Bannon’s exit could reshape Trump energy policies

Source: Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, August 21, 2017

White House strategist Steve Bannon’s abrupt but long-anticipated departure today from President Trump’s inner circle removes a distinctive voice on energy and environmental issues and could give moderate voices more say.

Following a flurry of rumors and unusual interviews that Bannon granted in the last few days, the White House announced today that he was history.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a brief statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

The free-floating, relatively unstructured nature of Bannon’s job as chief strategist reportedly bothered Kelly, a buttoned-down former Marine Corps general brought in to discipline Trump’s fractious White House. It also complicates efforts to pin down Bannon’s influence on energy and the environment and the potential impact of his absence.

But along with U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, most notably, Bannon helped lead the forces opposed to U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord. Bannon won that fight when Trump announced June 1 that the United States would withdraw from the landmark agreement.

“So Steve Bannon is now the president of the United States, and that was more clear yesterday than ever before,” MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough declared following the decision.

Beyond climate issues, Bannon generally advocated dismantling the rules and regulations, many of them dealing with resource development and environmental protection, that together make up what some call the administrative state.

Bannon’s sometimes mysterious influence on energy and environmental policy, in turn, prompted environmental groups today to quickly cheer his unceremonious exit.

“Good riddance to Steve Bannon, as his disgraceful brand of hate and vitriol deserves no place in the White House,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Broadening the indictment, Michelle Chan, vice president of Friends of the Earth, added, “White Supremacists like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump do not belong in the White House.” The environmental organization had previously joined other groups in circulating petitions urging Trump not to hire Bannon.

A 63-year-old Navy veteran and graduate of Virginia Tech and Harvard Business School, the famously disheveled Bannon had done stints with Goldman Sachs, the Breitbart News Network and the earth science research venture called Biosphere 2 before Trump appointed him in August 2016 to serve as his campaign’s chief executive officer.

“I like Mr. Bannon,” Trump told reporters at a disjointed news conference Tuesday. “He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.”

Then, after downplaying Bannon’s role in his campaign, Trump added an ominous coda when asked whether he retained faith in his chief strategist.

“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump said.

The climate fight was only one of many for Bannon, a former leader of the fiercely conservative website Breitbart, but it especially aggravated tensions with Trump’s influential son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

Bannon’s exit now enhances the power of Kushner, who through White House leaks and other means has associated himself with gentler policies. Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, were identified by The Wall Street Journal in February as “a moderating influence on the White House’s position on climate change and environmental issues.”

Bannon’s departure could also boost the internal clout of National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has been allied with Kushner and with whom Bannon also periodically clashed during the Trump administration’s chaotic first six months.

While Cohn was still with Goldman Sachs, the company in a 2005 statement declared that climate change “is a reality and that human activities are largely responsible for increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.” And in 2015, when Cohn was president, Goldman Sachs joined five other banks in a statement acknowledging that government action was needed to address the problem.

Reporters Robin Bravender and Jean Chemnick contributed.