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Ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gets hired by mining project on federal lands

Ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gets hired by mining project on federal lands
Ryan Zinke has accepted a consulting and board position with U.S. Gold Corp. The company has business before the U.S. Interior Department, an agency Zinke recently led. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has a new job, making more than $100,000 a year with a gold-mining firm that’s pursuing project approvals involving the federal agency that Zinke left less than four months ago.

Zinke said Tuesday that his work for Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp., which focuses on mining exploration and development, would not constitute lobbying. But that company’s chief executive cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” with the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department in explaining his hiring.

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“We’re excited to have Secretary Zinke help move us forward” on pending mining projects in Nevada and Wyoming, U.S. Gold Corp. chief Edward Karr said by phone.

Karr said one of the projects is on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which is under the Interior Department.

Under a 2017 executive order signed by President Trump, executive branch appointees cannot lobby their former agencies for at least five years after leaving their government post.

Separately, criminal statutes impose one- and two-year bans on various kinds of communications between departed senior federal officials and their former agencies, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit ethics watchdog.

Zinke, who announced his resignation from the Interior Department in December amid multiple ethics investigations, said Tuesday that his new consulting job does not violate any prohibitions on post-administration lobbying.

“I don’t lobby,” Zinke said. “I just follow the law, so I don’t talk to anybody on the executive side or influence” anyone.

Karr says Zinke would receive a total of $114,000 a year in salary and stock as a board member and under a one-year consulting contract. The company’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says Zinke will also receive an expense allowance of up to $120,000 a year.

Zinke said his time in public office would be an asset at the mining company and in “making sure the environmental mitigation is done correctly.”

“I understand the process,” he said.

“There’s very few former state senators, congressmen and secretaries that know more about the process than I do,” said Zinke, who served in the Montana Legislature and the U.S. House before being appointed to lead the Interior Department.

The purpose of federal lobbying freezes on recently departed senior officials is “to make sure there’s a cooling-off period so the former agency is not subject to the influence of their former head,” Canter said.

Given the restrictions, she said, Karr’s comment on Zinke’s good relationship with the Interior Department “just raises questions about what he meant.”

Zinke has a degree in geology from the University of Oregon. He never worked professionally in the field, instead becoming a U.S. Navy SEAL. But he said his education and political involvement in Montana mining projects would be useful at U.S. Gold Corp.

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