The Trump administration has recruited officials to fill its top energy and environmental staff positions from fossil fuel lobbying groups, Koch brothers-funded think tanks, and climate-denying lawmakers’ offices, according to a new database from the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Launched Monday, the project tracks political appointments to energy and environment positions and their past affiliations. Of the more than 100 political staff working on energy and environmental issues, close to one-third have ties to the fossil fuel industry and petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, according to the tracker.
Their industry ties often put them at odds with the stated missions of their agencies, especially for appointees working to address air and water pollution and protect federal lands, raising questions about the policy goals of their bosses — Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“These staffers are tasked with making decisions about the air we breathe and water we drink, yet many of them have worked for industries and organizations that have been fighting for years to undo environmental protections and prolong the life of dirty energy,” Erin Auel, research associate for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said in a statement. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The website, DirtyDeputies.org, will maintain a running list of political appointees for energy and environment and their previous employers. It will allow users to sort the political appointees by their special interest affiliations. The public is invited to submit tips on any of the appointees or new staff who have been hired.
“It’s not surprising that the Trump administration is the next stop on the career paths of old hands in the big oil, Koch, and climate denial networks,” Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit group that researches business and government corruption, said in an email to ThinkProgress. “This kind of capture of the federal regulatory apparatus is something they’ve been preparing for, and something that will have real consequences for public health and the environment, as we’ve seen play out on the state level.”
“This kind of capture of the federal regulatory apparatus… will have real consequences.”
Given the backgrounds of the officials filling these high-level positions, “we should be prepared for them to be particularly extreme in their abdication of responsibility to the public, in favor of their masters in polluting industries,” Connor warned.
David Bernhardt, one of political appointees listed in the Dirty Deputies tracker, is awaiting confirmation by the full Senate to become the second-highest ranking official at the Department of the Interior. Bernhardt, who runs the natural resources department at lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, has spent the last several years working on behalf of oil and gas companies and large agribusiness to weaken environmental protections.
“A vote for Bernhardt is a vote for the Koch brothers and big industry and a vote against public lands, people and health,” Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Doug Matheney now works as a top assistant to Perry after previously serving as the state coordinator for the Count on Coal initiative. He also worked as a coordinator for the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.
The database also lists Mandy Gunasekara, who joined Pruitt’s staff at the EPA in March as a top adviser. Gunasekara worked as the National Association of Chemical Distributors’ senior director of legislative affairs where she lobbied for reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. She also previously worked as a staffer for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a position in which she handed a snowball to Inhofe on the Senate floor. The Republican senator argued the existence of the snowball in winter disproved global warming.
Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy & Policy Institute, emphasized that the Trump administration’s appointed staffers now represent the mainstream of Republican ideology. “The Republican Party has adopted positions that deny the science behind climate change, wants to gut the EPA in order to prevent it from carrying out its mission, and prevent further air and water safeguards,” Kasper told ThinkProgress.
According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the tracker will help increase transparency of the political appointees who are “pulling the strings on Trump’s dirty energy agenda.”