Senior Advisor Stephen Wackowski’s Position Enables Him to Facilitate Environmentally-Destructive Seismic Survey Benefitting His Former Business Associates

Department of Interior Announced Intent to Proceed with Survey Despite Reported Objections of Career Staff


Washington D.C.—  Today, Democracy Forward sent a letter to the Department of Interior Deputy Inspector General demanding an investigation of senior advisor Stephen Wackowski’s potential conflicts of interest regarding major seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Any participation by Mr. Wackowski in the Department’s decision to approve seismic testing by former colleagues of his may have violated his obligations to avoid conflicts of interest as a public servant.

Prior to his role at DOI, Mr. Wackowski worked at Fairweather Science, LLC, an 8-member firm that facilitates fossil fuels development by, among other services, monitoring for polar bear activity. Fairweather’s founder, Jeff Hastings, is also CEO and Chairman of the Board of SAExploration, which recently submitted an application for a major seismic survey in ANWR. Records and media reports indicate that despite his prior employment, Mr. Wackowski has communicated with former colleagues even as the Department has announced its plans to evaluate SAE’s application by means of an Environmental Assessment instead of a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement. The Department appears to have reached this decision despite findings that the region’s dwindling polar bear population would be further threatened by the SAE project. Mr. Wackowski’s engagement with his former colleagues could violate conflict of interest laws.

The Trump administration has made little secret of its desire to drill in ANWR regardless of the environmental consequences. The refuge remains one of the last unspoiled areas of public lands north of the Arctic circle, and is home to a number of threatened species. Despite this concern, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has dismissed the need for Environmental Impact Statements related to ANWR development, claiming that “no one on the planet reads” them. Even as the global polar bear population continues to suffer the effects of climate change, the Trump administration appears poised to approve the SAE project.

“The public deserves to know whether Stephen Wackowski is helping to short-circuit crucial environmental reviews to ram through lucrative contracts for his former partners.” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn.  “An investigation is warranted to find out if cronyism is happening on the taxpayer dime.”

David Bernhardt is scheduled to appear before the Senate Energy Committee next week, where he likely will face questioning related to his conduct as both the Department’s Deputy Secretary and its Acting Secretary, which itself has raised ethical concerns. In July 2018, Democracy Forward filed suit against DOI for stonewalling the release of records related to Bernhardt’s numerous conflicts of interest.

The letter was sent to the DOI on March 22, 2019.


Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

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