Zinke's former energy counselor at Interior takes job with offshore oil company

Zinke's former energy counselor at Interior takes job with offshore oil company

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Big-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site MORE's former energy counselor is taking a job at an independent oil and gas company that focuses on offshore drilling.

Cox Oil Offshore LLC announced Tuesday that Vincent DeVito has joined the firm as executive vice president and general counsel.

DeVito stepped down from his role as the Interior Department’s energy counselor in mid-August, citing plans to rejoin the private sector. DeVito's time at the Interior Department focused on changing federal royalty rates for energy exploration and federal permitting rules.

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The federal agency has been criticized for considering lowering the royalty rates on federal oil and gas leasing, a move critics say would only benefit the oil and gas industry. Zinke has made it a goal of the Interior Department to expand oil and gas drilling on federal land and waters.

The Associated Press first reported DeVito's new position.

Following news of his departure, Zinke told E&E news that DeVito helped "set the course for energy dominance in the first term of this administration."

Brad Cox, chairman of Cox oil, said DeVito would be an "invaluable contribution" to the team.

"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," he said in a statement to the Associated Press. "Mr. DeVito will help guide us through this next phase of growth."

DeVito's time at Interior reportedly included support for limiting protections for endangered species. A June 2017 letter obtained by The Guardian showed that DeVito corresponded with a staffer at the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) over the designation of the Texas hornshell mussel on the Endangered Species Act.

An email from IPAA's government relations director Samantha McDonald read: “We really hope that you can intervene before this species gets listed next month." In his reply, DeVito, a former energy lawyer in Boston who co-chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Massachusetts, told McDonald to keep him updated on “what you may be hearing as this unfolds.”

Less than a month following their correspondence, Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) delayed the listing of the Texas hornshell mussel.

Soon thereafter McDonald wrote to DeVito and FWS acting Director Greg Sheehan with the subject line “THANK YOU!” She said it was a "good call."

The hornshell was ultimately listed as endangered in February 2018.