According to a former Trump campaign manager, the “deep state” has a new member: a five-person independent regulatory panel that is almost entirely comprised of Trump appointees.
On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously rejected the Department of Energy’s plan to require certain grid operators to pay power plants that keep a 90-day supply of fuel on hand, a plan experts argued was really an attempt to force taxpayers to subsidize coal and nuclear energy.
The vote was unanimous, with all of FERC’s five political appointees agreeing that the Department of Energy had failed to show both that there is a risk to the resiliency of the grid, as the department claimed, and that the plan “would not be unduly discriminatory or preferential.” In response to FERC’s decision, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry — who spearheaded the plan — said that he appreciated the commission’s consideration and was glad that his proposal “initiated a national debate” about the resiliency of the grid.
But not everyone took FERC’s decision in stride; on Tuesday morning, former Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski criticized the decision, characterizing FERC as “the deep state” and “government officials who don’t support the Trump agenda.”
The deep state is very real. More government officials who don’t support the Trump agenda. https://t.co/dWWvyPBFyp
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) January 9, 2018
Trump supporters have seized onto the term “deep state” to refer to government officials — some career staff, some holdovers from the Obama administration — who want to undermine the Trump presidency and agenda. The irony is that FERC is an independent agency comprised solely of political appointees — not longtime, career government workers — and four of FERC’s five commissioners were appointed by Trump last year and confirmed by the Senate.
Three of those appointees are Republicans, including the commission’s new Chairman, Kevin McIntyre, who worked for almost 30 years as an attorney for the energy industry. McIntyre’s personal and financial ties to the energy industry were so deep that he required an extended period of time between leaving his position at the Washington, D.C. law firm Jones Day and being sworn in as chairman to sever those relationships (though as Mark Hand has reported for ThinkProgress, those relationships could still cause conflicts of interest for McIntyre in his new position).
“Corey Lewandowski understands FERC and the rule of law like Rick Perry understands energy markets and fair competition: not at all,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, told ThinkProgress via email in response to Lewandowski’s claim.
For years, environmental and climate groups have criticized FERC, which is responsible for approving interstate pipelines, for being a “rubber stamp agency” that generally approves fossil fuel infrastructure projects without taking into consideration a project’s impact on the climate or environment. The commission rarely rejects pipelines, rejecting only two pipeline applications out of 400 since 1999. McIntyre, for his part, has said that the commission will take a look at its pipeline review process, which has not been updated since 1999.
Since being fired from the Trump campaign in June of 2016, Lewandowski has remained a vocal supporter of the president’s agenda and served as a surrogate for the administration on cable news. In August, Politico reported that Lewandowski had pushed Trump to issue emergency federal assistance for the coal industry, a move that the Department of Energy eventually declined to take. Lewandowski denied that he was paid by coal companies and utilities to advocate for the assistance, though the Politico report cites “senior administration officials and others close to Trump” who saw Lewandowski’s role as a “lobbyist” and felt he was being paid for his work.
The two companies that pushed for the federal emergency assistance — the coal company Murray Energy and the utility FirstEnergy — were vocal supporters of the coal and nuclear subsidy proposed by the Department of Energy.