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.
May 31, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
Tracing the Impact of Sackett v. EPA On Beloved Waters
There is a ripe poetic injustice to the fact that this long Memorial Day weekend in late May—a lush time of year when the generosity of this planet is so apparent—was book-ended by attacks on two of this country’s most important environmental laws.
May 17, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
Progressive Counteroffers to Manchin’s Dirty Deal, Debt Ceiling Edition
Manchin’s dirty deal is back on the table, again, according to coverage of the play-by-play of Biden and congressional leaders’ not-not-negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Whether or not Manchin’s proposal gets packaged with a debt ceiling deal, it seems the question is when, not if, it gets taken up. That’s due in large part to Biden and Schumer’s unjustifiable fealty to Manchin, the administration’s chief saboteur, whose latest pledge is to block all of Biden’s EPA nominees.
May 17, 2023
Executive Branch Agencies That Protect Americans From Corporate Abuses Need Robust Funding, Not Cuts
With executive branch agencies under renewed attack as President Biden negotiates with the GOP, we revisit our research on government capacity.
April 20, 2023 | The American Prospect
Exxon’s Unethical Supreme Court Play
As the revelations of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s flagrant corruption continue to unspool, scrutiny of the weak ethics rules binding the Court has intensified. The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to oversee the Court, but it has proven itself not remotely up to the task of rooting out judicial corruption. And amid this disturbing situation, a Supreme Court conference this Friday provides an opening for Court conservatives to try to game their few ethical limits in plain sight.
April 18, 2023 | The New Republic
2020 Election/TransitionClimateDepartment of JusticeEthics in GovernmentGovernanceRevolving Door
The Ghost of a Trump Appointee Is Haunting Merrick Garland’s Justice Department
Tracing Clark’s lingering impact on ongoing litigation makes clear that the legacy of Trump’s Justice Department still haunts our governance and that failing to treat his cronies like the menace they are is worsening outcomes across the country. In some cases, Attorney General Merrick Garland is still carrying forward with the arguments Clark helped shape. In others, the Justice Department and its client agencies are at a critical juncture of having to decide whether to break from past positions or maintain continuity with positions they adopted during the Trump administration.
April 14, 2023
DOJ IN THE NEWS: Mid-April Trends
This is the latest installment of a new biweekly blog series from RDP. Every two weeks, we call out ongoing trends in media coverage of the Justice Department’s focus and priorities, giving context from our past DOJ oversight work as needed, with an eye to the impact of DOJ capacity and resources, as well as alignment with the Biden administration’s professed goals.
April 03, 2023 | The American Prospect
The Chickenshit Club, Climate Edition
If we at the Revolving Door Project could exhort the Biden administration to do anything, it would be this: Choose the right enemies—rich, powerful corporations that harm the public, most often with impunity. Sometimes you will lose, but that doesn’t mean you should forfeit the fight. And getting caught trying can inspire the public to rally around a political party and its leaders.
March 17, 2023
Justice Department Revokes Trump-Era Support for Fossil Fuel Companies in State-Level Climate Cases
Just last week, I highlighted the enormous stakes of the Justice Department’s long-anticipated filing in a climate liability case brought by Boulder County, Colorado against fossil fuel companies Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil seeking damages for their campaign of corporate deception. […] Yesterday, the Justice Department finally offered its answer.
March 17, 2023 | The American Prospect
Bankers Being Greedy Morons Poses Climate And Financial Risk
The SVB collapse rubs in our collective faces the fact that the financiers with great influence over our political economy are, by and large, a pack of greedy idiots.
March 15, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
Selling Out the Arctic; Bailing Out the Rich
The year is 2023, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 50 percent higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution, and the so-called “climate president” has decided to go ahead with industrializing the Arctic wilderness, a region already warming four times faster than the rest of the world.
March 13, 2023
RELEASE: Biden Betrays Campaign Promises And His Own Interior Department By Approving Willow Project
In response to the U.S. Department of the Interior approving three drilling pads to allow the controversial Willow Project to advance, Revolving Door Project Climate Research Director Dorothy Slater released the following statement:
March 08, 2023
A Test For DOJ De-Trumpification: State-Level Climate Liability Cases
Over halfway through Biden’s term, Attorney General Merrick Garland is maintaining the Trump Justice Department’s position on an alarming number of legal cases. Our litigation tracker documents approximately 40 such cases across education, immigration, the environment, criminal justice, transparency, agriculture and other issues. It is by no means a comprehensive list.
March 01, 2023 | The American Prospect
ClimateConsumer ProtectionCorporate CrackdownExecutive BranchGovernanceGovernment Capacity
Calling Deficit Squawks’ Bluff on Environmental Enforcement
A 38-car train wreck. Toxic chemicals seeping into water and soil, and a black plume rising in the sky. Sick people, sick pets. As the Prospect’s Jarod Facundo wrote last week, the national spotlight remains fixed on the ecological consequences of the February 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.
In the context of this ecological disaster, arguing for a reduced budget for federal investigators, air and water quality testing, and programs that hold polluting corporations accountable for proper cleanup and restitution is sheer madness. But that’s exactly what the current right-wing push for massive government spending cuts in the name of deficit reduction would entail.
February 15, 2023 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter
The Value of a Human Life, According to Economists
Last week a shocking story from NPR largely slipped under the radar. The headline: “Why the EPA puts a higher value on rich lives lost to climate change.” Climate Correspondent Rebecca Hersher shared the “twisted tale of math, ethics and climate change” that is the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to decide what’s been called the most important number you’ve never heard of: the social cost of greenhouse gases.
February 14, 2023
Secretary Buttigieg Must Overhaul Rail Safety Regulations, Reinstate Upgraded Brake Requirements For Freight Trains
“Corporations do not respect Buttigieg as a regulator.”