Climate

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.

February 22, 2024

KJ Boyle

Blog Post ClimateIndependent AgenciesState Attorneys General

Trump Judge And Louisiana AG Fight To Maintain Environmental Racism

In 2022, Biden’s EPA opened an investigation into Louisiana’s Departments of Health (LDH) and Environmental Quality (LDQ) for failing to sufficiently protect residents of “Cancer Alley”—a strip of predominantly poor, Black communities suffering the dire effects of pollutants spewed from nearby petrochemical plants. To their credit, LDH and LDQ cooperated with the investigation and worked to craft more stringent standards and oversight protocols. Former Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, however, had other ideas. His office filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s (clear) authority to pursue its investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which allows the government to terminate federal funding for an agency found to have engaged in discrimination. Liz Murrill, Landry’s successor, is picking up the torch to carry on his malevolent agenda. 

January 16, 2024

Hannah Story Brown

Letter

ClimateExecutive Branch

147 Groups Call On EPA To Use Clean Air Act Powers to Refer PNW Pipeline Approval to CEQ For Review

On January 16, Bloomberg covered a letter from 147 groups that the Revolving Door Project co-organized with the Center for Biological Diversity and Columbia Riverkeeper, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to utilize its Clean Air Act Section 309 powers to refer the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the GTN Xpress pipeline expansion to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for review. FERC’s approval of the pipeline disregarded both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and legally-binding state-level decarbonization commitments in Washington and Oregon.

December 20, 2023

Hannah Story Brown

Blog Post

ClimateExecutive BranchRevolving Door

Rahm Emanuel, LNG Ambassador To Japan

The pressure on the Biden administration to stop the rapid ongoing expansion of liquified natural gas (LNG) export infrastructure in the United States is intensifying. Over 300 organizations released a letter at COP28 demanding that the administration halt the planned build-out of LNG facilities. 60 Democrats in Congress wrote a letter demanding that the Energy Department reassess whether new LNG terminals were in the national interest. The Hill reported that the Biden administration’s continued support for LNG exports was causing a “revolt” within the Democratic party. 

December 06, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown

Newsletter

ClimateCongressional OversightEthics in GovernmentRight-Wing Media

The “Billionaire Matchmaker” and his Bad Amici

How does one right-wing activist get his worst ideas to appear in the legal decisions of the most powerful judges in America? A bombshell Politico investigation this week has the answers on how rightwing activist and “billionaire matchmaker” Leonard Leo managed to influence the outcome of several of the Supreme Court’s highest-profile and most damaging decisions over the past two years.

November 29, 2023

Emma Marsano

Newsletter ClimateCorporate CrackdownHousingLarry SummersTech

Biden Administration Remains Split Over Fighting Concentrated Corporate Power

This week’s newsletter looks at executive branch attempts to counteract concentrated corporate power across our focus areas – from consumer protection in Big Tech, to housing, to climate regulation. While the FTC and DOJ antitrust division continue to be present in important fights to support consumers and tenants, proactive climate policy continues to be absent, as Biden’s rhetoric regarding challenging climate change rings hollow in areas where the president has considerable discretion.

November 21, 2023

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post ClimateExecutive BranchIndustry Influence

Fossil Fuel Front Groups Do Not Care About You

In efforts to reduce average emissions across the incredibly pollutive transportation sector, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new tailpipe emissions standard. The new rule functionally mandates automakers to electrify portions of their fleets in order to comply with a reduced average emissions standard for vehicles starting with 2027 new vehicle classes. The proposal, while one of the most significant of the administration’s forays into regulating pollution reductions, has also faced steep criticism from some environmentalists for not going nearly far enough in achieving the 75 percent pollution cut necessary to actually address the climate crisis. On July 11, 2023, however, the American Petroleum Institute (API) led a sign-on letter campaign asking the EPA to roll over to industry on the rule. For far too long corporate feedback has been hugely – and disproportionately – influential for regulators. It shouldn’t be.