November 24, 2016
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Energy Secretary Candidate Could Face Significant Conflicts of Interest

By Jennifer Gollan

Oil billionaire Harold Hamm is a contender to become President-elect Donald Trump’s next energy secretary. That could present a windfall for Continental Resources Inc., where Hamm is chief executive.

If appointed, he would become the first oil executive to fill the cabinet-level post. The Oklahoma oilman has served as a trusted adviser to the Trump campaign and spoke in a primetime slot at the Republican National Convention.

The morning after Trump’s stunning upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Hamm told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” that he wants to expand drilling on federal lands and roll back oil and gas regulations. Hamm made his fortune developing shale oil in North Dakota, including on some public land.


Credit: CNBC

“There’s so many of these overreaching regulations that’s gone on, my goodness,” Hamm said. “We call it death by a thousand cuts … certainly, those need to be drawn back.”

Hamm has complained that it takes years to get permits from the federal government to drill on federal land, which has impeded exploration and production.

Government watchdogs say the appointment would present clear conflicts of interest.

“Every public statement that Harold Hamm has made as an adviser to the president-elect would enrich him personally and his company,” said Tyson Slocum, energy program director for Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group. “With Harold Hamm, his association with Continental should automatically preclude him from serving in an official capacity in the Trump administration to avoid any conflicts of interest.”

Hamm did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

The Energy Department sets the nation’s energy policy and manages the cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities. It engages in research and development, directs appropriations and oversees permitting activities, primarily for natural gas exports, which directly affect the oil and natural gas industry.

Under federal law, government officials must avoid positions in which they take official actions that directly benefit them or their families financially. It is not stringently enforced, however. When President Barack Obama took office, he issued an executive order requiring government appointees to sign a pledge that they would avoid actions benefiting their former employers and clients from the last two years.

In the past, many federal officials have created blind trusts to avoid conflicts of interest. So would a blind trust work for someone such as Hamm?

“Harold Hamm knows that he’s heavily vested in an oil and gas company,” Slocum said. “That won’t change, blind trust or not.”

In recent days, Hamm has deferred when asked whether he would consider the energy secretary position.

“I’m flattered that that would be suggested even,” Hamm told CNBC. “Certainly, that’s a very important position.”

Similar questions have emerged about Trump’s vast business holdings. Rather than divesting himself of his businesses, he has suggested that his children will oversee them.

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