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.
October 06, 2021
Alumni of Gibson Dunn, the law firm that helped Chevron go after Steven Donziger, have influential executive branch jobs under Biden.
September 23, 2021
President Biden announced Wednesday that he’s nominated Massachusetts State Representative Maria Robinson to be the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Electricity at the Department of Energy.
September 23, 2021
In his time on D.C.’s Public Service Commission and before that as a corporate lawyer, Phillips consistently sided with utilities over the public interest.
September 09, 2021
Phillips has done the bidding of utilities giants during his time on the D.C. Public Service Commission, and spent years working for corporate BigLaw firms which represent oil and gas interests.
September 01, 2021 | Sludge
A financial disclosure reveals that Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein operated a shadow consultancy with foreign fossil fuel clients.
August 18, 2021
The U.S. Court of Appeals is set to rule on the Biden Administration’s eviction moratorium sometime this week. No matter how it decides, however, it is already clear that those who argued against a new moratorium were wrong. A Trump judge has acknowledged that she must, begrudgingly, sustain it for now. By fighting, rather than preemptively surrendering, the administration has ensured that millions of Americans can stay in their homes for weeks longer. That is undoubtedly worth any embarrassment that government lawyers may feel from potentially eventually losing a case.
August 16, 2021
Joe Biden has been president for nearly seven months, and he still has not appointed an Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
August 13, 2021 | American Prospect
Hochstein is not even a skeptic of the fossil fuel industry, much less an environmentalist. His life’s work has been planting American flags on global fossil fuel reserves, facilitating the drilling and pumping of their contents, and inflicting pain on anyone who gets in the way.
August 12, 2021
Today, a coalition of 23 environmental, labor, and good government organizations called on President Biden to remove Thomas Workman from his role as the independent member with insurance expertise on the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), the interagency panel which identifies and addresses systemic risks to the financial system.
August 09, 2021
President Biden has repeatedly declared himself “the most pro-union President you’ve ever seen.” But a pro-labor President should also support the workers for whom he’s the boss — namely, the federal civil service.
July 23, 2021
Trump Picked A Climate-Skeptical Insurance Lobbyist For A Key Regulatory Council. Biden Hasn't Fired Him Yet.
Workman came with exactly zero experience as an insurance regulator, but plenty of experience from the opposite side of the courtroom: for 17 years, he’d been the President and CEO of the life insurance industry’s main lobbying group in the state of New York, the Life Insurance Council of New York (LICONY).
July 20, 2021
June 30th marked the last official day of Republican Neil Chatterjee’s term as a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Despite FERC’s obscurity, it is a critically important independent agency of the federal government that regulates the interstate transmission of oil, gas, and electricity, and reviews proposals to build gas terminals and pipelines. As of July 1st, a new commissioner nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate could have stepped in, giving the five-seat board a Democratic majority. Biden has thus far failed to begin that process, so Chatterjee will remain serving an expired term until Biden appoints and the Senate confirms someone new.
July 19, 2021
Graham’s history fighting for the public against the predations of and systemic risks posed by Wall Street, and now the fossil fuel industry, speaks for itself.
July 14, 2021
The Biden Administration has a historic opportunity to reverse the executive branch’s long-standing war on whistleblowers, and end the all-too-common (and sadly bipartisan) practice of villainizing whistleblowers and leakers to avoid accountability for government wrongdoing revealed by these actors.