossil fuel interests, such as the decision to open U.S. coasts to offshore oil drilling. POLITICO highlighted the DOI's move under Zinke to loosen Obama-era fracking restrictions on federal lands after lobbying by Halliburton, one of the world's largest fracking companies. DOI is also responsible for drilling and pipeline safety standards

Marilyn Glynn, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics under President George W. Bush, also thought the development deal meant that Zinke should now remove himself from any decisions that could impact Halliburton.

"In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you'd never run across something like this," she told POLITICO.

Zinke claimed he had resigned from the foundation that owns the park land after becoming secretary, but the foundation's annual report, which he says is a mistake, lists him as an officer, while his wife is president and his daughter is treasurer.

Public Citizen federal ethics law specialist Craig Holman said even his wife and daughter's involvement in the deal is enough to trigger conflict of interest rules that require executive branch officials to remove themselves from decisions impacting groups with which they or their close relatives have a financial relationship.

"Entering this type of business relationship could very clearly open the doors [of government] to business interests that have stakes before the office holder," Holman told POLITICO. "Clearly, any substantial development project next to the vacant lot owned by Zinke's foundation would significantly boost the value of the lot. The conflict-of-interest statute would be invoked if even the nonprofit on which Zinke or his spouse serves as an officer, as either paid or unpaid officers, derives a financial benefit."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New pine trees grow from the forest floor along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park on Sept. 16, 2019 near West Glacier, Montana. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Alex Kirby

New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there's a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

Read More
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?

Read More
Sponsored
Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More