The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: This former EPA appointee wants to make climate change a winning issue for Trump

with Paulina Firozi


Democratic contenders for president are trying to make climate change a top electoral issue. But one Trump appointee who recently left the Environmental Protection Agency wants to make sure it is a winning issue for her former boss instead.

Since leaving the EPA in February, Mandy Gunasekara formed what she calls a “pro-Trump nonprofit” called Energy 45 to help promote Trump’s energy agenda. She's been busy writing op-eds for newspapers such as USA Today and appearing on television networks such as Fox News to be a counterweight to the chorus of critics bemoaning Trump administration efforts to dismantle its predecessor’s climate agenda.

“I think what Republicans are starting to understand is, we need to be better about communicating the good work that we're doing,” Gunasekara, the former deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's air office, said in an interview Tuesday. 

“I always say, we're right on the policy, we're right on the facts,” she added. “But what we're not great at is conveying that.” 

As Trump formally launched his reelection bid last night, he himself leaned into his energy record and touted the country's position as the world's No. 1 petroleum and natural gas producer during a rally in Orlando. 

"We've ended the last administration's cruel, and heartless war on American energy," he told the crowd of supporters. "What they were doing to our energy should never be forgotten." 

Gunasekara is hardly the first Trump figure to leverage her time in government into media appearances. But few have been talking specifically about energy and environmental policy.

Now she and other Trump fans are gearing up to defend what is perhaps the EPA’s biggest new policy change yet: an overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate regulation for coal-fired power plants.

Gunasekara’s former boss, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, is expected to finalize on Wednesday a rule empowering states to establish their own emission standards for electric generation.

The plan is projected to cut CO2 emissions roughly 34 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade-and-a-half, a pace that is likely slower than what the industry is already doing in the absence of any federal regulation.

But Gunasekara already has her talking points ready: She cites data from the International Energy Agency that indicates the United States has seen some of the largest decreases in overall greenhouse gas emissions, driven in large part by cheaper natural gas replacing coal in power generation rather than regulations.

The Obama administration, she said, “co-opted important agency missions as a means to expand the federal government.”

Still, the United States is still reducing emissions too slowly to help stave off some of the worst effects of climate change as described in a recent landmark United Nations report.

And Gunasekara is, unsurprisingly, also no fan for climate plans put forward by former vice president Joe Biden and other Democratic White House hopefuls, which she calls “different iterations of the Green New Deal.”

“The Green New Deal is premised more on socialism than anything you would find historically within the governing approach of America,” she said.

Gunasekara, who was also a former senior adviser to then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt and helped run the air and radiation office, was one of the architects of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, under which nearly every nation agreed to voluntarily cut heat-trapping emissions.

But she is perhaps best known for handing a snowball to another former boss, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), to prove that climate change had not ended winters. At the time, in 2015, she was working as counsel on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

For the moment, she is the boss of her own “one-woman show,” she said, splitting her time between Washington and Mississippi. Energy 45 is organized as a 501(c) (4), which is not required to disclose its donors.

“It’s not atypical to have a very small operation for this type of organization,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the movement of “dark money.”

Gunasekara declined to specify the contributors. “I would just define my support is coming from folks who align with the mission of the agency,” she said.

Her anonymous funding sources give critics fodder to attack her message. 

“There are any number of polluter-backed groups in D.C. already trying to prop up Trump's anti-public health agenda, so it's hard to imagine what Pruitt's associates add to the conversation other than a desperate desire to benefit themselves no matter who gets hurt,” said Adam Beitman, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.


— Corn wars: The Trump administration is weighing whether to make more changes to federal ethanol rules, such as limiting waivers for small oil refiners to get an exemption from fuel blending requirements, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although people familiar with the matter say no decisions have been made, the move to consider further changes follows the president’s latest trip to Iowa, the nation’s largest ethanol-producing state. The president’s move to end the summer ethanol ban “has failed to fully satisfy farmers in Iowa and elsewhere who are hoping to sell more corn for ethanol to make up for sales lost to China amid the administration’s continued trade standoff,” the WSJ reports.

— Trump’s assessment of the alleged Iran attacks on oil tankers: In an interview with Time magazine, Trump characterized the pair of attacks on petrochemical tankers that his administration has blamed on Iran as “very minor.” “Trump’s assessment in Time magazine reflected a softer posture than that of senior administration officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, as well as some congressional Republicans, as tensions between the United States and Iran have flared recently,” The Post’s John Wagner and Paul Sonne report


— Farmers’ lingering weather woes: Many American farmers are reaching a point of no return in the planting season. After a stretch from May 2018 to April 2019 that was the wettest year on record in the contiguous United States, saturated grounds have meant many farmers have been weighing whether to plant for weeks, The Post’s Laura Reiley reports. The Agriculture Department reported this week that domestic plantings were at the slowest pace in more than four decades at 92 percent of the total intended acreage.

— Man, it’s a hot one: Last month was the fourth-warmest May in the 140 years of global temperature data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Global land and ocean surface temperatures during the month were 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, according to the agency. All of the five warmest Mays on record were in the past few years, starting in 2015. At 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average, May 2016 clocked in at the warmest for that month.

Meanwhile: The World Meteorological Organization announced that two temperature readings — a 129-degrees reading in Mitribah, Kuwait, on July 21, 2016, and a 128.7-degrees reading in Turbat, Pakistan, on May 28, 2017 — have been determined to be among the hottest recorded on the planet. “These are the highest recognized temperatures in 76 years,” The Post’s Ian Livingston reports.

— Boaty McBoatface makes a climate discovery: On its first mission, the unmanned British research submarine called Boaty McBoatface — named in a 2016 online poll — has discovered a relationship between Antarctic winds and rising sea temperatures. “Its findings, published in the journal PNAS on Monday, revealed how increasingly strong winds in the region are causing turbulence deep within the sea, and as a result mixing warm water from middle levels with colder water in the abyss,” CNN reports. “That process is causing the sea temperature to rise, which in turn is a significant contributor to rising sea levels, scientists behind the project said.”


— Canada to move forward with controversial pipeline: One day after the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national “climate emergency,” it announced it will move forward with the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline project. The $5.5 billion expansion “has long pitted the country’s energy sector against the concerns of environmental and some indigenous groups,” The Post’s Emily Rauhala reports. “The move will be welcomed by the country’s struggling oil sector and the many Canadians whose fortunes are tied to it. Landlocked Alberta produces four-fifths of Canadian crude, but struggles to get it abroad, leading to steep discounts against global benchmarks — and hitting the province hard,” she adds. “But many Canadians — including environmentalists, and some indigenous communities — have protested the long-stalled pipeline out of concern for oil spills and the continuing promotion of climate-changing fossil fuels."



  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds a legislative hearing.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “Legislative Solutions to Make Our Nation’s Pipelines Safer."
  • The House Science Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on fossil energy research.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on geothermal energy development on Thursday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Consumer Protection and Commerce and Environment and Climate Change hold a hearing on the “Administration’s Rollback of Fuel Economy and Clean Car Standards” on Thursday.
  • The Brookings Institution holds an event on carbon price proposals with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) on Thursday. 
  • The House Science Committee holds a hearing on oversight of the Energy Department's research and development with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on June 25. 

— A man packing 34 hair rollers walks into an airport . . . A 39-year-old man attempted to smuggle nearly three dozen colorful finches from Guyana through John F. Kennedy International Airport, in plastic hair rollers stashed in a duffel bag. And he said he planned to sell them for about $3,000 each. “If they make it through the checkpoint, these birds are pitted against one another in singing contests at public parks in Brooklyn and Queens, where a judge determines which has the “best voice, ’” The Post’s Michael Brice-Saddler reports. “Sometimes, it’s a race to see which finch can sing the most songs.”