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.

November 24, 2022 | The American Prospect

Max Moran Hannah Story Brown

Blog Post

ClimateEthics in GovernmentFinancial Regulation

Quants, Carbon, And Climate Change

Both EA and popularism appeal to a desire for mathematical rigor and objective calculation, whether it’s calculating lives-saved-per-dollar or playing probabilities in politics.Both EA and popularism appeal to a desire for mathematical rigor and objective calculation, whether it’s calculating lives-saved-per-dollar or playing probabilities in politics.

November 18, 2022

KJ Boyle

Blog Post

ClimateExecutive Branch

Infrastructure Coordinator Not Coordinating With Public Transit Agency

Last November, President Biden signed the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, better known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The bill provides $1.2 trillion for infrastructure renovations nationwide, with $91 billion earmarked for various public transportation programs. At the time, Biden announced Mitch Landrieu would be the White House’s Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator in charge of implementing the landmark legislation, more colloquially known as the “Infrastructure Czar.” Landrieu now oversees a $1.2 trillion dollar bill, so he must be in constant communication with the administrators of key agencies to ensure it’s money well spent … right?

November 14, 2022 | The Nation

Timi Iwayemi

Op-Ed

Campaign FinanceClimatecryptocurrencyFinancial Regulation

Money From Nothing: Sam Bankman-Fried’s Crypto Shakedown

The rapid meltdown of FTX stands as one of the most gruesome chapters in the annals of investment fiascos: think of the false technological promises of Elizabeth Holmes’s Theranos grift combined with the evaporation of Bernie Madoff’s prestigious Ponzi fund. But the saga of FTX involves much more than either the vanity and hubris of Holmes’s fraud offensive or the deceptive practices of the Madoff scam. The rapid rise and fall of Bankman-Fried points up the delusional character of information-age capitalism; Far from standing as an outlying trend within the crypto investment world, Bankman-Fried’s scam was nestled at the very heart of its prevailing business model.

November 01, 2022

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

ClimateDepartment of Commerce

Gina Raimondo Should (Still) Fire NHC Acting Director Jamie Rhome

Last month, Jamie Rhome, the current Acting Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC), effectively rejected settled climate science while discussing the then-potential severity and impact of Hurricane Ian. In that interview, Rhome said he would “caution against” linking the intensity of Hurricane Ian to climate change. To be clear, there is no question or ambiguity on this link. The worsening severity of extreme weather events as a result of climate change is something that has been firmly established, for years, by other federal agencies – like NASA – and also by international research bodies – like the National Academies – which makes Rhome’s refusal to do so all the more baffling. 

August 08, 2022 | Washington Monthly

Hannah Story Brown

Op-Ed

2020 Election/TransitionClimateDepartment of JusticeIndependent Agencies

Why Is Merrick Garland Sticking with Donald Trump on Climate Lawsuits?

It started with Boulder in early February. Then came Baltimore and San Mateo in April. Now Honolulu and Maui are the latest municipalities to overcome a crucial legal hurdle in their fight to make fossil fuel companies pay for their role in climate change. After years of obstruction, it looks like state courts will hear arguments from these cities—as well as several states—that big energy companies knowingly concealed and misrepresented the harms of their products, contributing to climate damages these regions face. Five federal appeals courts have green-lit suing the fossil fuel giants in state court, where these state and local governments have a better chance of prevailing. The stakes are massive: requiring fossil fuel companies to foot the bill for climate change–related damages to U.S. cities and states could easily run into the tens of billions.

July 26, 2022

Dorothy Slater Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

FOIA Request

Climate

Fossil Fuel-Tied Legal Experts Are the Main Critics of a Climate Emergency Declaration

months of dedicated advocacy and both public and private pressure from environmental groups which insisted an emergency declaration was necessary to meet the moment, it seemed like Biden was finally ready to respond. But the declaration didn’t come, and in the days since, PoliticoPro’s EnergyWire and GreenWire have given spotlights to legal experts opining on the legal and political merits of such a declaration. 

June 30, 2022

Hannah Story Brown

Press Release

ClimateCongressional OversightEthics in GovernmentExecutive BranchIndependent Agencies

RELEASE: Impact of Supreme Court’s EPA Decision Can Be Minimized Through Decisive Executive Counteractions

Today the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in West Virginia v. EPA, curbing the EPA’s authority to establish carbon emissions caps under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. It is a significant blow, and is further evidence of how far this empowered, extremist Supreme Court will go to erode the functions of our government and contravene the public interest. But it is not a lethal blow. Many tools to stave off the climate crisis and facilitate an equitable energy transition remain available to the EPA, to the White House, and to Congress.