Trump official under fire after granting broad access to mining and oil firms

Exclusive: extractive industry companies who met with Kathleen Benedetto later saw direct benefits from administration decisions

A key Trump administration official scheduled approximately twice as many sessions with mining and fossil-fuel representatives as with environmental groups, public records petitions have revealed.

Further investigation shows that some of the firms she met afterward benefited immediately from administration decisions that weakened wilderness and wildlife protections.

As is the case with other prominent interior department officials appointed by the department secretary, Ryan Zinke, the official work calendar of his senior consultant Kathleen Benedetto indicates the remarkable access that the extractive industries have to the Trump administration.

” It attains it look like[ Benedetto] is the fixer for mining companies ,” said Aaron Weiss, a staffer at Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group. The interior department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The interior department oversees hundreds of millions of acres of public land and helps choose how it is protected and used. It is moving to open up swaths of these lands and waters to drilling, mining and other resource exploitation.

Benedetto, who helps oversee the Bureau of Land Management( BLM ), is a longtime supporter of the mining industry. Before joining the administration, she worked as a mining consultant and geologist and was the co-founder of the Women’s Mining Coalition, a grassroots group that advocates on Capitol Hill. She was also a longtime staffer on the House natural resources committee.

Benedetto made her pities clear during a Denver meeting she attended with BLM staff in July.

” A large amount of federal estate is being managed for conservation purposes ,” which restriction other uses, she said, according to notes from the meeting compiled by the BLM Wyoming state director, Mary Jo Rugwell, and obtained by the Western Values Project.” She stressed that it takes minerals( as a raw material) to drive progression .”

Kathleen Benedetto. Photo: Social media

Benedetto’s work calendar reveals that she makes herself readily available to mining companies and lobbyists. Between March and November in 2017, she had approximately 45 sessions or calls with mining groups and more than 30 each with oil and gas groups and with environmental groups. Her calendar also depicts her attending a” mining association awards luncheon” at a Washington DC hotel late last year.

Many of these meetings were followed by official decisions that benefited the private companies or trade groups in question, as in the case of Twin Metals Minnesota, a company that have all along sought to build a copper and nickel mine near the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

During its final days in office, the Obama administration declared that it would not renew Twin Metals’ leases on federally owned parcels adjacent to the wilderness area, opting instead to launch a review to determine whether it should prohibit mining activities on such lands wholly.

benedetto calendar

Benedetto subsequently appears to have had at least six meetings or communications with Twin Metals or related parties, including with the company’s lobbyists and its Chilean parent corporation, Antofagasta Plc. Lobbyists for Twin Metals also held a 14 June meeting with Daniel Jorjani, the interior department’s principal deputy solicitor.

Public interest group that resist the Twin Metals mine procured sessions as well. Last summer, for example, Benedetto held a meeting with Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters and three sessions or communications with other proponents, all of whom declined to comment on the substance of the meetings.

In the end, the Trump administration reversed the Obama-era policy in December, handing a victory to Twin Metals and paving the way for renewed mining leases near the wilderness.

During her first year in office, Benedetto also consistently met with mining interests opposed to the Obama administration’s conservation plans for the sage grouse, which limit drilling and mining on the imperiled bird’s vast western habit. Zinke tapped Benedetto last summertime to co-chair a team tasked with reviewing and perhaps revising those plans.

According to her calendar, Benedetto fulfilled or communicated with oil industry groups and lobbyists and at least three times with the American Exploration& Mining Association( AEMA ), an industry group that has been a leading critic of federal sage grouse preservation. In 2016, different groups sued the interior department over its proposal to restrict mining operations on 10 m acres of sage grouse habitat in several western states.

And Benedetto met at least twice with representatives of Western Exploration, a mining firm that has also sued over the sage grouse plans.
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AEMA said such meetings were par for the course.” For over 123 years, spanning 22 Presidential Administrations of both political parties, AEMA regularly has met with administration officials for multiple agencies to proponent on behalf of its nationwide membership ,” it said in a statement.” The current Administration and its officials are no exception .”

But although Benedetto also held multiple sessions with supporters of sage grouse preservation, including both the Wilderness Society and the Western Watersheds Project, proponents believe their input was disregarded. In October, the interior department rolled back the Obama administration’s proposed mining regulations and opened up the sage grouse plans to revision.

” I don’t think there was any real desire on the part of Ms Benedetto or the administration as a whole to engage constructively with the conservation community ,” said Erik Molvar, a leading sage grouse proponent and the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, of a 24 April meeting with Benedetto.

” Obviously, my recommendations did not take root .”

Benedetto’s activities are not the only clue of industry’s sway at the interior department. Speaking at a major energy industry seminar in Houston this week, Zinke said his department should” be in the business of being a partner” to energy companies that operate on public lands.

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