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Blog Post | August 19, 2020

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

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

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.

Some of the Project’s climate work and interviews:

The Biden Adviser Who Gives Climate Activists Nightmares

Kate Aronoff | New Republic | 9/17/2020

Environmentalists To Biden: Say No To Fossil Fuel Advisers

Angely Mercado | Grist | 9/4/2020

Liberals Try To Block Obama Centrists From Biden Climate Team

Josh Siegel | Washington Examiner | 8/28/2020

On Climate Policy, Biden’s Advisers Reveal More Than His Proposals Do

Miranda Litwak and Max Moran | The Intercept | 8/7/2020

Climate Hawks Urge Biden To Shun Obama-Era Energy Moderates

Ari Natter and Jennifer Dlouhy | Bloomberg | 8/5/2020

Climate Change Activists Want Joe Biden To Keep Away From Moderate Obama-Era Environmental Aides

Dino Grandoni | Washington Post | 8/5/2020

Biden’s Weak Link On Energy And Ethics Is An Ex-Obama Official With Deep Fossil Fuel Ties

Chris D’Angelo and Alexander Kaufman | HuffPost | 7/31/2020

Inside The Fight To Shape Biden’s Climate Policy 

Kate Aronoff | New Republic | 8/17/2020

Don’t Let Larry Summers Block Climate Progress Again

Kate Aronoff | New Republic | 4/28/2020

Greens Urge Biden To Ditch Advisor Larry Summers

Adam Aton | E&E News | 4/27/2020

A Larry Summers Comeback Threatens Climate Justice

Eleanor Eagan and Max Moran | Revolving Door Project Blog | 4/20/2020

The Little Agency That Could (Block All Good Regulations)

Jeff Hauser | American Prospect | 9/25/2019

BlackRock’s ‘Greenwashing’ Threatens To Undermine Climate Action

Eleanor Eagan and Jeff Hauser | American Prospect | 2/26/2019

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