Congressional Energy and Climate Committees Are Loaded with Ex-Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

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 (AFPMSenate 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.

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 EPAenforcement 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.”

More articles by:

Steve Horn is a freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings