Climate and Environment

Of the many, interlinked crises that define American life in the 2020s, none is as literally existential as climate change. Biden’s first White House stint and the next presidential term will cover most 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 at the speed and scale necessitated by the climate emergency. First, we have researched and raised alarms about the tools that polluting industries use to ossify the departments and regulatory agencies tasked with holding them accountable. 

Around the 2020 election transition, we highlighted corrupt Trump appointee Andrew Wheeler’s degradation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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. We 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 pushed the Biden administration to nominate public interest-minded candidates for high-level political appointments, while exposing the rip current of Trump holdovers and industry-aligned appointees working against the administration’s best impulses. 

We pointed out under-utilized powers, such as the EPA’s ability to refer other agencies’ environmentally damaging decisions to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for review and inter-agency mediation, in contexts like the Tennessee Valley Authority’s corrupt disregard for the imperative of decarbonizing our energy supply, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s obsequiousness to the oil and gas industry’s reckless expansionism.

We exposed how fossil fuel company lawyers were urging the Supreme Court to skirt ethics requirements in order to suppress state and city-led lawsuits against oil and gas majors, after pushing Biden’s Justice Department to reverse Trump-era amicus briefs in those cases siding with the fossil fuel defendants. 

We examined the hydrogen industry players poised to make billions from the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean hydrogen tax credit, and their influence campaign to weaken the safeguards for that tax credit’s implementation, in our Hydrogen Industry Agenda Report. And we investigated one of the latest greenwashing plays from the gas industry—”certified” or “differentiated” gas—as they sought to influence ongoing methane rulemakings from the Biden administration and charge utility customers premiums, research which was cited by Senator Markey in an oversight letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation of oil and gas marketing claims.

Second, we have 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 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 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.

The 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 RDP 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 Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) 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 Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) (infuriating those at the Wall Street Journal), it’s clear we are making the right people mad.

Whether it’s installing Department of Justice (DOJ) 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 of 2020. 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 (OIRA), which our Jeff Hauser wrote about in September of 2019.

In addition, RDP has drawn attention to the influential role of the Federal Reserve, which is a key climate policymaker whether or not it identifies as such. We helped lead the noisy, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, fight against the renomination of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, citing the former private equity executive’s affinity for Wall Street and lax approach to financial regulation. A vindicated RDP has subsequently criticized Powell for both his regulatory inaction, which has kept the U.S. at the bottom of the international ranks when it comes to mitigating climate-related financial risks, and for his unwarranted campaign of interest rate hikes, which has constrained the green economic transition while doing little to alleviate profit-driven inflation. 

Notably, 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 leading the Army Corps of Engineers, or Todd Kim, the top environmental lawyer at the Justice Department. 

We have also expanded our work on the climate crisis, and our oversight of climate’s biggest villains, into state-level work. Focusing primarily on state-level Attorneys General, we have begun interrogating what interests are funding some of the most powerful and influential actors at the state level, how that influences and informs state and national policy, and more. 

We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the DOJ, 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 from fossil fuels), and spotlight little-known positions in places like the Treasury Department and the SEC 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.

June 12, 2024 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown Andrea Beaty

Newsletter

Anti-MonopolyClimate and EnvironmentEthics in GovernmentExecutive Branch

Utilities Doubling Down On Fossil Fuels? That’s A Junk Fee!

In late May, Brian Deese, the former director of President Biden’s National Economic Council and current MIT fellow, wrote about “The Next Front in the War Against Climate Change” for The Atlantic. Deese explained that while the Inflation Reduction Act’s incentives have stimulated clean energy demand “beyond my wildest hopes,” he still finds himself “lying awake at night, worried that America could still fail to meet its climate goals.” 

May 22, 2024

Emma Marsano

Blog PostNewsletter

Anti-MonopolyClimate and EnvironmentCryptocurrencyExecutive Branch

RDP Work Round-Up: Memorial Day Edition

As we head into Memorial Day Weekend, we’re taking some time to review recent work at Revolving Door Project—boosting pieces we want to make sure readers here see, and staying focused on priority areas for our team. Here’s hoping the extra time in your week gives you some space to go down a revolving rabbit hole (or two) with us, whether on the crypto industry’s continuing efforts to influence how they’re regulated, or on Scott Sheffield, the former fossil fuel CEO engaged in an oil price-fixing scheme. 

May 15, 2024 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Andrea Beaty Jeff Hauser

Newsletter

Anti-MonopolyClimate and EnvironmentCorporate CrackdownGovernanceGovernment Capacity

Pioneer’s Price Fixing Scandal Is Yet Another Reason We Need To Fully Fund Antitrust Enforcers

Major corporate scandals make the consequences of Republican-led budget cuts at antitrust enforcement agencies even clearer. Crucially, they serve as reminders that the federal government’s ability to combat the ill effects of monopolization rises and falls in direct proportion to funding, even when motivated and creative leadership are at the helm.

May 10, 2024

Fatou Ndiaye

Blog Post Climate and EnvironmentFEMAGovernment CapacityHealthIRS

Four executive branch agencies that desperately need more funding and staffing

Across the federal government, we continue to see how staffing issues are preventing agencies from fulfilling their mandate, at the expense of the public and to the benefit of corporate wrongdoers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are 4 agencies that desperately need more funding and staffing to protect and do right by the American people.

April 05, 2024

Kenny Stancil Timi Iwayemi Jeff Hauser

Press Release Climate and EnvironmentFederal ReserveFinancial Regulation

RELEASE: When It Comes To Climate-Related Financial Risk, The Fed Needs To Get Its Head Out Of The Sand

Biden erred with his renomination of Powell, but if he gets another chance, he must choose a central bank leader dedicated to properly tackling the myriad challenges facing the Fed, which range from price stability and full employment to financial stability and climate-related financial risk.