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 (AFPM).
Senate 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.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
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
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.”
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