Trump’s energy and environment team leans heavily on industry lobbyists

Source: By Steven Mufson, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When President Obama came into office, one of his top priorities was laying down ethics rules restricting lobbyists from serving in the White House.

Donald J. Trump isn’t likely to share that concern judging from the team of coal, oil and gas industry lobbyists who are working on his campaign and transition teams tailoring energy and environmental policies for a Trump presidency.

“It raises the question of whether he’s already opened the revolving door,” said Norman Eisen, who as White House special counsel designed Obama’s guidelines. “If you have people with these industry ties, profound ties to the very industries that are going to be regulated, then how can the American people be confident that government will serve their interests and not these huge corporate interests.”

Many Hillary Clinton supporters hope she will soften Obama’s policy on lobbyists if she wins the election. She too is relying on longtime Washington insiders in her campaign, though they lack the formal registered lobbyist background of Trump’s team.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says Trump’s team stands out because Trump has railed against a system he calls rigged and now appears to be taking advice from people at the heart of that same system.

“The fact that Trump has lobbyists intimately involved on key issues on which they lobby raises questions about what he means when he says the system is rigged,” said McGehee, who has lobbied for non-profit organizations and says she is not opposed to lobbyists. “He’s playing the same game.”

The head of Trump’s energy transition team is Mike Catanzaro, according to three Republican consultants familiar with the group. Catanzaro, a partner at the lobbying firm CGCN, formerly Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielson, has a variety of industry clients, according to federal obbying records.

Those clients include oil services giant Halliburton; large independent drillers with domestic shale prospects Devon Energy, Encana Oil & Gas, Hess and Noble Energy; Talen Energy, a electric power generator recently acquired by a private investment firm; the petrochemical and refining association called the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers; and Koch Industries.

Catanzaro was a staffer at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and held senior posts at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. Later he worked as energy policy adviser to then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). When he left government, he handled government relations for PPL, a large utility. Then he worked for FTI Consulting, a strategic communications firm, where he advised electric utilities, integrated oil and gas companies and major trade associations, the lobbying records show.

Also on board for Trump: Jeffrey Wood, a partner at Balch & Bingham, a law and lobbying firm. Wood served as counsel to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was an early supporter of Trump. As a staff director, Wood also dealt with clean air, nuclear safety, water and wildlife issues. Wood is a registered lobbyist for the utility Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern.

Andrew R. Wheeler, a lawyer who was the chief of staff at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was chairman, has been working on the campaign but is also involved in transition planning, other Republican lobbyists said. Wheeler currently works for FaegreBD Consulting where his leading lobbying client is Murray Energy, lobbying records show. The company’s chief executive Robert Murray has been a vociferous critic of Obama; when Obama was reelected, Murray read a prayer to company staff members lamenting the country’s direction.

The Post called and emailed Wheeler, Wood and Catanzaro. Wood and Catanzaro did not reply. Wheeler referred questions to the Trump campaign; campaign spokesman Hope Hicks said the campaign would not comment or let the team members speak.

Trump has vowed to slash environmental regulations, open up more federal lands for leasing, and unleash enough drilling to propel the United States to energy independence.

“We can become the energy dominant country in the world,” Stephen Moore, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and Trump economic adviser said Wednesday in a debate at George Washington University. “We can be the next Saudi Arabia for the next century.”

The fossil fuel industries have other friends in the Trump orbit, Republican lobbyists say. Some are high profile, like Continental Resources founder and billionarie Harold Hamm or Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Others play more of a nuts-and-bolts role.

Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser on a range of issues including energy, came from the Sessions staff. He has worked for various lawmakers, including former House members Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.).

Rebecca Rosen, another member of the Trump energy team, has been the Washington representative of Devon Energy, a leading independent oil and gas drilling company. The Oklahoma-based firm is very active in shale oil and shale gas prospects. The EPA is drawing up regulations to ensure that shale drilling firms capture methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

In addition to the energy lobbyists, Trump’s transition team for environmental issues includes Myron Ebell, head of energy and environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell has been a skeptic about climate change and has called many mainstream climate studies false. He has urged the Senate to reject the Paris climate accords and he says that alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind, cost too much and will place a burden on people from poor nations.

The institute’s backing comes in large part from Donors Trust, a conduit for donors who do not want their names publicized. The trust, however, is staffed largely by people who have worked for Koch Industries or a non-profit financed by the Koch brothers’ network.

Politico reported on Monday that Trump’s transition operation has also recruited Mike McKenna, who is president of the firm MWR Strategies and who worked for both the Energy and Transportation departments. McKenna has lobbied on behalf of Dow Chemical, Koch Industries, Southern, GDF Suez and TECO Energy.

The Trump transition team for Interior Department issues also includes David Longly Bernhardt, the former solicitor general of the Interior Department under Bush and a partner at the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. He has represented a wide variety of clients on regulatory issues such as the Endangered Species Act but has not lobbied for corporations.

Eisen, the former Obama special counsel who later became U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, says that critics of the lobbyist ties shouldn’t focus on the lobbyists.

“It’s no knock on the individuals,” he said. “Their job is to influence government and what better way to do that than helping design the new administration. It’s certainly fair to ask what precautions are being taken to prevent conflicts of interest.”