Jeffrey Zients recused himself from dealings with his brother-in-law’s company, which is backed by the U.S. and a key player in green energy projects around the globe.

by Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept

As the Biden administration pursues its strategy of building resilient supply chains for the surging clean energy industry, one metals company has seen a substantial boost. Last month, TechMet, which is part-owned by the U.S. government, announced that it had closed a $200 million fundraising round. Celebrating more than $180 million invested in projects around the world over the last year, the company noted in a press release that “both the US President and Vice President have cited TechMet’s role as a leading critical minerals company in the global effort to combat climate change.”

At the G20 summit last November, President Joe Biden touted a TechMet project in Brazil to mine nickel and cobalt for electric vehicle batteries. And during her trip across Africa earlier this year, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a U.S.-brokered agreement between TechMet and another company, Lifezone Metals, to mine one of the largest nickel deposits in the world: Tanzania’s Kabanga mine.

Jeffrey Zients speaks at a podium

Yet White House chief of staff Jeffrey Zients, whose job involves implementing the administration’s policy, has sidelined himself from the U.S. government’s deepening involvement with TechMet — thanks to what could be perceived as a conflict of interest stemming from his family’s vast wealth.

TechMet’s CEO is Brian Menell, a South African mining baron and the brother of Zients’s wife, Mary Menell Zients. Jeffrey Zients disclosed the relationship when he was brought on as chief of staff, the White House said, and recused himself from all matters related to the company. His recusal, which has not been previously reported, was the appropriate move, as ethics experts agree, but it also means the U.S. is operating without its chief quarterback in its dealings with a major player in the green energy transition.

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