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Former Alaska attorney general joins Interior Department ranks in Washington

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: September 7, 2018
  • Published September 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — Former Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes has joined the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., as the director of the Office of Policy Analysis.

Renkes served under Gov. Frank Murkowski from 2002 to 2005, when he resigned under pressure for negotiating a deal with a coal company from which he would have personally benefited. The deal was a state agreement to sell processed coal to Taiwan, and Renkes owned $100,000 in stock in the company with the coal-processing patent. An independent investigator later said that the investment did not amount to an ethics violation.

The Office of Policy Analysis is responsible for evaluating, developing and changing Interior Department programs across bureaus, according to Interior Deputy Press Secretary Faith Vander Voort. The office is also responsible for coordinating programs related to science, the Arctic and invasive species, and developing an annual report on Interior's contributions to the national economy.

Renkes started the job Aug. 21, according to Vander Voort. While the position is a political appointment, it does not require Senate confirmation.

The position is one that was mired in some controversy last year when the previous director, Joel Clement, told the Washington Post that he was removed from his position because of his climate change work, helping affected Alaska Native villages adapt.

Renkes joins several high-profile Alaska hires at the Interior Department under the Trump administration and the Senate leadership of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the committee that oversees the department's policy decisions and the appropriations subcommittee that manages its budget.

Joe Balash, who last served as chief of staff for Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, is the assistant secretary for land and minerals management. Tara Sweeney, who last worked for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., is the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. Both are Senate-confirmed positions.

Steve Wackowski, who has worked on Murkowski's senate campaigns, runs the Alaska branch of the department, with frequent visits to Washington to collaborate with Balash and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Balash said he has known Renkes for more than 15 years, first meeting him on Gov. Frank Murkowski's 2002 campaign. Balash said Renkes was on the list of recommended federal political staffers that Alaska's congressional delegation submitted to the Trump administration in 2017.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Renkes had been living in Jackson, Wyoming, and was general counsel for a group of companies working in commercial real estate, supply chain logistics and energy development.

Before his time in Alaska and Wyoming, Renkes was majority staff director on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he worked on congressional oversight of the Interior Department, according to his profile. He worked in private legal practice in both Alaska and Washington, D.C., before becoming Alaska's attorney general under then-Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2002.

Renkes has a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Vassar College, a master's degree from the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and a law degree from the University of Colorado, according to his profile. He accepted a judicial clerkship in Alaska after completing law school in 1986.