Friday, March 10, 2017

The mystery of Donald Trump and the New Jersey cemetery

Go to Original
By David A. Fahrenthold

 In rural New Jersey, the president’s business has proposed an unusual real estate project.
It wants to build a cemetery.
Or maybe not. Or maybe two.
According to plans filed with local and state authorities, the Trump Organization has proposed to build a pair of graveyards at the site of its tony Trump National Bedminster golf course.
One would be small, 10 plots overlooking the first hole. It was intended — or so they said — for Trump and his family. “Mr. Trump . . . specifically chose this property for his final resting place as it is his favorite property,” his company wrote in a filing with the state in 2014.
The other proposed cemetery would have 284 lots for sale to the public. There, buyers could pay for a kind of eternal membership in Trump’s club — even if it isn’t clear Trump himself would ever join them.
Those are the plans.
But Trump has been talking about cemeteries here for 10 years — and he’s shown the same unpredictable decision-making style about his death that he has about so many things in his life. His plans have gone through at least five major overhauls. Trump has reconsidered his own burial spot at least twice.
Local officials were left puzzling, wondering what angle Trump was playing.
Did the world’s most famous Manhattanite really want to be buried in nowheresville New Jersey?
If not . . . well, why in the world was he pretending like he did?
“It never made any sense to me,” said Robert Holtaway, a longtime town official who heard Trump’s plans on the Bedminster Land Use Board. But, he said, “we don’t question motives. We’re there as a land use board.”
The two latest cemetery plans have now both been approved by local officials. But construction has not begun on either one. The question of how to proceed — or whether to proceed — is now left to Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., who have taken day-to-day control of the Trump Organization.
Both Eric Trump and a Trump Organization spokeswoman declined to comment about what they planned to do.
President Trump already has a family burial plot: his parents and his brother Fred are buried together at All Faiths Cemetery in Queens.
So it was a surprise, back in 2007, when Trump announced he wanted a mausoleum for himself in New Jersey.
“It’s never something you like to think about, but it makes sense,” Trump told the New York Post. He was 60 years old at the time. “This is such beautiful land, and Bedminster is one of the richest places in the country.”
The plan was big: 19 feet high. Stone. Obelisks. Set smack in the middle of the golf course. In Bedminster — a wealthy horse-country town 43 miles west of New York City — officials had some concerns about hosting a reality TV star’s tomb. The huge structure would seem garish, out of place. And there were ongoing worries that the spot might become an “attractive nuisance,” tempting curiosity-seekers to trespass on club grounds.
Trump offered a concession.
The tomb would be versatile.
It could also be a festive wedding . . . tomb.
“We’re planning a mausoleum/chapel,” Trump said, according to a news report from the time.
That didn’t do it.
“Give me a break. Give me a break,” Holtaway, the town official, remembered thinking. “Why would anyone ever get married in a building with no windows?”
Trump withdrew the plan to be buried in New Jersey. But five years later, he was back with another one. Now, the mausoleum was out — but, instead, he had a plan to build a large cemetery with more than 1,000 graves, including one for him.
The idea, apparently, was that Trump’s golf-club members would buy the other plots, seizing the chance at eternal membership.
“It’s one thing to be buried in a typical cemetery,” said Ed Russo, a consultant who represented Trump here. “But it’s another if you’re buried alongside the fifth fairway of Trump National.”
The town was, again, skeptical. So Trump whittled it down to just 10 graves, enough for himself and his family members.
Which family members, exactly?
“Only the good Trumps,” Russo said, according to a video of the town land use board. He did not elaborate.
The town approved.
The state approved, granting a cemetery license in late 2014.
Then Trump changed his mind.
Russo told the town that Trump might want to be buried somewhere in Florida, after all. Trump lived part time at his Mar-a-Lago Club before his election (and, now, after the election as well).
Then, with approval for the small cemetery in hand, Trump came back with a new plan, for a bigger cemetery. This time, the plan was for 284 graves. The cemetery would be run by a nonprofit, and Trump’s golf course would handle maintenance, grass-cutting and gravedigging.
This plan, on the surface, made little sense.
For one thing, it would be a very poor way to make money.
The cemetery business is bad in New Jersey, because the land is expensive, plots sell for cheap, and cremation is stealing their customers.
You need volume to succeed. And the volume at Trump’s cemetery would be very low.
Trump’s cemetery — with people selected by a kind of membership committee — would handle just one to two burials per year, officials said. Cemetery plots in New Jersey cost, at most, a few thousand dollars each. The money, such as it was, would go to the nonprofit company.
But maybe the point wasn’t to make money. Could this whole thing have been a scheme to reduce the Trump Organization’s real estate taxes? After all, nonprofit cemeteries pay no taxes on their land.
That’s possible, experts said.
But, in this case, the savings would hardly be worth the trouble. That’s because Trump had already found a way to lower his taxes on that wooded, largely unused parcel. He had convinced the township to declare a farm, because some trees on the site are turned into mulch. Because of pro-farmer tax policies, Trump’s company pays just $16.31 per year in taxes on the parcel, which he bought for $461,000.
“It’s always been my suspicion that there’s something we don’t know,” about the explanation behind the seemingly inexplicable cemetery plan, said Bedminster land-use board member Nick Strakhov. So why were they doing it?
“I did not ask,” Strakhov said. “It’s an obvious question.”
The land use board approved unanimously, after some inconclusive quizzing (Strakhov had to be absent and didn’t vote).
Now, the Trump Organization still needs to apply for state approval for this larger, public cemetery.
And it still needs to settle the larger question: Does President Trump still want to be buried in New Jersey? Other presidents have chosen to be buried at their presidential libraries. Trump, like any president, also has the option of Arlington National Cemetery.
A White House spokeswoman said she did not know of any public statements by Trump on the subject.
Seeking answers, The Washington Post reached Russo, the consultant who had spent years as the point person for Trump’s cemetery plans. Russo has written a book about his work with Trump on various land-use projects. It is called “Donald J. Trump, An Environmental Hero.”
It was a brief call. Russo said he was driving, and that he might call back.
The Post tried to get in one quick question. Were the cemetery plans still on?
Russo laughed. “Pretty funny,” he said. “I have to drive here. So I will do that.”
He did not call back.

How a Russian Steel Oligarch and Putin Ally Is Profiting from the Keystone XL Pipeline

Go to Original
By Steve Horn

Believe it or not, there's a key connection to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in the fight over North America's controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
One of President Donald Trump’s first actions in office was to sign an executive order on January 24 expediting the approval of the Keystone XL. Owned by TransCanada, this tar sands oil pipeline was halted by former President Barack Obama in November 2015. Trump signed another order on January 24, calling for steel for U.S. pipelines to be made in the U.S. to the “maximum extent possible,” and two days later TransCanada filed a new presidential permit application for Keystone XLwith the U.S. Department of State.
Critics, such as John Kemp of Reuters, pounced on the caveat language in Trump’s steel order and noted that it appears “designed to preserve lots of wiggle-room.” In fact, a DeSmog investigation reveals that much of the steel for Keystone XLhas already been manufactured and is sitting in a field in rural North Dakota.
DeSmog has uncovered that 40 percent of the steel created so far was manufactured in Canada by a subsidiary of Evraz, a company 31-percent owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is a close ally of Putin and a Trump family friend. Evraz has also actively lobbied against provisions which would mandate that Keystone XL's steel be made in the U.S.
Abramovich is described in the 2004 book Abramovich: The Billionaire from Nowhere by British journalists Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins as “one of the prime movers behind the establishment of the only political party that was prepared to offer its undiluted support to Putin when he fought his first presidential election in late 1999. When Putin needed a shadowy force to act against his enemies behind the scenes, it was Abramovich whom he could rely on to prove a willing co-conspirator.”
Evraz describes itself as “among the top steel producers in the world based on crude steel production of 14.3 million tonnes in 2015.” 
DeSmog's findings comes as Trump is under scrutiny from Congress, U.S. intelligence agencies, and others for his personal and presidential campaign team's ties to Russia. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded in January that Russian state-sponsored actors had hacked into the email databases of both the Democratic National Committee and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign in order to influence the election in favor of Trump. 

Meet Roman Abramovich

After helping launch Putin’s presidency in Russia, Abramovich also was instrumental in the vetting and picking of Putin’s cabinet, according to Midgley and Hutchins in their book. They also reveal that Abramovich was instrumental in the creation of Putin’s political party, Unity.
Abramovich bought a 41 percent stake in the steel producer Evraz in 2006. Prior to that, he owned a 72 percent stake in the Russian state-owned oil company Sibneft, which was eventually purchased for $13 billion by the state-owned company Gazprom and became known as Gazprom Neft
Before this, however, Sibneft merged in 2003 with the company Yukos, then owned by Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in an attempt to create what was envisioned as a competitor to the likes of ExxonMobil. Had it materialized, the resulting company, called Yukos-Sibneft, would have been at that point the fourth largest oil producer in the world.
Under pressure from Putin, however, and with what was reported as the helping hand of Abramovich, the deal was called off, and Khodorkovsky ended up arrested and then jailed for eight years for alleged tax evasion and fraud. Abramovich's personal wealth doubled as a result of the later Sibneft-Gazprom merger. 
The Telegraph (UKreported that Abramovich met with Putin before the Yukos-Sibneft deal was tossed to the curb. 
“The revelation of the meeting will fuel suggestions that the Kremlin is closely involved with the fate of the two companies,” The Telegraph wrote at the time. “Many industry commentators saw [the] decision to halt the merger as a government-backed effort to further weaken Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Yukos and its largest shareholder.”
Abramovich’s influence would continue in the years ahead. The 2010 book The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession, written by Richard Sakwa, further describes Abramovich as someone “whose wealth in the Putin years increased at least tenfold, and he remained one of Putin's closest confidants” while Putin carried out his first term as president.
It was Abramovich who in the first place had recommended Putin to [Boris] Yeltsin as successor and Putin took his advice” when Putin was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev, according to Sakwa, a professor at the University of Kent (UK).

Dmitry Skarga, former head of Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot, told BBC in its documentary, Putin's Secret Riches, that he personally oversaw the transfer of a yacht worth $35 million from Abramovich as a gift to Putin (see video below beginning at 12:28).

Today, Abramovich is perhaps best known as the owner of the English Premier League soccer team, Chelsea Football Club. Abramovich has a net worth of $9.2 billion and sits in 151st place among the world's wealthiest people, according to Forbes.

Abramovich and Fracking

In 2015, Abramovich also announced plans to invest $15 million in the company Propell Technologies Group, to do what described as “'clean' hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking.” 
This will not merely be a $15 million investment,” a source with knowledge of the deal told OilPrice. “You have to read between the lines here. Abramovich doesn’t do anything small. He’ll get the infrastructure in place and then look to acquire a significant position in the US oil sector at today’s fire sale prices. We’ll probably be looking at hundreds of millions in investment at the end of the day.”
Operators use fracking to tap into North Dakota's Bakken Shale, the most productive oilfield in the U.S. TransCanada's presidential permit application submitted to the State Department says that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will also have a Bakken on-ramp called the Bakken Marketlink, which would feed the field's oil into the pipeline as a companion to the tar sands crude coming from Alberta, Canada.

Ivanka’s Kinship

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Donald Trump, maintains her own ties to Abramovich. Ivanka’s circle of friends includes Dasha Zhukova, the wife of Abramovich.
Jake Sherman, a reporter for Politico, tweeted that Zhukova attended Trump’s presidential inauguration at the invitation of Ivanka. The two have appeared in public on several occasions, most recently during the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which Ivanka attended with her husband and top Trump aide, Jared Kushner.
Also sitting with them in the stands at the U.S. Open was Zhukova’s friend, model Karlie Kloss, who is dating Jared Kushner’s brother, Joshua Kushner. Zhukova, as it turns out, was a donor to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, giving $2,700 to the campaign and another $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee for its 2016 electoral efforts.
Zhukova's father is Alexander Zhukov, a Russian oil magnate.

“Pipe To Be Made”

Evraz owns three steel mills in the U.S., but the company chose to manufacture the pipe for the Keystone XL project in its Regina mill in Saskatchewan, Canada. By 2015, that mill had produced 550 miles of steel pipe for the line.
Though TransCanada’s presidential permit application says nothing about where its steel will be (or has already been) manufactured, it does detail that the steel used for the pipeline will meet industry standards set by the American Petroleum Institute.
While TransCanada has paid for the pipe already produced by Evraz, according to TransCanada spokesperson Terry Cunha, the continued construction of the Keystone XL pipeline could lead to even more profits for Abramovich's company, whether it manufactures the steel in its Canadian or U.S. factories.
Cunha told DeSmog that the company is waiting for final regulatory details from the U.S. Department of Commerce about how implementing the steel manufacturing executive order may impact Keystone XL's pipes. Commerce Department officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 
When Obama nixed Keystone XL, Evraz issued a statement declaring its intent to stand by TransCanada for the long haul on the project.
Like TransCanada, Evraz believes that Keystone XL is in the best interest of Americans and Canadians and we will support TransCanada’s continuing efforts toward getting the pipeline built,” the company said in November 2015. “We will also continue to work with pipeline partners on other pipeline projects in process across North America that will increase energy security and support economic vitality.”
Bill Edwards, president of United Steelworkers union Local 5890 — which represents 900 workers at the Regina facility — told the British publication Metal Bulletin in November 2011 that the delay for Keystone XL had led to 250 job layoffs and shuttering of line pipe productions. Edwards said Evraz would continue production once TransCanada gets the needed permits.
“There is a bunch (of pipe) on the ground waiting to be installed. But there is still a pile (of pipe) to be made,” Edwards told the Bulletin.

Evraz Lobbies Against “Buy America”

Perhaps an indication of Evraz's stance on the Trump steel executive order, Evraz lobbied in the first quarter of 2015 against what it called the “Buy America” amendment proposed by U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) for the Keystone XL Pipeline Act (S.1) of 2015 introduced by U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND). The company also lobbied for “Amendments to US Trade laws to improve steel industry enforcement.”
Buy America Steel Keystone XL 
Franken’s amendment, which did not pass, was similar to Trump’s order. It stated that “to the maximum extent consistent with the obligations of the United States under international trade agreements, none of the iron, steel, or manufactured goods used in the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and facilities approved by this Act may be produced outside of the United States.” 
Neither Evraz nor its lobbyist John Stinson provided a comment for this story, with Evraz pointing DeSmog to its January 24 press statement.
EVRAZ North America applauds the Trump administration for advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines,” reads the statement. “As the North American leader in large diameter pipe production with assets in the United States and Canada, we look forward to working with our customers and the Administration to make these projects a reality.” 

Call for Investigation

Given a summary of DeSmog's findings, Tyson Slocum, energy program director for Public Citizen, a Washington, DC-based consumer watchdog and advocacy group, has called for an investigation.
An investigation into communications between Trump and his Administration and Abramovich and Russian Federation officials is needed to determine whether Trump’s Keystone executive order was influenced by personal financial relationships,” Slocum told DeSmog.

Dakota Access Pipeline Approved a Week After Co-Owner's Pipeline Spilled 600,000 Gallons of Oil in Texas

Go to Original
By Steve Horn

On January 30, 600,000 gallons (14,285 barrels) of oil spewed out of Enbridge's Seaway Pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas, the second spill since the pipeline opened for business in mid-2016.
Seaway is half owned by Enbridge and serves as the final leg of a pipeline system DeSmog has called the “Keystone XLClone,” which carries mostly tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day down to the Gulf of Mexico. Enbridge is an equity co-owner of the Dakota Access pipeline, which received its final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 7 to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River and construction has resumed.
The alignment of Native American tribes, environmentalists, and others involved in the fight against Dakota Access have called themselves “water protectors,” rather than “activists,” out of concern that a pipeline spill could contaminate their drinking water source, the Missouri River. 

“Just Spewing”

Brittany Clayton, who works at a nearby gas station in Blue Ridge, which is 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, was close to the scene of the spill when it occurred.
“You could just smell this oil smell. A customer walks in and says ‘nobody smoke.' You could see it just spewing,” Clayton told KDFW-TV, the local Fox News affiliate in the area. “It was just super huge. It was like a big cloud. The fire marshal said, 'This is like a danger zone. You guys have to evacuate immediately.' I was totally freaked out. I kept texting the boss man.”

Enbridge and co-owner Enterprise Products Partners said in press release that the spill had been contained and it resumed service on February 5
“The incident … resulted in no fire or injuries and the pipeline has been shut down and isolated,” the companies said. “Seaway has mobilized personnel and equipment to the site and is working closely with emergency responders, law enforcement and regulatory authorities to conduct clean-up operations and develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Government Reaction

According to KDFW, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to do water and environmental testing in the coming days. TxDOT also told the local National Public Radio affiliate, KETR-FM, that it would take “several weeks” to complete a full cleanup.
“It remains too early in the investigation to know where final blame lies for the accident,” wrote KETR, also noting that “it is also too early to tell how much the cleanup and loss of product will cost.”
TxDOT referred DeSmog to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for details on the spill, cleanup, and related issues. We have reached out to TCEQ and will update the article as details come in and have also filed open records requests to learn more about the spill.
Chris Havey, Lieutenant Sheriff for the Collin County Sheriff's Office, confirmed with DeSmog that a spill investigation is ongoing under the umbrella of the EPA and the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the state's oil and gas regulatory agency.
“The Sheriff's office is not conducting any parallel investigation,” said Havey. “As to whether or not the line has been shut off/capped, it's my understanding that within an hour after the line ruptured it was successfully shut off.”
Neither the EPA Region 6 Office nor the Texas Railroad Commission responded to a request for comment. EPA, though, has been ordered not to speak to media by President Donald Trump's White House until the agency has a new administrator, likely nominee Scott Pruitt, and senior-level staff in place. 
As momentum and tensions alike mount surrounding oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, this oil spill is a reminder of the risks and consequences that come with them.

Former Koch Agents, Fossil Fuel Industry Hired Guns Now Staffing Trump's Federal Agencies

Go to Original
By Steve Horn

On March 8, ProPublica obtained “beachhead team” rosters with the names of hundreds of temporary staffers the Trump administration has installed in federal agencies, including the Department of Interior (DOI), Department of Energy (DOE), the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and others. 
A DeSmog investigation shows that this list of staffers, largely undisclosed before this week, includes former operatives allied with Koch Industries, oil and coal industry employees, a former employee of a prominent climate denial group, and an advocate for a pro-trophy hunting organization funded by oil and gas. The background and connections of these staffers may serve as a preview to potential priorities these agencies may take on related to energy, climate, and environment under Donald Trump.

Koch and Coal Allies at Energy Department, Office of Management and Budget

ProPublica's reporting yielded many new, previously unreported names of those filling the ranks and making the calls at the Department of Energy.
One of them: Doug Matheney, listed as an assistant to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Matheney, as first reported by E&E News, once worked as the state coordinator for the Count on Coal initiative. He also formerly worked as a coordinator for the Koch-funded front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in Ohio's sixth congressional district, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Count on Coal is an advocacy initiative “supported” by the National Mining Association in order to promote coal. The association registered the initiative's website and ponied up considerable public relations funding for this allegedly “grassroots” campaign.
“National Mining Association showed that it paid $4 million to Weber Merritt, a Northern Virginia public affairs firm, as an independent contractor,” Center for Public Integrity reported in January 2015. “The services were listed as 'Count on Coal' in 2012, according to IRS filings.”
Count on Coal and the National Mining Association ran the website, set up in opposition to President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would have regulated emissions from coal-fired power plants. The duo also recently came out in opposition to the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement's Stream Rule, recently nullified by Congress and President Donald Trump, allowing coal companies to dump mining waste into U.S. streams.
As DeSmog has previously reported, the Trump transition team was loaded with Koch-tied operatives, many from the Institute for Energy Research, a Koch-funded group which helped carve out the Trump White House's energy policy. Mike Catanzaro, a former Koch lobbyist, serves as Trump's top White House energy aide.
Mark Maddox, former Assistant Secretary of Energy during the George W. Bush administration, is another coal-associated official on the roster, which E&E News first reported on January 23. While at DOE, Maddox oversaw the proposed Illinois-based FutureGen, a carbon capture and sequestration demonstration project, which in its second iteration had its DOE funding suspended in 2015.
“Maddox oversaw the development of many of the critical technologies that will be essential to controlling future green house gas emissions,” reads a biography of Maddox. “He also managed a $750 million budget, and high profile initiatives including the FutureGen Zero Emissions Power Plant.”
Maddox, after leaving DOE, became a lobbyist for coal company Cline Resources, petrochemical company Sasol, and the Calcasieu Refinery Company
Another assistant of Sec. Perry, Suzanne Jaworowski, formerly did public relations work for the Terre Haute, Indiana-based Sunrise Coal LLC, according to her LinkedIn page. Jaworowski headed up Trump's presidential campaign in Indiana and her company called the Clean Power Plan “yet another example of government overreach into an area for which there is no problem.”
“The rule will cause permitting to be much more onerous for mining, it will prevent many landowners from exercising their right to lease the minerals they own and it will cost thousands of jobs — all for no measurable impact on our environment,” Jaworowski said in January 2016.
Kerrie Carr, listed as a confidential assistant for the White House Office of Management and Budget, also formerly worked for the coal industry. The OMB is a powerful White House office which, according to, “oversees the performance of federal agencies, and administers the federal budget.” Carr, a former senior-level staffer for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), now the U.S. Attorney General, worked as an analyst for Alabama Power Company. 
Alabama Power also actively opposed the Clean Power Plan. So too did its parent, Southern Company, a coal and gas giant and funder of climate change denial groups.
Representing the oil and gas industry side at DOE these days is G. Michael Brown, listed as an executive assistant to Sec. Perry. Brown formerly worked as a market development manager for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) giant Chesapeake Energy, the second biggest producer of natural gas in the U.S. behind ExxonMobil. He also served as national political director for Republican Party presidential candidate Ben Carson, who now heads up the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Oil and Gas at Interior

The beachhead list for the Interior Department, led by Sec. Ryan Zinke, sees many more alumni from the oil and gas industry. Ryan Nichols, an Interior employee without a job title listed, formerly served as development director for the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a prominent college campus-based hub of the climate denial machine.
Nichols currently serves as an associate director for the Republican Party-allied think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, which has a federal budget blueprint already borrowed by the Trump administration and another plan recently released for Sec. Perry and the Department of Energy.
Megan Bloomgren, another Interior employee with no listed job title, appears to be serving as the Interior Department's spokesperson and as a part of its communications team, based on reporting by GreenWire.
Prior to landing the job at Interior, Bloomgren has gone back and forth through the government-industry revolving door. She worked multiple communications jobs in the George W. Bush administration, including at DOE, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bloomgren also performed press work for the 2004 Bush presidential campaign and later, the Bush Inaugural Committee.
After leaving the Bush administration, Bloomgren began working for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy. She then moved on to the Republican Party-allied lobbying and public relations firm, DCI Group.
DCI, as DeSmog revealed, oversaw crisis communications work for Energy Transfer Partners and its Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota and may have helped create fake Twitter profiles depicting young women (and celebrities) espousing pro-pipeline talking points. Among DCI Group's former lobbying clients is ExxonMobil. 
Melissa Simpson, listed as a special assistant to Sec. Zinke, until recently worked as director of governmental affairs for Safari Club International (SCI). Safari Club advocates in support of trophy hunting, a practice of hunting prized animals which are often rare or endangered. She also served as counselor and deputy director of external affairs for the Interior Department under George W. Bush. 
Safari Club International has received funding from the oil and gas industry. Simpson formerly served on the board of directors for the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, which like Safari, also accepts donations from the oil and gas industry.
The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation has taken money from the likes of ExxonMobil, America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), Shell, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and National Mining Association. As the Center for American Progress conceptualized in an April 2014 report and depicted in a graphic flow chart, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and Safari Club are part of the same lobbying nexus, fueled by oil and gas industry funding, aiming to gain access to members of Congress. 
Safari Club International Oil Money
“First among SCI’s strategic partnerships is the oil and gas industry, and the partnership is spearheaded by Melissa Simpson, SCI’s director of government affairs and science-based conservation,” wrote the Center for American Progress.
SCI also benefits from direct financial contributions from members of the oil and gas industry. Although SCI does not disclose donors to its tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization, SCI’s political action committee, or PAC, lists at least 48 large contributions from the oil and gas industry between 2010 and 2012. Its donors include Tim Wigley — who is the head of the Western Energy Alliance, the trade group representing Western oil and gas producers — and representatives of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, Conoco Phillips, and Chesapeake Energy.”  
The Center for American Progress also obtained a document containing confidential meeting minutes published by the Western Energy Alliance's (WEA) precursor, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IMAPS). The document revealed that Simpson worked on retainer for IMAPS via funding from several oil and gas drilling companies while working full-time for the influential PR firm PAC/WEST Communications, which was Simpson's job before coming to Safari Club.
The Western Energy Alliance's team of lobbyists and advocates played a central role in the oil and gas industry's successful lobbying campaign to move the bidding process for oil and gas leases for U.S. public lands and offshore reserves from in-person to online. Those lease sales are part of the regular course of business for the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
Simpson's pay grade is listed as the top-level for federal employees at GS-15, reserved for senior-level governmental officials, according to Her hire at Interior was first reported by Politico Morning Energy on January 23.

“Polluter Operatives”

It is unclear how many of these temporary staffers will eventually have to face Senate confirmation hearings as part of the constitutional “advise and consent” process if they end up in higher level, permanent positions. However, that will likely clarify itself in the days and weeks to come. Yet one critic gave his own take on the issue to DeSmog.
“Trump installing corporate polluter operatives into key energy and climate positions is just another distressing example of just how radically he is hijacking our country in the wrong direction,” Tyson Slocum, Energy Program Director for Public Citizen, told DeSmog.