Energy adviser quits over failure to get security clearance

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2018

The White House’s top energy adviser and most vocal proponent of engaging in the Paris climate accord resigned today after failing to obtain a permanent security clearance.

George David Banks, the special assistant at the National Economic Council and National Security Council focused on international energy and environment, confirmed that the White House counsel’s office had told him he would not receive a permanent clearance because he admitted to smoking marijuana in 2013. Politico first reported his resignation.

When asked how old he is, Banks, 50, said, “I aged 15 years in one year at the White House.”

Before joining the Trump administration last February, Banks worked at the State Department as a diplomat, as a CIA analyst and as an adviser in the George W. Bush administration’s Council on Environmental Quality. He also served as a deputy Republican staff director of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and was executive vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation.

He’s the third White House official to resign in a week, following CEQ speechwriter David Sorensen and White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who left amid allegations of domestic abuse. Both deny the allegations.

Banks’ exit today triggered speculation about who — if anyone — would fill his post, and sparked climate advocates’ anger about the fate of future negotiations.

“This is a blow to anyone who cares about climate protection within the Trump administration,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser and strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute. “George is a tremendous professional … a conservative Republican but one who recognizes climate change is a serious problem. I think he’s going to be hard to replace.”

In recent months, Banks has walked a tightrope, reiterating his support for engaging the Paris climate accord while emphasizing the Trump administration’s push for “energy dominance.”

Last fall, Banks held court at a fossil fuel event in the midst of the international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, as State Department officials continued their behind-the-scenes negotiations over the 2015 Paris accord (Climatewire, Nov. 15, 2017).

But energy industry sources said that while Banks will be difficult to replace, they saw little substantive change to the Trump administration’s push for increased use of domestic coal and gas abroad with the resignation.

Barry Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, said efforts underway to boost the use of “clean coal” abroad — something Banks oversaw — aren’t in jeopardy, and an industry source close to the administration’s efforts to boost exports of domestic gas echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t think it’ll be in jeopardy because that was an administration issue, it wasn’t something that was just Dave’s personally,” Worthington said. “I think the efforts internationally to support coal and fossil fuels more broadly will continue.”