Climate

Of the many, interlinked crises that define American life in the 2020s, perhaps none is as literally existential as climate change. The next presidential term will cover about half of the remaining years the United Nations estimates Earth has to prevent catastrophic and irreversible global warming.

Incalculable, world-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 Ag, the military-industrial complex, and others — continue to spend tens of millions every year blackmailing American leaders into softballing or 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.

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 can set rules to disincentivize lending to climate-degrading industries, especially regulators who sit on the powerful Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in fossil fuel, 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.

Revolving Door Project aims to keep this kind of deep inside-game from ever being exploited again. 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.

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 in 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.

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. 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 these 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. 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 21, 2021

Dorothy Slater

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimateFinancial Regulation

Why the Comptroller of the Currency Must Be a Climate Leader

The OCC could also update the Comptroller’s Handbook to guide bank examiners to measure climate risk in their assessments, which would force banks to measure climate risk in their own internal stress tests. This would also push banks to make environmentally sound decisions, because they would be recontextualized as financially savvy decisions.

December 11, 2020

Dorothy Slater

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimate

Mary Nichols Is The Wrong EPA Administrator For 2021

Mary Nichols, the reported frontrunner to lead Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency, has been appointed four times to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and is best known for spearheading California’s cap-and-trade program. Since the program began, California’s carbon emissions from its oil and gas industry rose 3.5%. For a state that would have the fifth-largest economy if it were a country, anything but a significant and ongoing decline in carbon emissions is disastrous.

November 13, 2020

Andrea Beaty

Blog Post

Anti-MonopolyClimateRevolving Door

Economists-For-Hire Help Monopolists And Big Oil Both

On Wednesday, The New York Times exposed that a network of seemingly-grassroots campaigns to promote the use of fossil fuels was actually organized by FTI Consulting, a dystopic corporate consulting firm working on behalf of oil and gas behemoths like ExxonMobil. The Times also implicates an FTI subsidiary, Compass Lexecon, in producing academic reports to support these astroturfed campaigns’ talking points. Compass Lexecon employees wrote reports criticizing activist shareholders and university divestment campaigns, tactics often used by the environmental activists FTI was paid to undermine.

October 14, 2020

Jeff Hauser Timi Iwayemi Miranda Litwak Pete Sikora

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionClimate

How Biden's Treasury Department Could Fight Climate Change

The fossil fuel industry depends on financial institutions to survive. And banks, for their part, pull in big profits from underwriting climate disaster. That’s why, if Joe Biden wins in November, his pick for Treasury Secretary must be an aggressive advocate for climate action. The Treasury Department has untapped capacity to push financial institutions and insurance companies to take the risks of the climate crisis seriously. While his legislative proposals elicit proper close scrutiny, his choice of Treasury Secretary is arguably among Biden’s most important climate policy decisions.

September 24, 2020 | The American Prospect

Yevgeny Shrago

Op-Ed

ClimateGovernment Capacity

Re-Fund the EPA

The wildfires and hurricanes plaguing the United States in the last month reflect the massive societal implications of climate change. Understanding the importance of this moment, Vice President Joe Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan designed to transition the economy away from greenhouse gas emissions. The plan calls for an emission-free power sector by 2030, as well as an environmental justice component to address how climate policies have failed communities of color. Parts of Biden’s plan will require new legislation and others will deputize numerous federal agencies. But a major share of responsibility for success will fall on the Environmental Protection Agency.

August 19, 2020

Max Moran

Blog Post

Climate

The Revolving Door Project On Aggressive Climate Action From The Executive Branch

Incalculable, world-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 Ag, the military-industrial complex, and others — continue to spend tens of millions every year blackmailing American leaders into softballing or even ignoring the literal end of the world as we know it.

April 15, 2020

Eleanor Eagan

Blog Post

ClimateFinancial RegulationIndependent Agencies

Freshman Legislators Advance a Courageous Plan to Address Economic Fragility

This crisis has shattered any illusions that our post-financial crisis framework is resilient enough to withstand the challenges of the future. Coronavirus has, in particular, uncovered one of our most fundamental, persistent weaknesses: our continued inability to anticipate and prepare for new financial risks. For this ill-preparedness, we have powerful actors like BlackRock, the asset management giant and political titan, to thank. In an effort to avoid more stringent regulation, BlackRock and others not only evaded scrutiny for their own contributions to systemic risk, but virtually destroyed the mechanisms designed to examine such risk across the wider economy.

September 25, 2019 | The American Prospect

Jeff Hauser

Op-Ed

Climate

The Little Agency That Could (Block All Good Regulations)

The next Democratic president will, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama before them, inherit an executive branch that in critical respects was shaped by Ronald Reagan. The administrative procedures and bottlenecks are designed to frustrate effective action. Most important, the next president will immediately face a seemingly uneventful decision whose earth-shattering significance is only apparent to corporate lobbyists. Previous generations of progressive activists have tragically ignored it. That decision is: Who should run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)?