As a record heat wave rocks the West Coast, rising sea levels yield deadly consequences in Florida, and youth organizers and progressive lawmakers stage historic protests for climate action in our nation’s capital, all eyes are on President Biden to meaningfully address climate change — something he has called an “existential threat”.
Yet in this moment of unprecedented climate catastrophe, Biden is quietly moving to fill his Treasury Department with Big Oil allies and fossil fuel industry insiders.
Just this month, the Senate has taken up the nominations of two high-profile Treasury nominees with ties to ExxonMobil: Elizabeth Rosenberg and Neil MacBride. Rosenberg, Biden’s pick for Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, is a former consultant for ExxonMobil and alum of the oil industry-financed think tank Center for a New American Security. She has repeatedly advocated for increasing U.S. natural gas and oil exports abroad, which would benefit companies like Exxon at the expense of furthering global carbon emissions. MacBride, who is set to be Treasury’s top lawyer, has defended automotive executives accused of lying to federal emissions regulators and even sued the Treasury Department on behalf of Exxon over penalties imposed on the company for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia.
These two ethically-compromised nominees are just the latest in a series of Exxon allies tapped to serve in the Biden administration. Lisa Monaco, who provided legal services for Exxon while working as a corporate lawyer at O’Melveny & Myers, currently serves as Deputy Attorney General. Deputy White House Counsel Jonathan Cedarbaum, a former partner at William Hale, also represented the oil giant in between his stints in the Obama and Biden administrations. Another former Exxon lawyer, Alex Oh, briefly served as Biden’s first SEC Enforcement Director before abruptly resigning amid revelations that she had helped Exxon fight a lawsuit accusing the oil giant of being involved in the torture and murder of Indonesian villagers.
Biden does not discriminate, however, and Exxon is not the only anti-climate force influencing the executive branch. At Treasury, Biden and Secretary Janet Yellen have made the disappointing choice to tap investor John Morton — whose firm has advocated for the ridiculous and horrifying goal of putting a price on air and water — for the Department’s first “Climate Counselor” over progressive climate expert Sarah Bloom Raskin. At the State Department, ultra-wealthy campaign donor Mark Gallogly quietly served as a top advisor to climate envoy John Kerry for three months (relying on ethics law loopholes to avoid disclosing his personal finances), despite his company having invested in PG&E, the utility company responsible for five of California’s 10 most destructive wildfires since 2015. At the Interior Department, Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau has drawn comparisons to Trump’s infamously corrupt Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for his lengthy list of fossil fuel drilling and pipeline legal clients, including BHP, Dominion Energy, and two projects connected to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Another BigLaw-to-Biden revolver, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Netter, represented chemical company Arkema in its successful lawsuit against the EPA’s cap-and-trade regulations on hydrochlorofluorocarbon emissions.
Even Biden’s inner circle is chock-full of Big Oil’s buddies. Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice, who enjoys a close working relationship with Biden, retains multi-million dollar holdings in fossil fuel companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Canadian gas distributor Enbridge. Congressman Cedric Richmond, one of the fossil fuel industry’s top campaign donation recipients, was named Biden’s public engagement director despite refusing to fight toxic pollution in his own district, leading the Sunrise Movement to call his appointment “a betrayal.” Longtime corporate lobbyist and White House advisor Anita Dunn (who, like Gallogly, has dodged disclosure requirements via ethics law loopholes) has drawn scrutiny for her advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline and the freight rail industry, a major transporter of crude oil. Even the White House’s number-two climate advisor Ali Zaidi has close ties to dirty energy companies: while at right-wing BigLaw firm Kirkland & Ellis, Zaidi represented Callon Petroleum Co., Midstates Petroleum Company, Mission Coal Company, coal giant Murray Energy (whose late CEO Bob Murray was famously mocked by John Oliver for his appalling business practices), and the scandal-plagued Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Rounding out the fossil fuel industry conflicts at the White House are at least nine top aides with major and minor financial stakes in leading oil and gas firms, including Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and Occidental Petroleum.
Biden’s stacking of the executive branch with fossil fuel industry allies is unacceptable and striking given the climate crisis’ ongoing global devastation. As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to put “science over fiction” and end the blatant revolving-door corruption of the Trump years. Putting former lobbyists and loyalists for Big Oil and Gas companies — who for decades have lied to the public about climate change — in powerful government positions is a direct violation of this pledge.
If we want any hope of a habitable planet for ourselves and future generations, not to mention any semblance of public trust or respect for treaty rights, Biden must reverse course and shut the fossil fuel industry’s revolving door. And that’s just the first step toward stringently regulating an industry whose business actively destroys life on earth as we know it.
UPDATE 7/1/21: Shortly after this blog post was published, Axios reported that Mark Gallogly was departing Climate Envoy John Kerry’s team. This blog has been updated to reflect that information.