Donald Trump’s transition team may have taken steps to distance itself from lobbyists, but the president-elect continues to get advice on energy policy from people working for think tanks heavily funded by oil companies.
These advisers could influence Trump’s choice of personnel for Cabinet jobs for Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department. And they could reshape a host of environmental policies and limits on mining and drilling.
On Monday, Trump met with Kathleen Hartnett-White, a former chairman and member of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who is now a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The foundation has a board of directors stacked with oil industry executives and GOP activists. Koch Industries, an oil-based conglomerate that has funded a variety of libertarian political groups, was one of a broad range of original donors.
Trump’s transition team for energy also includes Thomas Pyle, head of American Energy Alliance (AEA), a wing of the Institute for Energy Research. Both groups have strong ties to the oil industry, including Koch Industries, for whom Pyle worked as a lobbyist eight years ago before heading the AEA. Neither returned calls seeking comment.
They join Myron Ebell, another non-lobbyist who has spent more than a decade working for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received money from ExxonMobil in the past and more recently from an ultra-conservative funding entity called Donors Trust, staffed largely by people who have worked for Koch Industries or a nonprofit financed by brothers Charles Koch and David H. Koch.
Gone are the registered lobbyists who did not want to agree to the transition’s 13-point ethics guidelines for transition team members, including a six-month ban on lobbying after the transition or a five-year ban if they were to serve in the new administration.
But Norman Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and President Obama’s ethics adviser, said the restrictions should be broader: “What good is a five-year lobbying ban if you’re going to let all the non-lobbyist swamp creatures frolic in the murky waters of special influence?”
Hartnett-White, Pyle and Ebell have all expressed doubt about climate change and have criticized the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a volunteer group of climate scientists whose findings are considered the gold standard of climate science. The IPCC not only issues forecasts, but also gathers and assesses data that have shown a steady trend of global warming and rising sea levels.
“I am not at all persuaded by the IPCC science that we are standing on some precipice,” Hartnett-White told The Washington Post in October. “We’re not standing on a cliff from which we are about to fall off.”
Hartnett-White argued the United States had “the mother lode of all hydrocarbon reserves” and that the nation should not curtail development of those resources for the sake of climate concerns.
She also criticized the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. “I take issue with that,” she said. “Carbon dioxide has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that could harm human health.”
“When you stare at the words of the Clean Air Act, almost anything could be a pollutant,” she added.
Hartnett-White said she was not in favor of reducing the EPA to an advisory body, as some Trump advisers have recommended. But she said the agency should leave major decisions such as climate ones to Congress and should leave other regulation to the states.
Though Hartnett-White had not spoken to Trump at the time of the October interview, she praised his written policy. “He really wants the market to work,” she said. “That means that the government steps back, not forward.”
She also condemned other strategies for curbing carbon emissions. She said a carbon tax “is like taxing food” not only because food includes energy costs but also because of energy’s “value to human welfare.” And she said the Clean Power Plan would “rip up this trillion dollar finely tuned electrical system to shut the coal plants.”
New to the transition team is Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, an advocacy group that promotes free-market energy policies. He replaced Mike McKenna, president of firm MWR Strategies, who stepped aside after the transition team asked advisers to drop their lobbying clients. Pyle earned $365,000 in 2014 from the nonprofit AEA and its sister group Institute for Energy Research.
AEA’s website argues that Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which promotes energy efficiency and places strict limits on coal plants, fails on several fronts. “Without immediate action by our elected officials to protect your state sovereignty, Americans could face diminished living standards and an uncertain future,” it said.
The group said Obama’s new five-year plan to lease sites for drilling offshore was the “most anemic” in U.S. history.
The group wants to end the renewable fuel standard for ethanol, end “wind welfare” by cutting tax credits that are being phased out, and calls the Obama administration’s tightening of ozone standards “the costliest regulation in U.S. history” and “all pain, no gain.”
The IER’s website says the Obama administration “violates rule of law” by holding up the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. It advocates an end to “costly” regulations, including a relaxation of federal fuel economy mandates that have shaved as much as 2 million barrels a day from U.S. oil consumption.
The group proclaims its devotion to “freely functioning energy markets.”