Of the many, interlinked crises that define American life in the 2020s, perhaps none is as literally existential as climate change. The next presidential term will cover about half of the remaining years the United Nations estimates Earth has to prevent catastrophic and irreversible global warming.
Incalculable, world-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 Ag, the military-industrial complex, and others — continue to spend tens of millions every year blackmailing American leaders into softballing or 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.
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 can set rules to disincentivize lending to climate-degrading industries, especially regulators who sit on the powerful Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in fossil fuel, 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.
Revolving Door Project aims to keep this kind of deep inside-game from ever being exploited again. 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.
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 in 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.
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. 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 these 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. 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.
April 19, 2021
The U.S. Treasury Department announced today that John Morton would be appointed as its first Climate “Counselor,” tasked with organizing financial-related climate work across the executive branch’s financial regulators.
April 13, 2021
President Biden announced last month that he would nominate Todd Kim to be the top environmental lawyer at the Department of Justice. It was a relatively quiet announcement, devoid of much fanfare, compared to the position’s enormous potential to shape environmental and climate policy for years to come.
April 10, 2021
Hochstein previously served in the Obama State Department, where his job was essentially to secure access to global oil fields on behalf of putatively American multinational Big Oil firms.
April 02, 2021 | The American Prospect
With so many competing priorities, it’s justifiable that Yellen has not given her full attention to every single crisis under her purview. But she can no longer dodge her other big duty: financial policy and Wall Street regulation.
March 23, 2021
Elizabeth Rosenberg, a lesser-known Obama-era official, is being considered to lead the Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit. Her record designing painful economic sanctions, supporting fossil fuel industry-friendly policies, and helping powerful corporations gain close access to the highest levels of government is cause for alarm, writes Vishal Shankar.
March 22, 2021
Keystone XL Investor Susan Rice Has Kept Up Her Fossil Fuel Investments — And Now Oversees Tribal Relations Across The Executive Branch
Having a pollution investor in charge of the DPC should set off alarm bells for anyone worried about climate change — in other words, everyone.
March 22, 2021 | TruthOut
With Haaland at its head, the DOI will have a real chance to reverse its role in exacerbating climate change and environmental racism. Yet, in order to fully realize this potential, the agency will need more funding, increased lower-level staff and much more diversity.
March 18, 2021 | The American Prospect
We have every reason to believe Kerry genuinely wants to save the Earth from climate devastation. His problem is that there is no neoliberal path to doing so.
March 16, 2021
Title 1 of the Dodd-Frank Act Title established the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) just over a decade ago. Prior to its arrival, there was no cross-agency government body tasked with protecting the financial system from systemic risks. FSOC was created to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 2008 financial crisis and to be a safeguard against financial practices with the potential to wreak global havoc.
March 16, 2021
A Slam Dunk Climate Opportunity For Biden: Five Open Seats On The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
President Biden is being presented with a straightforward, simple opportunity to make good on his promise to take a whole-of-government approach to fighting climate change. Appointing climate leaders who will take urgent climate action even if their job descriptions do not explicitly mention the environment is one of the easiest and most important ways Biden can display integrity.
March 15, 2021 | Independent Media Institute
From Vivek Murthy’s lucrative consulting work with Netflix and Carnival Cruise Lines to Brian Deese’s “greenwashing” of fossil fuel investments at BlackRock, the revolving door between corporate industry and government continues to undermine public trust in the Biden Administration, writes our Elias Alsbergas.
March 10, 2021
On President Biden’s first day in office, he made clear that, after the Trump administration’s fantastically corrupt reign, restoring trust in the federal government’s senior leadership would be a priority. His executive order on ethics, signed within hours of his inauguration, went further than any other towards slowing the revolving door and limiting conflicts of interest while in office. Subsequent appointments make clear, however, that these elevated standards are still not enough. Simply following the letter of the order will leave significant room for conflicts of interest to poison the administration’s actions and public trust.
March 10, 2021 | The American Prospect
Lael Brainard and Janet Yellen have been talking the talk about climate risk, but not translating that into meaningful action. Our Dorothy Slater takes a closer look at what strong climate action from financial regulators would look like.
March 08, 2021
John Kerry, President Biden’s international “Climate Envoy”, appears to want bold climate change policy. Kerry was a leader in developing the framework for the first UN climate talks in 1992, co-authored cap-and-trade legislation back in 2009 when it could have possibly been useful, and was a major driver of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
March 02, 2021
Wall Street executives are digging in their heels against the prospect of divesting from fossil fuel investments. At a February event, they peddled the extremely dangerous and false theory that modern society can “rely on the power of markets” to decarbonize our climate-destroying economy.