Former DNR commissioner tapped for high Interior post

  • Joe Balash, former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and most recently chief of staff to Sen. Dan Sullivan, has been tapped as assistant secretary for lands and minerals management at the U.S. Department of the Interior. (Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal)

Another Alaskan has found a spot in President Donald Trump’s administration.

The president nominated former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash to serve as assistant Interior Department secretary for land and minerals management on Wednesday.

A native of North Pole, Balash is currently chief of staff to Sen. Dan Sullivan, who preceded him as Natural Resources commissioner under former Gov. Sean Parnell. Balash was a deputy DNR commissioner from 2010 to 2013 prior to leading the department until late 2014.

“It’s been a long time since the (Interior) Department had an assistant secretary from Alaska, and the president’s nomination of Joe Balash further proves his commitment to Alaska and rural America as a whole,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a department release. “Joe is no stranger to the Department of the Interior having worked alongside the department on a number of projects in Alaska. He brings an incredible combination of state and federal experience to the table, and he will be very effective in helping the department work with Congress to do the work of the American people. I look forward to his speedy confirmation in the Senate.”

Zinke visited Alaska over Memorial Day weekend this year, repeatedly emphasizing that the state plays a primary role in the nation’s energy production.

In June, Alaskan Chris Oliver was appointed to the post of assistant National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator in charge of fisheries, making him leader of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the country’s top federal fisheries manager.

Oliver was the executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, since 2001. He came to Alaska in 1990 to work as the Gulf of Alaska plan manager for the council.

As assistant secretary for land and minerals Balash would oversee the bureaus of Land Management, Ocean Energy Management, Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The position would make him the primary manager of federal lands and waters, as well as the nation’s lead surface coal mining regulator, according to the Interior Department. About two-thirds of the land in Alaska is controlled by the federal government.

“As a nation, we are blessed with tremendous public lands and resources that give our people unparalleled opportunities for recreation and job creation for generations to come. I look forward to working with Secretary Zinke and his incredible team to seize on those opportunities and deliver on President Trump’s America First Energy Plan,” Balash said in a formal statement.

Sen. Sullivan said he is sad Balash is leaving his staff, but he will be a valuable asset to the administration.

“His wealth of knowledge and passion for Alaska — and more broadly federal land issues — cannot be overstated,” Sullivan said of Balash. “His advice and counsel on natural resource matters will be invaluable as Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration chart a new path toward American energy dominance. Alaska can and should be a critical element of this important national objective.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

07/20/2017 - 11:50am