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Blog Post | June 29, 2021

ExxonMobil Ally Elizabeth Rosenberg In Line For Top Job In Biden’s Treasury

BigLawClimate and EnvironmentExecutive BranchRevolving DoorTreasury Department
ExxonMobil Ally Elizabeth Rosenberg In Line For Top Job In Biden’s Treasury

President Biden says there’s “no time to waste when it comes to the existential threat of climate change.” Evidently, he hasn’t persuaded activists in the Sunrise Movement that he means it. In response to reports of Biden trading away climate-focused measures for Republican votes on his infrastructure proposals, Sunrise protesters blocked all entrances to the White House on Monday and reiterated the demand of progressive Congressional allies: “No climate, no deal.”

So is Biden actually tackling the responsibility of handling our last, best chance to mitigate the climate disaster? You wouldn’t think so based on the latest figure in line for a powerful executive branch job.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, an Obama administration alum who has been nominated for the role of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing, is on track to be confirmed by the Senate despite having an extensive record of doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. The job would put her in charge of the Treasury’s efforts to counter money laundering and financial crimes used to fund terrorism. Any fossil fuel-tied figures in the executive branch pose a threat to the future, but Rosenberg’s position will also involve her with many parts of Treasury’s international issue portfolio that are relevant to the globe-trotting fossil fuel industry.

As I previously detailed on this blog, Rosenberg spent the Obama and Trump years advancing policies that would benefit dirty energy companies at the expense of the public good. New financial disclosure forms released earlier this month have further fleshed out what Rosenberg has been up to since the Obama years — and it’s alarming, to say the least.

Rosenberg’s Record Of Supporting Big Oil

As I wrote here in March, Rosenberg revolved out of the Treasury Department in 2013 — where she had aggressively backed destructive sanctions regimes — to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a hawkish foreign policy think tank whose abundant conflicts of interest my Revolving Door Project colleagues have also previously documented. CNAS, it should be noted, receives major financial backing from the fossil fuel industry — it proudly touts Chevron, Equinor, BP America, and ExxonMobil as among its “generous donors who help make our work possible”. 

To that end, Rosenberg spent her time at CNAS quietly advancing policies that would have directly benefited these corporate donors without acknowledging her obvious conflict of interest. As European nations struggled to wean themselves off Russian energy supplies amidst the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Rosenberg co-authored a CNAS policy paper urging Congress and the Department of Energy to accelerate liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from America abroad and invest in long-term LNG and shale infrastructure in Europe. She defended this proposal in testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, praising LNG exports for “contribut[ing] to economic growth and security” and “in the American national interest”. Environmental organizations at the time strongly criticized the effort to tie the Crimean crisis to LNG exports, with the Sierra Club calling the proposal a “red herring” that “willful[ly ignored] the dangers of gas fracking to American families’ health, land, water, and air.” Grist’s Ben Adler further noted that the push for LNG exports seemed primarily designed to benefit fossil fuel companies and their Republican allies in Congress, rather than U.S. national security goals.

In 2015, Rosenberg again made a major push for a pro-Big Oil policy by co-authoring a CNAS paper urging Congress to repeal a decades-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports. As with the LNG debate, Rosenberg invoked U.S. national security interests to justify her position before Congress, urging lawmakers to lift the export ban to “reap the geopolitical advantages of having a larger and more flexible role in the global oil market.” Rosenberg was joined in this campaign by the American Petroleum Institute, one of the fossil fuel industry’s largest lobbying groups, who similarly utilized the language of “geopolitical influence” in urging Congress to lift the ban. Despite broad opposition from environmental and labor groups and 11 Democratic Senators, Rosenberg and other proponents of repealing the ban prevailed when President Obama lifted it in 2016. A bill co-authored by Senators Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, and Bernie Sanders to reinstate the ban was introduced earlier this year and is endorsed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Oil Change International, and over 100 grassroots environmental organizations.

New Financial Disclosures Shed Light On Rosenberg’s Fossil Fuel Advocacy

While Rosenberg’s public advocacy for fossil fuel industry-friendly policies has been known for years, her work as a private consultant has been largely shrouded in secrecy. The release of her personal financial disclosures earlier this month has shed some light on this matter, with Rosenberg naming oil giant ExxonMobil and corporate law firm Eversheds Sutherland LLP as two of her private-sector clients. 

The first of these clients is both eye-catching and alarming, and for very good reason. While Biden has pledged to prioritize “science over fiction” when it comes to climate change, Exxon has done the exact opposite for decades. According to the company’s own former climate expert, Exxon executives knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change since the early 1980s, but spent millions promoting climate denial think-tanks, researchers, and politicians to avoid regulatory action. A study by Harvard researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes published last month revealed that this elaborate propaganda campaign has taken a more sophisticated and subtle approach in recent years, with Exxon deflecting attention away from its own role in fueling climate change by urging individual consumers to “be smart about electricity use”. The exact details of Rosenberg’s work for Exxon — as is the frustrating case with other Biden appointees — are absent from her financial disclosures (a loophole we have urged Biden to close in the name of good governance).

Equally troubling is Rosenberg’s work for Eversheds Sutherland (the details of which, like her work for Exxon, are largely omitted from the filings). The landing page for the firm’s Oil and Gas Practice proudly boasts of offering a “full range of regulatory and transactional services” to major fossil fuel corporations. Among the firm’s clients are Shell, Chevron, and British Petroleum — some of the world’s largest dirty energy companies. 

Also of note in Rosenberg’s disclosures are her consulting stints at shadow-lobbying firm WestExec Advisors and her own consultancy, Elizabeth Rosenberg Consulting LLC. Here again, Rosenberg has taken full advantage of loopholes in existing ethics laws and refused to specify her clients or the specific services rendered to them in official financial disclosure firms. Known clients of WestExec include the Royal Bank of Canada (one of the top five financiers of fossil fuels in the world) and private equity giant Blackstone, which has profited extensively from investments in offshore drilling and deforestation of the Amazon

No Fossil Fuel Industry Ally Should Be Working In The Biden Administration

As temperatures crack triple-digits on the west coast this week, the urgency of tackling the climate crisis is abundantly clear. Biden has ostensibly pledged to do something about this, promising an “all-of-government approach” to climate (in which the Treasury Department stands to play a monumental role). But if personnel is policy, appointees like Elizabeth Rosenberg will doom this approach to failure. Rosenberg is the latest in a series of alarming Biden administration hires and nominations — including Tommy Beaudreau, Neil MacBride, and Mark Gallogly — who have spent years doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and corporate polluters. Their flagrant conflicts of interest not only pose a threat to meaningful executive branch action on climate, but will also erode what little confidence the public still has in our institutions after four years of Trump. Rosenberg’s nomination also sends a powerful and alarming message to others in the energy policy space: there are no negative career consequences for helping Big Oil destroy the planet. 

Biden has pledged to meaningfully address the climate crisis, crack down on corruption, and restore faith in government. If he is serious about accomplishing even a single one of these goals, he should keep industry allies like Elizabeth Rosenberg out of his administration. 

UPDATE 7/2/21: A hyperlink to Rosenberg’s CNAS paper on the crude export ban has been corrected to link to the proper URL.

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