Though the U.S. Congress has been in session for two months, much of the policy action which has taken place since Donald Trump assumed the presidency on January 20 has centered around his Executive Orders.
As some have pointed out, Trump's first speech in front of a joint session of Congress on February 28 can be seen as a reset moment, with the clock ticking on Republicans to deliver on promises made to voters in the 2016 election. In the energy and environment sphere, those efforts will likely center around gutting climate and environmental protections, and much of it will be carried out by congressional committee staffers.
A DeSmog investigation has revealed that many Republican staff members on key committees are former fossil fuel industry lobbyists, which could help fast-track the industry's legislative agenda in the weeks and months ahead. In total, 15 staffers on the eight main energy and environment congressional committees previously worked as industry lobbyists on behalf of oil, gas, mining, coal, petrochemical, and electric utility interests.
To date, only eight bills have passed through Congress in 2017, and only one in the energy and environmental bucket. Just as crucial, though, congressional staffers could aid in what Trump's controversial top adviser Steve Bannon recently called the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Examples of this “deconstruction” have already passed in some cases. For example, on February 16, President Trump signed a bill into law which shoots down a Department of Interior rule barring coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams. Two days before that, Trump signed another bill which allows the oil and gas industry to be less transparent and avoid disclosure of “royalties and other payments made to governments in exchange for oil, gas, and mining extractions,” as reported here on DeSmog.
Another bill currently in the proposal phase which would aid in this anti-regulatory “deconstruction” is the REINS Act, pushed for years by Koch Industries-allied groups. This bill would give Congress de facto veto authority over all regulations proposed by the president and executive branch agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Using staff rosters compiled by the website Legistorm.com, DeSmog has tracked “reverse revolving door” ties — in which employees go from industry to government jobs — on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW); Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee; Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Senate Appropriations Committee; U.S. House Natural Resources Committee; House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee; House Appropriations Committee; and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Senate EPW Committee
Charles Ingebretson, chief counsel for the committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, formerly lobbied for oil and gas services company Honeywell, Shell, BP, Valero, Enron, and others. Ingebretson previously worked as chief of staff for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during President George W. Bush's second term.
The committee's counsel, Amanda “Mandy” Gunasekara, formerly lobbied on behalf of the National Association of Chemical Distributors. Gunasekara's co-counsel for the committee, Andrew Harding, has lobbied for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
Amanda “Mandy” Tharpe, the committee's legislative counsel, served as a lobbyist and government relations manager for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).
Senate ENR Committee
Nicole Daigle, communications director for the Senate ENR Committee, had worked as director of public and government affairs and as a lobbyist for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which created the influential hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) front group, Energy in Depth. She also served as director of regional communications and special projects for America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).
Patrick McCormick, chief counsel for the committee, has been a lobbyist for clients such as American Electric Power, the Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) Alliance, Duke Energy, Edison Electric Institute, FirstEnergy Corporation, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, and others. Colin Hayes, staff director for the committee, also formerly served as a lobbyist for Duke Energy and the National Mining Association.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee
Suzanne Matwyshen-Gillen, professional staff member for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee, was previously manager of government affairs and lobbyist for AFPM. While lobbying for AFPM, she advocated for policies in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline and against greenhouse gas regulations, imposing a social cost of carbon, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, an EPA law regulating many chemicals.
Senate Appropriations Committee
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Steven Wall, a staff member for the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, has served as a lobbyist for the Gas Technology Institute. The institute describes itself as “the leading research, development and training organization” whose “research initiatives address issues impacting the natural gas and energy markets across the industry’s value chain — supply, delivery, and end use.”
Lobbying disclosure forms show Wall lobbying the U.S. Department of Energy in 2006 for “Natural gas research and development, legislation, research, and development appropriations.”
Energy and Water Development Subcommittee
Tyler Owens, the clerk for the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, formerly served as a lobbyist for EnergyNet and the Western Energy Alliance (then known as the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, or IPAMS), both of which have been instrumental in ushering in online leasing for oil and gas on U.S. public lands and offshore reservoirs, a practice meant to avoid the visibility of public protests at in-person lease auctions.
House Natural Resources Committee
Bill Cooper, the committee's staff director, formerly lobbied for the American Petroleum Institute and its Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), a group supporting the increased export of fracked gas to the global market. Cooper was instrumental in inserting what's now known as the “Halliburton Loophole” — the fracking industry's exemption from EPA enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act — into the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Kiel Weaver, staff director for the committee, previoulsy lobbied for Gas Technology Institute, Nuevo Energy, Arctic Resources Company, and Shell Oil.
House E&C Committee
Mike Bloomquist, deputy staff director for the committee, formerly served as a lobbyist for ANGA, Plains Exploration and Production, and Marathon Oil. For ANGA, Bloomquist lobbied against applying the Safe Drinking Water Act to fracking operations, inserting climate protection provisions into the Clean Air Act, and including climate protection provisions proposed within the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2010.
Tom Hassenboehler, chief counsel for the committee, also formerly lobbied for ANGA, working as its vice president of policy development and legislative affairs. Ann Johnston, the committee's senior policy adviser, used to lobby for natural gas fueling station company Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (owned by T. Boone Pickens), the American Gas Association, and the utility company Entergy.
House Appropriations Committee
Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee
Elizabeth “Betsy” Bina (formerly Croker), a staff assistant on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, formerly lobbied for the National Corn Growers Association. The Corn Growers Association has been key in aiding the rise of corn ethanol in the U.S. and inserting ethanol as part of the fuel blend at gas pumps nationwide.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee
According to lobbyist disclosure forms, from quarter four of 2011 through 2013's fourth quarter, Aaron Weston — who serves as counsel for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee — lobbied for Chevron.
The Science, Space and Technology Committee, under the watch of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), has helped lead the fight against the ongoing state-level Attorneys General investigation of ExxonMobil, with the lead state attorneys digging into what Exxon knew about climate change and when it knew it, compared to what it ended up doing: funding climate change denial in the U.S. to the tune of $33 million between 1997 and 2015.
This committee oversees the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an agency best known for rockets and missions to the moon, but one which also does climate change research. In recent weeks, the committee has trafficked in climate change denial on social media.
As a lobbyist for Chevron, Weston lobbied against the “Implementation of EPA rulemakings (current and proposed) under the Clean Air Act” and against “Potential legislation related to regulation of chemical compounds for refinery facilities.” He also lobbied against “regulation of ozone standards.”
Chevron recently warned its investors that lawsuits could loom against the company due to its inaction on climate change.
“Reverse Revolving Door”
The government-industry revolving door is usually thought of as leaving a government job and then landing a position as a corporate lobbyist. Yet, the “reverse revolving door” has become an emerging trend in U.S. politics as well, with many going back to work for the government after working as a lobbyist. Mike Catanzaro, President Trump's top energy aide, serves as a case in point.
Oftentimes, as investigative journalist Lee Fang revealed in a landmark 2013 investigative piece for The Nation, those ex-lobbyists-turned-congressional-staffers get bonuses from their old employers as a parting gift as they step through the reverse revolving door.
“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much attention on the reverse revolving door as the revolving door, but it’s the other half of the spin,” Lisa Gilbert, the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, told Fang. “People often talk about it as regulatory capture, and I think that’s very accurate.”