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Trump Appoints Big Oil Think Tank Director to Lead Interior Transition Team

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The incoming Trump administration appears to be dedicated to plundering the nation’s fish, wildlife, rivers, lakes, bays, oceans and natural resources more than any other presidential regime in recent history, as evidenced by President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of corporate agribusiness advocates, oil industry shills and other anti-environmental extremists to his transition team.

On November 21, Trump again shook up his transition team, naming Doug Domenech, the director of a pro-Big-Oil think tank, to lead his Interior Department advisory group, the Center for Biological Diversity reported.

Domenech replaces David Bernhardt, a lawyer and Westlands Water District lobbyist who co-chaired the natural resources department at the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and served as a George W. Bush Interior Department official, as the head of the Interior Department team. Bernhart represented the Westlands Water District on litigation involving the Delta and the Endangered Species Act.

Domenech is director of the Fueling Freedom Project, a subsidiary of the right wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization heavily funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. The project advocates and celebrates the continued burning of fossil fuels — and its goals include ending “the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant.” Its prime directive is to defend “the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.”

According to the group’s website, fuelingfreedomproject.com, “Fueling Freedom Project, an initiative by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is working to: Explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels – how civilization has been transformed and the human condition improved through the development of this energy resource; Build a multi-state coalition to push back against the EPA’s unconstitutional efforts to take over the electric power sector by regulating CO2 via the Clean Power Plan; End the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant. We support state and national efforts to oppose the Clean Power Plan, pass legislation/resolutions, file lawsuits against EPA, and promote the passage of measures to protect states from EPA over reach.”

The Center for Biological Diversity issued the following statement in response to Domenech’s appointment:

“It’s beyond frightening that Trump would appoint a shill for Big Oil to plot the direction of a department that administers millions of acres of public lands that belong to all Americans,” said Randi Spivak, the Center’s public lands director. “This is a clear signal that in a Trump administration it will be open season for corporations who want to frack, drill or mine our public resources, regardless of climate chaos, water pollution, species extinction and health impacts to communities. Any attempt to open up America’s public lands to increased fracking, drilling and extraction will be met with a wall of public resistance. That’s the real moral imperative.”

Trump’s transition team released its “energy” plan on November 11, one that sounds eerily similar to the mission of the Fueling Freedom Project. Their statement is absolutely chilling for anybody who cares about fish and wildlife, people, water, the environment and the public trust.

“Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters. We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration. We will eliminate the highly invasive “Waters of the US” rule, and scrap the $5 trillion dollar Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan and prevent these unilateral plans from increasing monthly electric bills by double-digits without any measurable effect on Earth’s climate.”

The replacement of Bernhardt with Domenich followed in the wake of Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) floating an amendment to stop former Westlands employees and lobbyists from overseeing a controversial Westlands irrigation drainage settlement if they were to join the Department of Interior leadership. The settlement legislation is strongly opposed by Restore the Delta and environmental groups, fishing organizations and the Hoopa Valley Tribe and other Tribes.

Bernhardt’s firm also dropped Westlands as a client. Although no longer in the leadership position, Bermhardt may still be on the transition team.

The transition team shake up also followed on the heels of Trump removing some lobbyists from leadership positions on the team.

Transition team includes Tom Pyle, energy lobbyist, and Representative Devin Nunes 

But individuals with huge conflicts of interest continue to dominate the transition team. Tom Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance (AEA) heads the Trump Energy Department transition team, E&E News reported. The AEA is the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based “non-profit” organization that “conducts research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets.”

AEA’s mission is to “enlist and empower energy consumers to encourage policymakers to support free market policies.” Pyle, who previously lobbied on behalf of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Koch Industries, founded AEA in 2008.

Pyle “previously worked for Congressman Tom Delay (R-TX), when Delay served as Whip and before Delay, as House Majority Leader, stepped down from the U.S. House of Representatives under an ethical cloud,” reported SourceWatch.

Representative Devin Nunes (CA-22), one of the most aggressive Congressional proponents of increasing Delta water exports to agribusiness and opponents of fish and wildlife restoration in California and the West, remains on the 16-member executive committee of Donald Trump’s transition team.

Nunes recently told McClatchy News that he believes Trump supports agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley in their push to export more Delta water. Nunes has been one of the greatest advocates for the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and other landmark environmental laws.

“The good thing is, he is more up to speed on water infrastructure than any other president we’ve had,” Nunes said. “Out here, everything is water, water, water.”

Other members of Trump’s transition team include Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a board member of Facebook; Trump’s sons and daughter Ivanka; Myron Ebell (EPA), who directs environmental and energy policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is a leading climate change skeptic; and Mike McKenna (DOE/NRC). president of MWR Strategies, a lobbying firm whose clients have included Koch Companies and Dow Chemical.

The team also includes Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, a white nationalist and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, who has worked as an investment banker with Goldman-Sachs, filmmaker and political consultant.

On November 13, Trump named Bannon as his chief strategist, drawing fire from people throughout the country because of Bannon’s openly racist views. Rep. Huffman on November 16 joined 169 Democratic members of the U.S. House in sending a letter, led by David Cicilline of Rhode Island, to President-elect Donald Trump to rescind the appointment of Stephen Bannon, “a man who has helped lead a white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and sexist movement as chairman of Breitbart Media.”

The letter stated, “Since the election there have been a number of incidents across the country in which minorities, including Muslim Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Jewish Americans, have been the targets of violence, harassment and intimidation. Mr. Bannon’s appointment sends the wrong message to people who have engaged in those types of activities, indicating that they will not only be tolerated, but endorsed by your Administration. Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns.”

Trump’s “rumored cabinet wishlist” includes Sarah “Drill, baby, Drill” Palin as Secretary of the Interior; anti-EPA Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller as Secretary of Agriculture; and fracking billionaire Harold Hamm as Energy Secretary, according to Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

Will Jerry Brown make deal with Trump to build Delta Tunnels, expand fracking? 

Trump hasn’t taken a specific position on Governor Jerry Brown’s “legacy” project, the Delta Tunnels, but his comments to date on California water have shown a strong embrace of the campaign by corporate agribusiness interests to pump more water from the Delta at the expense of Delta smelt and salmon populations.

Salmon and public trust advocates fear that Jerry Brown, who like Trump is beholden to Big Ag and Big Oil interests, will try to make a deal with Trump to eviscerate landmark environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act in order to fast-track the construction of the environmentally devastating project, the California WaterFix.

While the mainstream media falsely portrays Brown as a “climate leader,” he in fact, just like Trump, supports the expansion of fracking and extreme oil extraction methods. In September, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opened an investigation into the California Democratic Party in response to a report by a prominent consumer group claiming that the party acted as a “laundry machine” to funnel donations from oil, energy and utility companies to Brown’s 2014 election campaign.

In her letter to the Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, Galena West, Chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division, said the division “will investigate the California Democratic Party for alleged violations of the Political Reform Act’s campaign reporting provisions resulting from information contained in your sworn complaint (Brown’s Dirty Hands Report.)”

The report tabulated donations totaling $9.8 million dollars to Jerry Brown’s campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor from 26 energy companies with business before the state, according to Court. The companies included the state’s three major investor-owned utilities, as well as Occidental, Chevron, and NRG.

The report alleges that energy companies donated $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party gave $4.7 million to Brown’s re-election between 2011 and 2014. Consumer Watchdog submitted its report to the FPPC as a sworn complaint.

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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