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.
September 27, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
Corporate greed and emaciated federal regulatory capacity means people are needlessly suffering physically, and sometimes even dying. That’s the upshot of two recent reports from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). These reports illustrate the concerning state of environmental regulation and enforcement in regards to water quality and refinery emissions.
September 20, 2023
Thousands March Worldwide to End Fossil Fuels, as Biden Continues to Shirk His Responsibility to Address Climate Change
On Sunday, an estimated 75,000 people marched in Manhattan, demanding that President Biden end the era of fossil fuels and take immediate action to address climate change.
September 18, 2023 | The American Prospect
Activists are pushing Fed vice chair Michael Barr and his deputy Kevin Stiroh to force the financial sector to take climate change seriously.
September 18, 2023
RELEASE: White House Should Deepen Its New Recognition of the Environmental Salience of Its Cancer Moonshot Initiative
The White House announced late last week that the Environmental Protection Agency is launching epa.gov/cancer as part of the Biden administration’s Cancer Moonshot efforts, and will share new information about the EPA’s role in leveraging its existing authorities to “accelerate the rate of progress to prevent cancer, including phase-outs of carcinogens, regulatory actions to protect children, workers and overburdened communities, and enforcement actions to ensure pollution is curbed.”
September 06, 2023
RELEASE: As the Hydrogen Industry Vies for Tens of Billions of Federal Dollars, Lax Oversight and Entrenched Fossil Fuel Ties Raise Red Flags
The Revolving Door Project released a new Industry Agenda report today examining the executive branch influence agenda of the rapidly growing “clean” hydrogen industry, which is poised to receive tens of billions of dollars under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
August 30, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
The roughly 35,800 employees of the federal Forest Service, housed within the Department of Agriculture, are responsible for managing 193,000,000 acres of national forests. The mission of the Forest Service is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Yet time and time again, the Forest Service has betrayed this mission in order to service the profit-driven ends of the timber industry, prioritizing commercial timber extraction over recreation and conservation, and ignoring the essential role intact forests play in mitigating our ongoing biodiversity and climate crises.
August 29, 2023
Press Release: Revolving Door Project Decries Fed’s Lack Of Action On Climate Risk Mitigation At Jackson Hole Summit, Calls For Immediate Change Of Course
At the conclusion of the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, Revolving Door Project Senior Researcher Kenny Stancil and Research Assistant Henry Burke released the following statement:
August 24, 2023 | The American Prospect
In advance of his Jackson Hole speech, the Fed chair has neglected his role of ensuring the safety and soundness of banks with substantial fossil fuel assets.
August 04, 2023
We Need to Be Direct About Corporations’ Actions & Incentives
August 03, 2023 | The American Prospect
Companies have been charging customers a premium for “greener” gas since 2018. But certified gas could become even more lucrative as the Biden administration seeks to update its standards for gas production. Scenting advantage, back in July 2022 11 companies—five gas producers, four methane monitoring and certification companies, one emissions trading company, and one consulting firm—came together to form a new lobbying group: the Differentiated Gas Coordinating Council (DGCC).
August 01, 2023
Reuters reported Thursday on a recent meeting between the White House Office of Management and Budget officials and General Motors (GM) executive David Strickland. In the meeting, Strickland complained about proposals for updated vehicle emissions rules, which he argued could cost the industry from $100 to $300 billion dollars from 2027, when the rule would take effect, to 2031. Rather than acquiesce to the dire warnings of an economically interested party, the Biden administration did the right thing — it called Strickland’s numbers “pure speculation and inaccurate.”
July 19, 2023
Measuring the impact of regulations and enforcement actions can be difficult, particularly as the benefits of such actions can take years to accrue. On the other hand, it’s often possible to observe the consequences of lax or nonexistent enforcement playing out in real time.
July 12, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
Extreme weather is the story of this summer so far, the hottest in 120,000 years. But you wouldn’t know it from following Beltway politics.
July 05, 2023
With smog from fossil-fueled wildfires hanging in the Chicago air, Biden shared an underwhelming vision of corporate accountability as part of his “Bidenomics” platform.