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.

May 17, 2022

Mekedas Belayneh Dorothy Slater

Blog Post

ClimateExecutive BranchIndependent Agencies

One Weird Trick To Prevent the TVA From Building New Gas Plants

The Tennessee Valley Authority, an independent agency of the federal government which acts as a public utility for over 10 million residents in and around Tennessee, announced in March that it would replace two aging coal-fired power plants with gas-powered plants. As the nation’s largest public utility company, the move goes against Biden’s goal to achieve a clean energy grid by 2035. TVA could be leading the charge for renewables, but its fossil fuel CEO Jeff Lyash, who comes out of fossil fuels, is instead choosing to lock in polluting gas for decades. This does not have to be the case. 

April 25, 2022

Dorothy Slater

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimateEthics in GovernmentExecutive BranchRevolving Door

What You Need To Know About The Contenders For Biden’s Next Chief Of Staff

Nearly halfway through President Biden’s second year in office, with midterms on the horizon and senior staff either burning out or eager to sell out, “Transition 2.0” — the rapid departure of said senior staff with an influx of new personnel — is growing closer. One position we’re keeping a close eye on is Biden’s next Chief of Staff. Currently filled by Ron Klain, this is Biden’s de facto power broker. He helps the president make decisions and acts as a gatekeeper for the many, MANY forces, good and bad, who’d like to influence the president.

April 25, 2022 | The New Republic

Mekedas Belayneh

Op-Ed

ClimateExecutive BranchIndependent AgenciesUSPS

How Biden Can Halt the U.S. Postal Service’s Gas-Guzzling Plan

Just days after his inauguration, President Biden promised to use the federal government’s procurement authority to achieve a zero-emission fleet of government vehicles. This spring, however, that’s led to a standoff with the United States Postal Service—an independent agency overseen by a Trump-aligned postmaster general who wants to replace 225,000 out-of-date mail delivery trucks with fresh gas-guzzlers, to the tune of $11.3 billion.

March 16, 2022

Fatou Ndiaye

Blog Post

ClimateDepartment of JusticeGovernment Capacity

To Take Down Corporate Polluters, the DOJ's Environmental Enforcer Needs More Capacity

Overseen by Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) is one of seven litigating components of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The ENRD is divided into ten sections, each with its own area of expertise. The Division fulfills a wide range of responsibilities. For instance, the ENRD is tasked with protecting the nation’s natural resources and enforcing U.S. civil and criminal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and hazardous waste laws. The Division also handles tribal rights and resources cases. Other responsibilities include, but are not limited to, “facilitating cleaner energy and ensuring marketplace integrity; defending and adjudicating water rights for Federal agencies and Indian Tribes, as well as policies and decisions that support the generation of clean energy on Federal lands and the outer continental shelf; and, promoting international climate justice activities and the advancement of legislative and policy matters related to climate change.”

March 15, 2022 | The American Prospect

Hannah Story Brown

Op-Ed

ClimateCorporate CrackdownDepartment of JusticeEthics in GovernmentExecutive BranchIndependent Agencies

Where the Government’s Environmental Lawyers Stand

Joe Biden pledged that as president he would hold polluters accountable. But in 2021, the number of criminal cases against polluters referred to the Justice Department dropped even lower than the year before. At best, DOJ officials have set their sights on bringing environmental crime enforcement back up to Obama-era levels—but not exceeding them. That’s a decidedly muted goal; environmental crimes enforcement was higher under George W. Bush than Obama, and has always been underfunded.

March 11, 2022

Hannah Story Brown Dylan Gyauch-Lewis

Press Release

ClimateExecutive BranchFinancial RegulationIndependent AgenciesRevolving Door

Carbon Offset Legitimization Would Undermine Climate Progress, New Report Argues

The Revolving Door Project released a new “Industry Agenda” report today breaking down the systemic flaws and increasing relevance of the carbon offset industry as the favored greenwashing strategy for big industries and high-polluting nations. The report highlights the policies and executive branch agencies of interest to players in both voluntary and compliance carbon markets in the United States.

March 09, 2022

Hannah Story Brown

Blog Post

ClimateCorporate CrackdownDefenseExecutive Branch

Biden’s Ban on Russian Fuels Could Be a Climate Turning Point

With only a handful of years left to act before catastrophic global climate change becomes irreversible, every day is a high-stakes day for U.S. climate policy. But the past two weeks of Putin’s unconscionable war on Ukraine have been particularly nerve-racking for the future of the energy transition—a transition which is inextricably linked to the future of democracy everywhere. 

February 17, 2022

Press Release

ClimateFinancial Regulation

New Report Examines Treasury Research Division’s Destruction and Its Consequences for Climate Regulation

Today the Revolving Door Project released a report on the Office of Financial Research’s (OFR) capacity to proactively investigate and inform climate-aware regulation across the federal financial regulatory landscape. This is the fourth installment of our Climate Finance Capacity project, which examines the current state of financial regulation through the lens of the climate crisis. Our prior installments have looked at the role and capacity of the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in crafting a more sustainable financial future. 

February 17, 2022

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

ClimateFinancial Regulation

Dino Falaschetti and the Decimation of the OFR

The Office of Financial Research (OFR) was established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. Charged with providing data, analysis, and research regarding systemic financial risks to the members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), OFR is an integral part of the federal infrastructure for safeguarding financial stability. OFR, while not itself a regulatory body, investigates systemic risks, standardizes the data used across government, and can offer financial regulators a more robust empirical base from which to devise regulations. OFR was designed to address the proven inability of financial regulators in the lead up to the Great Recession to understand dangers before threats turned into devastation.

February 07, 2022

Fatou Ndiaye

Blog Post

ClimateGovernment Capacity

The Department of Energy Needs More Capacity To Help Prevent A Dim Future

Addressing the climate crisis on a federal level requires, at minimum, that the agencies and departments of the federal government be fully staffed and equipped to implement and enforce regulations. In the Revolving Door Project’s Climate Capacity Crisis Report, we initially found that the Department of Energy (DOE) had relatively higher staffing levels compared to other agencies, though certainly not enough to fulfill its mandate. As of June 2021, Biden’s DOE had hired 79 more STEM employees than were employed by the department in September 2016, whereas the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, National Park Service, United States Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency all lost STEM employees within that same time period. Despite the DOE’s comparably impressive staffing levels, a recent Washington Post article revealed that the department was struggling to stay on top of mounting work, causing unnecessary problems in their fight against the climate crisis.

January 24, 2022

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

ClimateEthics in GovernmentInteriorRevolving Door

Revolver Spotlight: Tommy Beaudreau Is Big Oil’s Back Door to Biden’s Interior

President Biden nominated Tommy Beaudreau to be his Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior last April, and he was confirmed to the position by June. Unfortunately, though Biden seeks to be seen as a climate champion, Beaudreau was, and is, a uniquely terrible choice to help helm a climate-focused administration. His revolving door record is extensive, his conflicts of interest are nearly unprecedented, and his (re)installment at the highest circles of the Department of the Interior was ultimately a win for oil and gas conglomerates.