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Interior official involved in shrinking national monuments quits to join oil giant BP

Fossil fuels and mining were key factors in cutting the size of two Utah monuments.

An oil well surrounded by wilderness near Moab, Utah. (Credit: Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
An oil well surrounded by wilderness near Moab, Utah. (Credit: Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A top Interior Department official involved in the rollback of two Utah national monuments has quit to start a new job with BP’s government affairs team.

Downey Magallanes, former deputy chief of staff and a top adviser to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, resigned on August 24 as first reported by E&E News. On Monday, BP confirmed to the Washington Post that Magallanes would be joining the oil giant — she starts the new job just after Labor day weekend.

During her time at the Department for the Interior (DOI), Magallanes worked on policy and operations, including a push to open up public lands and federal waters to more fossil fuel extraction. Specifically, she led the review which resulted in Zinke’s plan to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah last December.

As documents released in March and July confirm, accessing oil, gas, and coal reserves were key factors in the decisions made by DOI to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 85 and 46 percent, respectively. Allowing mining companies greater access has also been a factor.

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

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In an email to the Washington Post, Magallanes said she “look[ed] forward to this incredible new opportunity with BP.”

During her time at DOI, Magallanes met with BP officials three times between January 30 and August 31, 2017 according to official calendars.

Under President Donald Trump’s ethics pledge, political appointees are barred from lobbying their former agencies for five years. They are also barred from lobbying anyone in the executive branch for the rest of the administration.

However, environmentalists remain skeptical of that pledge, noting Magallanes had previous experience in the oil and gas industry before being brought on with the Trump administration. Her father also previously worked as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy.

Magallanes’ resignation comes as another high profile Interior official announces their departure from the department. Last week, E&E News reported DOI energy counselor Vincent DeVito — previously a partner at law firm Bowditch & Dewey LLP  — had stepped down from his post to return to private practice.

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DeVito, a proponent of offshore wind, previously worked to represent “public and private corporations, investors, and entrepreneurs in the energy and technology sectors in the United States and abroad,” according to an archived biography on his law firm’s website.

Later at DOI, he headed the department’s Royalty Policy Committee. That committee advised Zinke to reduce the amount of money collected by the department from oil and gas companies from their activities on federal property.

Zinke previously praised DeVito for helping “set the course for energy dominance in the first term of this administration.”