The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: What you need to know about Wilbur Ross and the Paradise Papers

with Paulina Firozi


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that there's nothing "improper" about his investments in a shipping firm with ties to Vladimir Putin's inner circle. (Video: Reuters)

Want more stories about energy and environmental policy in the Trump era? Get them here.

A year and a half ago, dozens of news organizations from around the world began publishing stories based on a trove of documents obtained by a German newspaper and distributed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The documents, called the Panama Papers, shed light the offshore financial dealings of a rich and powerful using the services of a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. 

Over the weekend, the consortium began publishing another set of stories, based on a second set of documents, leaked from a different firm and given a new moniker. They’re called the Paradise Papers

Of course, there’s a new president too, with a Cabinet full of the very wealthy  — one of whom has been ensnared in the leak. The 13.4 million files leaked from the Appleby law firm to the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitungthe reveal that investor-turned-commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, maintains a financial stake in a shipping firm that makes money from the Russian energy sector.

Here’s what you need to know:

According to reports from a number of news outlets with access to the documents, the Paradise Papers show that Ross has maintained a stake in a shipping firm called Navigator Holdings after becoming commerce secretary. One of Navigator’s largest clients is a Russian natural gas firm called Sibur. Here’s the heart of the story, from The Times:

The shipper, Navigator Holdings, earns millions of dollars a year transporting gas for one of its top clients, a giant Russian energy company called Sibur, whose owners include the oligarch and Mr. Putin’s family member. Despite selling off numerous other holdings to join the Trump administration and spearhead its “America first” trade policy, Mr. Ross kept an investment in Navigator, which increased its business dealings with Sibur even as the West sought to punish Russia’s energy sector over Mr. Putin’s incursions into Ukraine.

Sibur is deep within Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orbit. Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law, is among the owners of Sibur, as is Gennady Timchenko, Putin’s friend and judo partner who is on the list of sanctioned individuals in Russia following Putin’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. PDVSA, a Venezuelan state oil company also sanctioned by the Trump administration, is also a Navigator customer. 

In ethics disclosures filled when nominated to run the Commerce Department, Ross had listed partnerships he intended to keep, but not the investments they held — like the stake in Navigator, which The Times values between between $2 million and $10 million. 

Ross's ethics agreement, which "listed the partnerships he intended to keep, but not the investments they held," according to The Times, had given Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) the impression Ross had divested himself entirely from that firm.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, told NBC News, which had access to the documents. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

Blumenthal continued on Twitter, calling the investment “[i]nexcusable and intolerable:"

The Commerce Department told news outlets that Ross has recused himself from "any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels," which seems to be a pretty broad recusal for a commerce secretary. The explanations from Ross’s press secretary, James Rockas, in response to the Paradise Paper revelations were contradicted by other public information, The Guardian reported:

Rockas, Ross’s press secretary, tried to distance Ross from the Sibur deal with a series of statements that were contradicted by other sources. He said the Navigator-Sibur deal was signed in February 2012, before Ross joined the Navigator board. But Sibur’s annual report for that year said the deal was signed in March.

Rockas said Ross did not join Navigator’s board until 31 March 2012. But a press release filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission on 2 March that year said Ross was by then already on the board. In ethics forms filed this year, Ross estimated that his start date had been January 2012. 

Rockas said: “No funds managed by WL Ross & Co ever owned a majority of Navigator shares.” But a press release issued by the company in August 2012 was titled “WL Ross Agrees To Acquire Majority Stake In Navigator”.

Read more from The Guardian, The Times and NBC here. The Washington Post has a version of the story here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Ross had not explicitly listed Navigator is his financial disclosure forms. Though this ethics agreement did not list Navigator, a separate 57-page disclosure of his holdings for 2016 did list the shipping firm.

The government’s National Climate Assessment cited human influence as the "dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

--  Even given Trump and his advisers avowed skepticism of climate science, government officially says humans are warming the planet: An extensive scientific report released by more than a dozen federal agencies on Friday contradicts many administration officials’ views on the changing climate. The National Climate Assessment found that human activity is the main driver of global warming and “warns of a worst-case scenario where seas could rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100, and details climate-related damage across the United States that is already unfolding as a result of an average global temperature increase of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900.”

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the document reports. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
The Post's Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis write: “It affirms that the United States is already experiencing more extreme heat and rainfall events and more large wildfires in the West, that more than 25 coastal U.S. cities are already experiencing more flooding, and that seas could rise by between 1 and 4 feet by the year 2100, and perhaps even more than that if Antarctica proves to be unstable, as is feared. The report says that a rise of over eight feet is ‘physically possible’ with high levels of greenhouse-gas emissions but that there’s no way right now to predict how likely it is to happen.”

Though some in the scientific community worried it would, the administration did not try to stifle the dire report, which the federal government is legally required to release every four years.

-- Trump vs. the world, Part I: Ahead of the global climate meeting that begins today in Bonn, Germany, Dennis and Mooney preview how the world is reacting to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

The reaction: “The rest of the world seems to be reacting to the Trump administration with a collective shrug.”

Meanwhile, local U.S. leaders are stepping up, at the conference and nationwide, to fill the gap.
“With Washington off to the side, California is going to assert itself because it has the experience, and we have the commitment. And we want to join with others,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) told The Post. “So, we will play an important role as cheerleader in chief and also as collaborator.”
“We can fill maybe half the void,” said Brown, who was recently named a “special adviser for states and regions” to the Bonn conference. “We can do a lot, and we can carry the ball while Trump goes off in another direction. But soon, we need the national government.”

-- Trump vs. the world, Part II: Brown used a visit to the Vatican to discuss climate change on an international stage.
Brown insisted that President Trump’s views on climate change did not detract from the global commitment to combating its effects.
“The Trump factor is very small, very small indeed,” in comparison to the commitments taking place around the world, Brown said, according to the Sacramento Bee. Brown then responded to applause at the event hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
“That’s nothing to cheer about,” he said,”because if it was only Trump that was a problem, we’d have it solved. But that’s not our only problem… The problem … is us. It’s our whole way of life. It’s our comfort … It’s the greed. It’s the indulgence. It’s the pattern. And it’s the inertia.”
Brown also called for additional support in fighting the changing climate. “What it all comes down to is we’ve got to act sooner, and we have to act more decisively, and that’s not happening,” Brown said, per Politico. “There’s real horror in store for us if we don’t take action.”

-- Meet the man trying to "invalidate" the Endangered Species Act: The Post's Darryl Fears has a deep look at the legislative effort out of the House Natural Resources Committee to rewrite the 1973 law designed to protect endangered species. Republicans say the law is in desperate need of modernization while Democrats worry the proposals will whittle away wildlife protections.

More from Fears: 

One measure would force the federal government to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than make a purely scientific call. Another would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to defer to data collected by states as the 'best scientific and commercial data available,' although state funding related to the act accounts for a small fraction of that supported by the federal government. Under a third proposal, citizens and conservation groups would be stripped of a powerful tool that allows them to file court claims against the government when they believe its protections fall short. Among other actions, the remaining bills would also remove protections for gray wolves in Midwestern states and block courts from ruling on the validity of the government’s decisions.

The legislative effort is a bit of a final act for Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the House Natural Resources Committee chairman who is retiring this year.

-- Also out of Bishop's committee: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) introduced the SECURE American Energy Act late last week, a bipartisan bill that would incentivize states to allow offshore energy development. The bill extends “revenue-sharing agreements from Alaska to the Atlantic states while raising existing revenue-sharing caps to provide Gulf states like Louisiana with hundreds of millions in additional dollars to help restore their coasts,” the Washington Examiner reports.

-- EPA head Scott Pruitt appointed more than five dozen new scientific advisers late last week, many of whom have conservative views and come from industry or state government, The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports. Two of the new advisers, for example, have previously criticized how the agency has conducted science.

-- Whitefish controversy, continued: Elias Sanchez, a friend and former adviser to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, denied that he ever “had any kind of relationship” with the small Montana-based contractor Whitefish Energy that acquired a now-canceled $300 million contract.

Reuters reported that “in court papers earlier this week, holders of PREPA’s $9 billion in debt cited local news reports mentioning Sanchez in connection with the Whitefish deal and asked the judge overseeing the utility’s bankruptcy for permission to investigate it.”

Sanchez has “asked the court to strike references to his name in that filing, saying he had no contact with PREPA about Whitefish. Ken Luce, a spokesman for the company, said on Friday that its chief executive officer, Andy Techmanski, never met Sanchez.”
More on hurricane recovery, by the numbers:

  • Just over 41 percent of customers in Puerto Rico have regained power, per the local government.
  • And about 17 percent of people still don't have access to water.
  • The back-to-back hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas caused $2.5 billion worth of damage to the electric grid, per Bloomberg.
  • Meanwhile, a bondholders group says the damage to Puerto Rico’s electric company has been overstated, and the estimated cost of repairs will be less than $1 billion, reports Bloomberg.

A broke, and broken, flood insurance program (The New York Times)

Green group endorses Democratic challenger to Feinstein (The Hill)

NASA and NOAA scientists have been studying the ozone layer and monitoring its hole over Antarctica for years. This year, the ozone hole is the smallest it has been since 1985. (Video: NASA Goddard)

-- Here’s some positive environmental news: The hole in the Earth’s ozone layer is shrinking, and it’s at its smallest size since 1988. The Post’s Marwa Eltagouri reports that warmer than usual weather conditions have contributed to preserving high-altitude ozone. She writes that “the warmer air helped fend off chemicals like chlorine and bromine that eat away at the ozone layer… But the hole's overall reduction can be traced to global efforts since the mid-1980s to ban the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.”
“Weather conditions over Antarctica were a bit weaker and led to warmer temperatures, which slowed down ozone loss,” Paul A. Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told Eltagouri. “It's like hurricanes. Some years there are fewer hurricanes that come onshore . . . this is a year in which the weather conditions led to better ozone [formation].”
One popular, anonymous Twitter user reacted to the good bit of environmental news in 2017 this way:

The amazing story of the Great Pacific Flyway and its migrating birds (Erin Blakemore)

Yellowstone grizzlies may soon commingle with northern cousins (The New York Times)


POST PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Post and Live Nation will bring the “Can He Do That?” podcast to a live audience at the Warner Theatre on Tuesday. In this live taping, political reporters Bob Woodward, David Fahrenthold and Karen Tumulty will join host Allison Michaels to review the past year in President Trump’s White House and the biggest moments that made people wonder “Can He Do That?” Tickets can be purchased now at Live Nation. Attendees will also receive a free 30-day digital subscription to The Washington Post.


  • The UN Climate Change Conference begins in Bonn, Germany.
  • The German Marshall Fund, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, and Foreign Policy Research Institute host an event on the New Eurasia Energy Landscape.

Coming Up

  • The American Wind Energy Association’s fall symposium begins on Tuesday.
  • The Stimson Center holds an event on nuclear security on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on discussion draft legislation to overhaul the Federal Lands Energy Policy on Tuesday.
  • Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service holds an Energy and Climate Policy Research Seminar on Tuesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds an oversight hearing on Puerto Rico’s recovery on Tuesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a markup on the bipartisan offshore-onshore energy bill on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White to be a Member of the Council on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Securing America’s Future Energy holds a discussion on “Heavy-Duty Innovation: Energy, Automation & Tech in the Trucking Sector” on Thursday.
  • House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled for an oversight hearing on “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories’ Disaster Recovery Efforts” for Nov. 14.

A ’rogue‘ Twitter employee deactivated Trump's personal account:

President Trump's personal Twitter account was deactivated for 11 minutes on Nov. 2. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

SNL takes on the Mueller indictments:

"Saturday Night Live" on Nov. 4 satirized President Trump and news of recent indictments in the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

SNL gives Sarah Huckabee Sanders the Sean Spicer treament, writes The Post's Aaron Blake:

Watch actress Uma Thurman's response when asked about the recent spate of sexual misconduct allegations: