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.

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. 

January 19, 2022

Press Release

ClimateGovernment Capacity

New Report Warns Agency Capture Threatens OCC Climate Response

Today the Revolving Door Project released a report on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s OCC) capacity to implement and enforce climate regulation. This is the third installment of the project’s ongoing Climate Finance Capacity project \identifying the tools each component of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) has to address the climate crisis through regulatory reform and the capacity-related obstacles that could stand in the way. Prior installments have looked at the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).Through this project, we aim to highlight the responsibility each of these agencies have in regulating our financial system towards a more sustainable future, and the reforms necessary to achieve this vision as examined through the lens of each agency’s unique resourcing.

January 11, 2022

Fatou Ndiaye

Blog Post

ClimateFinancial RegulationGovernment CapacityIndependent Agencies

Climate Finance Capacity Project: Securities and Exchange Commission

Climate change poses a serious threat to everything the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is meant to protect and oversee. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC)’s “Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. The Financial System ”report makes this abundantly clear. The report concludes that climate change may “exacerbate existing, non-climate related vulnerabilities in the financial system, with potentially serious consequences for market stability”. Furthermore, the physical and transitional risks of climate change will likely lead to systemic and sub-systemic financial shocks. These shocks would cause “unprecedented disruption in the proper functioning of financial markets and institutions” and further marginalize communities underserved by the financial system. To fulfill its mandate, of maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient markets, protecting investors, and facilitating capital formation, the SEC must proactively ensure there is enough personnel to monitor and enforce regulations that will keep markets stable and adaptable. 

January 11, 2022

Press Release

ClimateGovernment CapacityIndependent Agencies

New Report Warns That Insufficient Capacity at The SEC Might Limit its Role In the Fight Against Climate Change

Today, the Revolving Door Project released its SEC Climate Capacity Report examining the detrimental impact of capacity shortfalls on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s climate work. This report is the second installment of its Climate Finance Capacity Project. The Climate Finance Capacity Project explores the power and responsibility that each of the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s member agencies has to address the climate crisis and consider how resource limitations threaten to limit their impact. 

December 02, 2021

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

ClimateFinancial RegulationGovernment CapacityIndependent Agencies

Climate Finance Capacity Project: Commodity Futures Trading Commission

The Biden Administration was elected to office with an urgent mandate to change our current trajectory towards catastrophic climate change. Climate-focused financial regulation, or the regulation of markets to accurately account for climate risk and the social and material costs of climate-damaging activities, must be a part of this coordinated federal response in order to meaningfully address climate concerns at the governmental level. An agency that is particularly key to this goal is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The CFTC is one of the smallest federal financial regulatory bodies and yet it is responsible for regulating one of the country’s largest markets, derivatives. While it was originally founded to regulate futures trading in commodities, the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 expanded the CFTC’s mandate to include swaps markets and broadened the agency’s role in regulating other derivatives, in part due to their extreme volatility and outsized role in the 2008 financial crisis. 

November 30, 2021

Dorothy Slater

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimateEthics in GovernmentExecutive Branch

Fossil Fuel Loyalist Mitch Landrieu Is Biden's Pick To Manage $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill

President Biden signed the elusive bipartisan infrastructure bill into law on November 15th. It’s just the first part of a planned two-part infrastructure push, the other being the Democrat-only Build Back Better Act which Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have slashed to pieces. Yet Biden keeps calling the bipartisan bill he signed a climate bill. 

November 22, 2021

Press Release

2020 Election/TransitionClimateEthics in GovernmentFederal ReserveFinancial Regulation

RELEASE: Revolving Door Project Criticizes Biden For Choosing To Own Ethics Scandals And Deregulation By Renominating Powell

“We are extremely disappointed to see Biden renominate Jerome Powell as Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. Biden’s endorsement of Powell’s deregulatory agenda will greatly harm American families. Biden has an ambitious and urgent agenda on climate, financial stability, and addressing racial and economic inequality. Powell as Chair of the Federal Reserve will make it more difficult for Biden to ultimately be a successful president. Today is a win for the conventional wisdom and Establishment and a defeat for the planet and Joe Biden’s ultimate legacy.”

November 17, 2021

Eleanor Eagan

Newsletter

ClimateDepartment of JusticeExecutive BranchFederal ReserveIndependent AgenciesTreasury Department

After Infrastructure Week

Congressional selfies and self-congratulations inaugurated the week, but a lot of hard work remains to translate the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s (IIJA) policies into real-life results. Given that those policies are (generously) middling and that the most promising ones are underfunded, turning these into winning programs will demand energy, creativity, competence, and a strong commitment to the public interest.

November 10, 2021

Dorothy Slater Hannah Story Brown

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimateIndependent Agencies

A Fossil Fuel-Aligned Investment Executive Is Biden's Final Nominee to Manage Federal Retirement Funds

Harvard President Larry Bacow announced mid-afternoon on September 9th that the Ivy League university — whose 53.2 billion endowment exceeds the GDP of over 100 countries — would officially end its investments in fossil fuels. That announcement set off a domino reaction of divestment announcements from Dartmouth, the California State University system, Boston University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Toronto, the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Netherlands’ largest pension fund, and hundreds of other groups. They appear to see the writing on the wall that fossil fuel investments, beyond being morally egregious, are also no longer profitable.

November 05, 2021 | The American Prospect

Eleanor Eagan Fatou Ndiaye

Op-Ed

ClimateGovernment Capacity

A Missing Link in the Fight Against the Climate Crisis

With his legislative climate agenda hanging in the balance, President Biden turned to executive action this week in his attempt to “assert American leadership” at COP26 in Glasgow. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping new rules to curb methane emissions. Those standards, which the agency estimates would eliminate a greater volume of emissions between 2023 and 2035 than those emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial planes in 2019, were rightly applauded. For now, however, these are just estimates. Ensuring that they turn into real-life emissions reductions that meet or exceed expectations will require that agencies have the capacity to promptly write strong new rules and, then, enforce them.

November 02, 2021

Eleanor Eagan Fatou Ndiaye

Report

ClimateGovernment Capacity

Climate Capacity Crisis: Attrition at Climate Agencies and Immediate Steps to Address It

It has been over nine months since President Donald Trump left office, but on climate policy the federal government continues to show the scars from his disastrous presidency. At a moment when we do not have even a second to waste to avoid catastrophic climate change, agencies are struggling to build back better after attacks on scientific integrity and agency budgets left them without sufficient staff capacity and expertise. While the Biden administration has consistently affirmed its support for the federal workforce through rhetoric and action, New York Times reporting from this summer makes clear that the rebuilding is still not happening fast enough.