A former energy adviser with the Interior Department is joining an oil and gas firm operating in the Gulf of Mexico, the latest in a string of Trump administration officials to migrate between federal agencies and the industries they regulate and monitor.
Vincent DeVito, who served as an energy adviser to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is joining Cox Oil Offshore LLC as executive vice president and general counsel, E&E reported Tuesday.
During his tenure with the Interior Department, DeVito pushed for “energy dominance” and sought to expand oil and gas leases on public lands, as well as within federal waters, where companies have lobbied for relaxed offshore drilling opportunities.
The former official announced at the end of August that he would be returning to the private sector after his stint with the Interior Department. As E&E notes, DeVito previously served as a partner with the law firm Bowditch & Dewey LLP and as treasurer of Zinke’s political action committee. He also served under President George W. Bush at the Energy Department, where he focused on issues relating to climate change and renewable energy.
“I am honored to have had the opportunity to work under Secretary Zinke and to have met a tremendous amount of new friends along the way,” DeVito said last month, announcing his return to the private sector. “I am most grateful to my family for allowing me to embark upon this remarkable journey; and, now, excitedly look forward to returning to private practice.”
Not named at the time, that private practice is now revealed to be the position with Cox Oil Offshore. Company chairman Brad Cox said in a statement that DeVito will “guide us through this next phase of growth” as the company looks to the future.
“As we continue to expand our market position within the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that Cox Oil have strong legal counsel with a comprehensive knowledge of public policy and experience working with global private and publicly-held companies,” said Cox.
According to public records obtained by watchdog groups and both the Guardian and Pacific Standard, last summer DeVito took credit for the federal delay of endangered species protections during a speech to the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers.
Emails indicate the industry trade group Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) reached out to DeVito for his assistance in delaying protections for the Texas hornshell, a mussel whose habitat overlaps with oil and gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. DeVito sought a six-month delay on the protections, meriting a “THANK YOU” email from the group’s public relations director.
While the mussel was granted protections in February 2018, DeVito’s role in the process sparked questions pertaining to both ethics and legality, the Guardian reported in April. Now, the former official will be working directly for the industry interests that previously sought his help.
DeVito’s pivot to industry echoes similar moves made by other Trump administration officials. Last week, Downey Magallanes, Zinke’s former deputy chief of staff, resigned from her post to join the oil giant BP.
Magallanes played a key role in Zinke’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah last December, a move welcomed by fossil fuel companies.
But the revolving door goes both ways. Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler previously worked as a coal lobbyist before assuming his position with the EPA, where he is tasked with overseeing many issues pertaining to that industry.
Figures connected to the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a deeply conservative think tank, have also filled the Trump administration, assuming top roles in the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Department of Energy, and more. Former EPA head Scott Pruitt notably headlined a TPPF event in Washington, D.C. last November. That think tank has largely pushed a deregulatory agenda and is seen as closely aligned with fossil fuel interests.
The Trump administration has broadly been seen as receptive to industry influence across governmental agencies. A July 16 analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics found that there are 164 former lobbyists currently serving within the administration, including Wheeler. That investigation found that at least 18 former staffers are now working as lobbyists following their time with the administration.