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Opinion: Stop Fossil Fuel Industry from running US Climate Policy

September 10, 2020

Stop the revolving door — Americans don’t support fossil fuel industry leaders running climate policy

Shown together in this October 4, 2016 photo, former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is now advising former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. Photo: Carolyn Kaster, STF / Associated Press

By Robin Schneider Sep. 10, 2020

There are many ways in which Americans are united.

Across party lines Americans reject the so-called revolving door. People in government and industry move back and forth working for companies when they are out of government and supposedly overseeing them when they are in government. Since the industry employers invariably pay more, which master do they serve while they are in government?

There was widespread support when President Barack Obama signed his first executive order the afternoon of his inauguration. It prohibited putting lobbyists in government agencies overseeing the industries they had lobbied for. While the policy was not perfect, Texas Campaign for the Environment and other groups used that executive order to successfully campaign against appointing a lobbyist who worked for major polluters to head our EPA Regional Office. Some critics, including Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, have called this view “fringe,” but it has broad support.

A recent poll by Data for Progress found that voters do not want fossil fuel industry lobbyists or representatives serving in the executive branch. That view is shared by 61 percent of Democrats and a plurality of Independents and Republicans, 45 and 39 percent respectively. People know the foxes should not guard the henhouse.

While President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., our government agencies are run by executives from the industries they are supposed to regulate. The results are clear — attacks on environmental laws, more pollution and a worsening climate crisis. That is exactly why we are demanding that Joe Biden stop this if he is elected.

Heather Zichal was a chief climate adviser in the Obama administration but was a paid corporate board member of Cheniere Energy, a major exporter of fracked gas. Their Corpus Christi-area export terminal burns off gas with large flares that light up the night skies. It is a major greenhouse house emitter.

Former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is now a board member of Southern Company, a corporation that runs five gas utilities. These two gas company board members are informal advisers to Biden. They should not be brought back into government.

We definitely do need experts who understand the energy industry in government but they must be ones who can lead us forward into a renewable energy future and not ones who are compromised with leadership roles in the fossil fuel industry, which has put short-term profits above the long-term interests of workers and the environment.

Fossil fuel companies, especially in Texas, have been having financial problems for quite a while. It turns out that fracked wells do not produce for as long as investors were promised. In April, Scott Sheffield, known as the “Mother Fracker,” said at a state hearing on oil and gas, “Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste.”

Unfortunately, the fossil fuel companies have used the current health and economic crisis to get billions of dollars of subsidies. This must stop. The workers who are whip-sawed by these boom-and-bust cycles need steady, good jobs in a clean energy economy. These rank and file workers can help shape their next careers.

For decades the fossil fuel executives have negligently deceived the public about climate change and delayed action on it. If Biden wins and fossil fuel executives fill government positions, the subsidies might not end. The critical actions needed to transition our economy to good, clean jobs may not be taken. We need swift, decisive movement toward a more circular economy that stops wasting resources and people’s health and lives. People with allegiances to the fossil fuel industry could put the brakes on these initiatives to stop climate change.

Luckily, the fossil fuel industry is just one sector of the energy economy. Leaders in the renewable energy sectors — wind, solar, geothermal, efficiency and battery storage — are by definition also some of the world’s foremost energy experts. These experts and industry leaders are the most qualified to lead a clean energy transition. Decades of greed, pollution and misinformation have shown us that fossil fuel companies are the least qualified to do that.

The United States was once an environmental leader. Ground-breaking environmental laws were supported by members of both parties. But we have been a laggard of late. It’s past time to stop the revolving door that has given the fossil fuel industry dangerous influence over the future of our country and turn towards the energy sources that will provide the jobs of the future and a livable, healthy planet.

Schneider is the executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.



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