Climate campaigners who rallied behind President-elect Joe Biden because President Donald Trump spent his first term serving corporate polluters were outraged Tuesday by reporting that Democratic Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond—who has raked in vast campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry—is joining the incoming administration.
"It's an affront to young people who made President-elect Biden's victory possible."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement
Richmond, a national co-chair to Biden's presidential campaign, will leave his House seat to serve as a senior adviser with the title of director of the Office of Public Engagement, Bloomberg reported Monday.
According to Politico, Richmond is "also expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists."
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement who served on the Sanders-Biden Unity Task Force this summer and subsequently praised Biden's shift to bolder climate policies, was among those angered by the move.
In a statement Tuesday, Prakash blasted the decision to hire Richmond in the face of calls for Biden to serve as a #ClimatePresident, appoint "fierce" progressives to his Cabinet and other key posts in government, and—in the words of Greenpeace USA's new "Just Recovery Agenda," released Tuesday—deliver the "just, green, and peaceful future we deserve."
"President-elect Biden ran on a promise to act decisively to combat the climate crisis, signed a pledge not to let his campaign be unduly influenced by fossil fuel corporations or their money, and said leaders of fossil fuel companies would not be involved in his transition," Prakash said. "Young people helped deliver him a landslide victory powered by historic youth turnout all across the country, with the hopes that those promises would extend to keeping fossil fuel corruption out of his administration."
Prakash explained that "today feels like a betrayal, because one of President-elect Biden's very first hires for his new administration has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his congressional career than nearly any other Democrat, cozied up to Big Oil and Gas, and stayed silent and ignored meeting with organizations in his own community while they suffered from toxic pollution and sea-level rise."
"That's a mistake, and it's an affront to young people who made President-elect Biden's victory possible," she added. "President-elect Biden assured our movement he understands the urgency of this crisis; now, it's time for him to act like it."
Biden names Cedric Richmond to direct "public engagement." Yet when residents of the state he represents came to talk about a cancer epidemic linked to an industry that showered him with campaign contributions, they report "he was trying to brush us off." https://t.co/ilX5QE0du0 https://t.co/XwTi8vKB0Y
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) November 17, 2020
Evan Weber, another Sunrise co-founder and the group's political director, tweeted that the appointment—which doesn't require Senate approval—was "not surprising... but still really disappointing." Now, Weber said, Biden "will have to make big moves to make up and show he's serious on climate."
Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas was similarly critical of the selection, Bloomberg reported. As Rojas put it: "If Joe Biden continues making corporate-friendly appointments to his White House, he will risk quickly fracturing the hard-earned goodwill his team built with progressives to defeat Donald Trump."
Journalists David Sirota, Julia Rock, and Andrew Perez detailed Richmond's ties to Big Oil and his legislative record on climate issues for The Daily Poster on Tuesday:
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During his 10 years in Congress, Richmond has received roughly $341,000 from donors in the oil and gas industry—the 5th highest total among House Democrats, according to previous reporting by Sludge. That includes corporate political action committee donations of $50,000 from Entergy, an electric and natural gas utility; $40,000 from ExxonMobil; and $10,000 apiece from oil companies Chevron, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy.
Richmond has raked in that money while representing a congressional district that is home to seven of the 10 most air-polluted census tracts in the country.
Richmond has repeatedly broken with his party on major climate and environmental votes. During the climate crisis that has battered his home state of Louisiana, Richmond has joined with Republicans to vote to increase fossil fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He also voted against Democratic legislation to place pollution limits on fracking—and he voted for GOP legislation to limit the Obama administration's authority to more stringently regulate the practice.
HuffPost political reporter Tara Golshan on Tuesday pointed to a Guardian report about Richmond from December 2019 that asks: "Why is this top Democrat absent from the fight against toxic pollution in Cancer Alley?" The region of Louisiana he represents has the nickname because of its abundance of carcinogens from local industry.
Richmond doesn't have a great history with climate activists in his district.
This story from 2019 stands out: https://t.co/HvcGPCY2G5
— Tara Golshan (@taragolshan) November 17, 2020
Biden is facing pressure from progressives to exclude other political figures from his administration as well—including former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a frontrunner to serve as his agriculture secretary despite her ties to agribusiness and the fossil fuel industry, and Ernest Moniz, an ex-energy secretary whom critics call "an unrepentant founding father of the fracking industry."
As Common Dreams reported last week, organizers from the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats have launched a campaign pushing Biden to create a White House Office of Climate Mobilization and appoint bold, progressive leaders to prominent roles in his administration. The groups' new website—ClimateMandate.org—also features suggestions for key Cabinet positions.
"Trump was the most corrupt president in modern history," Prakash said Tuesday. "Biden has an opportunity to do things differently. He made a promise to 'build back better,' but you can't do that with the same way of governing that got us into these crises."
"In the coming days, President-elect Biden will have more crucial decisions to make," she noted. "Will he work with our movement to establish an Office of Climate Mobilization to move the federal government and all of society to do everything it can to address this crisis, or will he opt for corporate lobbyists to lead major federal departments? We'll be paying close attention."