Mining project on federal lands hires former Interior head

Ryan Zinke, the former Trump Cabinet official in charge of the country's natural resources, has landed a more than $100,000-a-year job with a Nevada gold-mining firm

WASHINGTON -- Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has a new job: a more than 100,000-a-year post with a gold-mining firm thats pursuing project approvals involving the federal agency that Zinke left fewer than four months ago.

Zinke told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his work for Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp., which focuses on mining exploration and development, would not constitute lobbying. But that companys CEO cited Zinkes excellent relationship with the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department in explaining his hiring.

Were excited to have Secretary Zinke help move us forward on two pending mining projects, in Nevada and Wyoming, Edward Karr, head of U.S. Gold Corp., said by phone.

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

A 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump says executive-branch appointees cannot lobby their former agency 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 senior federal officials and their former agency, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit ethics-watchdog.

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

I dont lobby, Zinke said. I just follow the law, so I dont talk to anybody on the executive side or influence anyone.

Karr says Zinke will receive a total of 114,000 a year in cash and stock as a board member and under a one-year consulting contract. The companys filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says Zinke will also receive up to 120,000 a year in expenses.

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. Theres 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 Interior.

The purpose of federal lobbying freezes by recently departed senior officials is to make sure there theres 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 Karrs comment on Zinkes good relationship with Interior 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. 

Brown reported from Billings, Montana.