Of the many, interlinked crises that define American life in the 2020s, none is as literally existential as climate change. This presidential term will cover about half of the remaining years the United Nations estimates Earth has to prevent catastrophic and irreversible global warming.
Incalculable, globally historic pain and suffering are already happening as a result of the climate crisis. Yet the forces of big business responsible — most especially the fossil fuel industry, but also Big Agriculture, the military-industrial complex, and others — continue to spend tens of millions every year blackmailing American leaders into softballing and even ignoring the literal end of the world as we know it.
The Revolving Door Project has taken a two-pronged approach to aid in the fight for government action on the scale of the climate emergency. First, we have researched and raised alarms about the tools which climate change-exacerbating industries, including the fossil fuel industry, use to ossify the departments and regulatory agencies which should be holding them accountable. We highlighted corrupt Trump appointee Andrew Wheeler’s degradation of the Environmental Protection Agency in our collaborative “Swamp Tour” with the Progressive Change Institute. We tracked and exposed political contributions from influential fossil fuel figures in our Presidential Power Map. And we’ve raised alarms about fossil fuel allies sidling up to the Joe Biden campaign, as the Project’s Miranda Litwak and Max Moran wrote about in The Intercept, and the executive branch itself, as the Project’s Dorothy Slater wrote in our Fossil Fuel Industry Agenda.
We’ve also sought to show that climate change is a whole-of-government problem, just as it is a whole-of-society problem. Scattered across the executive branch are far more powers and appointees relevant to saving the planet than just those in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Department of Energy (DOE). As our Jeff Hauser told Kate Aronoff, “You could have the best EPA Administrator in the world. If they get overruled by OMB or NEC, it’s kind of irrelevant how good they are or how hard they fight.”
For example, financial regulators, mainly those who sit on the powerful Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), can set rules to disincentivize lending to climate-degrading industries and regulate to protect the financial system from climate risk, as we described in our “FSOC 101” explainer. BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, aggressively lobbied little-known regulatory agencies which still have seats on FSOC to insulate it from a level of oversight which could have substantially changed its behavior. We have been at the forefront of calling out BlackRock’s practice of hiring Democrats in an effort to “greenwash” their brand, as well as pushing regulators like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (as leader of FSOC) to step up and regulate BlackRock as it should be regulated.
Revolving Door Project aims to keep this kind of deep inside-game from being exploited. To that end, we’ve integrated climate change into all of our other lines of inquiry into corporate capture of the executive branch. Most of the world had never heard of Larry Summers’ horrific record on climate issues until the Revolving Door Project wrote about it and shared our research with allies. Now, his history of wrist-slapping the fossil fuel industry played a key role in the surge of pushback that led him to officially refuse any job in a Biden administration. Similarly in the case of Alex Oh, a corporate lawyer who defended the likes of ExxonMobil, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, and Pfizer. Oh resigned less than a week after being appointed as the SEC’s Enforcement Director, citing “developments” in the case where she defended ExxonMobil against Indonesian villagers citing torture and implying she would prefer not to deal with the inevitable bad press. This came soon after a letter from RDP and other progressive groups urging SEC Chairman Gary Gensler to revoke the appointment and our research publicizing the extent of Oh’s legal career.
Between the success of keeping Alex Oh out of government (which led the NY Post to blast us as a “good-government group” who put “a progressive bullseye on her back”) and our work successfully pressuring Gensler to clear house at the PCAOB (infuriating those at the Wall Street Journal), it’s clear we are making the right people mad.
Whether it’s installing Justice Department officials ready to prosecute polluters to the fullest extent of the law, or setting new rules at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to screen all government spending projects for climate equity, there are considerable actions the executive branch can take to reorient our governance around the overriding need to protect our planet. Max Moran detailed several of these for The American Prospect last July. There are also important gatekeepers scattered across the executive branch which environmentalists must know how to overcome to get the change we desperately need: the most prominent of these is the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which our Jeff Hauser wrote about in September of 2019.
Likewise, the forces arrayed against climate action are more sophisticated than just oil lobbyists and pipeline executives. Too often, individuals with seemingly strong climate credentials revolve out of government and into influence-industry positions secretly funded by the fossil fuel industry — be they think tanks, academic institutions, or the greenwashing divisions of major investment corporations — or to corporation-defending BigLaw firms, as we highlight in our BigLaw series. These seemingly upstanding institutions provide moral cover to the allies of Big Oil, allowing them to list an employer which sounds more respectable than ExxonMobil or Shell, even if those companies are the ones really paying the bills.
The Revolving Door Project aims to expose these front groups, and prevent anyone willing to take under-the-table cash from the fossil fuel industry from exerting power in the federal government again. We will not shy away from criticizing those loyal to BigLaw firms and their corporate, fossil fuel giant clients, like Michael Connor, who is set to lead the Army Corps of Engineers, or Todd Kim, set to be the top environmental lawyer at the DOJ.
We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the Department of Justice, call out those loyal to profit over climate like Mark Gallogly, push for Biden to utilize the most obscure aspects of his power, (like appointing five new members to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, who could divest federal retirement money overnight), and spotlight little-known positions in places like the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission which could have huge impacts on climate action.
The stakes of the climate crisis leave us morally obligated to use every tool in the executive toolbelt that can prevent irreparable harm, and to shield the government from anyone willing to accept anything less.
Below you will find some of the project’s writing and research on climate policy. For a selection of quotes and interviews on the topic, please visit this page.
July 23, 2021
Trump Picked A Climate-Skeptical Insurance Lobbyist For A Key Regulatory Council. Biden Hasn't Fired Him Yet.
Workman came with exactly zero experience as an insurance regulator, but plenty of experience from the opposite side of the courtroom: for 17 years, he’d been the President and CEO of the life insurance industry’s main lobbying group in the state of New York, the Life Insurance Council of New York (LICONY).
July 20, 2021
June 30th marked the last official day of Republican Neil Chatterjee’s term as a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Despite FERC’s obscurity, it is a critically important independent agency of the federal government that regulates the interstate transmission of oil, gas, and electricity, and reviews proposals to build gas terminals and pipelines. As of July 1st, a new commissioner nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate could have stepped in, giving the five-seat board a Democratic majority. Biden has thus far failed to begin that process, so Chatterjee will remain serving an expired term until Biden appoints and the Senate confirms someone new.
July 19, 2021
Graham’s history fighting for the public against the predations of and systemic risks posed by Wall Street, and now the fossil fuel industry, speaks for itself.
July 14, 2021
The Biden Administration has a historic opportunity to reverse the executive branch’s long-standing war on whistleblowers, and end the all-too-common (and sadly bipartisan) practice of villainizing whistleblowers and leakers to avoid accountability for government wrongdoing revealed by these actors.
July 08, 2021
“As a private corporate attorney, MacBride defended fossil fuel companies, Wall Street giants, Big Tech monopolies, and a myriad of other corporate industries,” the groups wrote. “His past work fighting vigorously and successfully on behalf of corporations against the public interest disqualifies him from a role in the administration.”
July 07, 2021
Survivors of sexual assault were hurt to learn that the Department of Justice chose to continue to defend Donald Trump in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation suit against the former president. Unfortunately, this is but one example of many in which Merrick Garland’s Justice Department has maintained flawed legal positions of the Trump administration which contravene not only the administration’s goals, but basic norms of American democracy. While the Attorney General may be motivated by an attempt to maintain the appearance of impartiality at the DOJ, the institutional goal must be to achieve just outcomes; deference to the Trump DOJ under the guise of impartiality is not only unwarranted, it is unjust. The flawed legal positions the Department has been adopting or maintaining in case after case contravene this goal. These positions have already had disastrous repercussions.
July 07, 2021
There is no delicate way to put it: Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has been a striking failure so far. More than 10 percent of the way through this presidential term, Attorney General Merrick Garland has failed to remove Trump holdovers; is treating Trump as a completely typical president and refusing to prosecute his many crimes; is not reversing dangerous Trump-era legal positions; and is freely allowing corporate capture of his department.
Garland’s disappointing tenure is detrimental to progressive plans for many issues — criminal justice, police violence, labor rights, immigration, antitrust, and white collar crime prosecution, among others — but his potential to wreak havoc on necessary climate action is most staggering considering the existential stakes.
July 06, 2021 | The Daily Beast
Neil MacBride spent eight years leveraging his government experience to defend Big Oil, Big Pharma, and Wall Street giants. Why does Biden want him back?
June 30, 2021
President Biden has hired several Big Oil consultants and insiders to staff the executive branch amid growing calls for federal climate action.
June 29, 2021
New financial disclosure filings reveal that Elizabeth Rosenberg, Biden’s pick for Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing, was a consultant for ExxonMobil and a Big Oil-aligned corporate law firm.
June 21, 2021
On the occasion of President Biden’s meeting with top financial regulators to discuss the health of the financial system, including climate-related risk, Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser issued the following statement:
June 14, 2021
Asset management giant BlackRock most recently made the news for buying up huge tracts of U.S. housing stock to become, essentially, a massive corporate landlord at the expense of all the rest of us. (Seems like they are learning a thing or two from private equity firm Blackstone, to which they formerly belonged, which is infamous for its predatory and downright evil infiltration of the housing market.)
June 07, 2021 | The American Prospect
Michael Connor of WilmerHale has been appointed to run a surprisingly important agency in efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.
June 02, 2021
Working Paper: New Federal Reserve Governors Must Deploy All of the Institution’s Tools to Advance the Public Interest
Over the course of the next eight months, Biden will have the opportunity to reshape the Federal Reserve Board of Governors with nominations for up to four of its seven seats, including the positions of Vice Chair of Supervision, Vice Chair, and Chair (listed in the order they will become vacant). In choosing nominees for these posts, it will be essential that Biden consider the full weight of the Federal Reserve’s immense power and select individuals who are ready and willing to deploy every ounce of it to advance the public interest.
May 13, 2021 | The American Prospect
Progressives have generally seen Gary Gensler, the newly confirmed chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as a loyal advocate for the public interest. His tenure at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) was one of the few bright spots in Barack Obama’s financial regulatory regime. But in April, Gensler named Alex Oh to be his director of enforcement, before she resigned a week later amid negative media attention. Before joining the SEC, Oh had directly facilitated an ExxonMobil executive’s obstinate deposition testimony (reportedly read off an attorney-drafted script) in the face of plaintiff objections—and the case itself centered on accusations of torture, rape, and murder by ExxonMobil-hired guards in an Indonesian village.