Call it Jurassic Park or Dinosaur Train: Mitt Romney’s team of energy and economic advisers, like his energy plan, is dominated by fossil fuels.
Romney’s energy team relies on the expertise of lobbyists, coal and oil industry insiders, several of whom crafted the polluter agenda of the George W. Bush administration, a trend Politico described as, “Bush-era energy policy wonks … finding a new home with Mitt Romney.”
Romney has made expanding oil and gas drilling and coal exploration central to his campaign, and he’s elevated the Keystone XL pipeline to his top day one priority if elected. The pipeline illustrates where Romney’s priorities lie: while it would boost oil companies’ profits, consumers will only deal with the environmental effects and even higher gas prices.
At times, Romney adheres to the “oil above all” philosophy more than his team, some of whom advocate for clean energy and climate change solutions. These ideas, embraced by many Republicans, have gone unheard by candidate. Since the primaries, Romney has only doubled down on his anti-clean energy campaign, announcing his opposition to the wind production tax credit, which supports tens of thousands of jobs. He has no problem, however, doubling what the most profitable oil corporations already receive in tax breaks, a boon to his oil billionaire chief energy adviser and the oil lobbyist rumored to be Romney’s pick for chief of staff.
Romney’s chief energy adviser is oil-shale billionaire Harold Hamm, who heads Continental Resources, the corporation with the most drilling acreage in North Dakota. Hamm secured his $8 billion fortune and place as 78th richest person in the world through the oil and gas industry, hence he’s emerged as an unsurprisingly strong advocate for more tax loopholes for the oil industry. Hamm stands to personally benefit from Romney’s Day One priorities: the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry Continental’s oil to Gulf Coast refineries, and hurting consumers by potentially raising the price of gas by as much as 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest. In testimonies to Congress and the North Dakota legislature, Hamm has argued for preserving $4 billion worth of oil subsidies, called a windfalls profits tax a “dumb idea,” and advocated against drilling oversight.
Jack Gerard is a “longtime supporter” and family friend to Mitt Romney who also happens to be the top oil lobbyist in the country, as president of the oil lobby American Petroleum Institute. API has waged a multi-million-dollar campaign this election cycle to defeat Obama, in order to enact the oil industry’s wish list, and Gerard is even rumored to be on the list for chief-of-staff in a Romney administration. If API’s top priorities are any indication, a Romney administration would throw open public lands to drilling, dangerously scale back oversight and safety regulations, and allow limitless pollution. Months ago, when Obama called for an end to $4 billion in oil industry tax breaks, Gerard’s backlash ranged from calling this act “discriminatory” to sheer denial, claiming the “industry receives not one subsidy.”
Coal lobbyist Jim Talent contributed a chapter on energy to Romney’s economic plan that called for amending the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon emissions, increased coal and oil production, and loose safety regulation. Nowhere on Mitt Romney’s campaign website does it disclose Talent’s extensive ties to the coal and oil, and that the person behind Romney’s economic policies is a lobbyist for a firm representing one of the largest coal companies in the world, Peabody Energy. Peabody has paid Talent’s firm an average $125,000 every year for the past five years, while the former senator, Talent raised a career $400,000 from the oil and gas industry. Romney’s energy plan stops “bureaucratic hostility,” Talent writes, so coal and oil companies can explore American energy, though there is no mention of how to help Americans suffering the consequences of unchecked pollution and losing their public lands so these companies can profit.
Greg Mankiw, a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush and a top economic adviser to Romney, has advocated for energy policy that contradicts Romney’s stated positions. In a 2007 op-ed, Mankiw argued for limiting carbon pollution, with a carbon tax. This may not have been so far from Romney’s policies before the candidate’s etch-a-sketch, but now that the candidate has doubted carbon pollution’s harm on both the climate and public health. Weeks ago, Mankiw endorsed a new Republican campaign led by former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis to foster debate on a carbon tax to combat climate change.
A lobbyist who also hails from the George W. Bush administration, Jeffrey Holmstead has worked on behalf of coal and utilities companies. The former assistant EPA chief is responsible for working polluter interests into the Bush-era EPA, when he helped craft a mercury rule that copied verbatim the lobbyists’ proposals, and was so weak courts threw it out. Holmstead has been part of a Koch front group, Citizens for the Environment.
Tom Farrell is another coal and natural gas CEO among Romney’s campaign advisers, serving as energy finance chairman. The CEO and president of Dominion Resources (a coal, natural gas) has testified against EPA standards limiting mercury pollution, arguing the industry needed until at least 2018 to reduce harmful pollution. Romney has also taken a stand against limiting mercury pollution, along with a slew of other EPA protections. Farrell has admitted that the national energy strategy must include a plan for reducing fossil fuels, though Romney’s energy plan does little more than gratuitously mention research on renewable energy.
Tar sands lobbyist David Wilkins was once ambassador to Canada under the George W. Bush administration. Now he represents the interests of Canadian oil corporations on the Romney team. Wilkins lobbies on behalf of the Nelson Mullins lobbying firm, he advocates for oil interests from Alberta, Canada, including a tar sands company, Alberta Energy, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Before joining the Romney team, Wilkins supported oil-above-all candidate Rick Perry (R-TX). Wilkins’ deep commitment to Canadian tar sands may have bled into campaign priorities, which produced an ad naming the pipeline Romney’s No. 1 priority. Wilkins is also member of the corporate front group American Legislative Exchange Council and may have helped craft special loopholes for lobbyists, making it easier to conceivably push anti-environment “model” laws.
Linda Stuntz completes the long lists of lobbyists advising Romney. She has strong connections to oil, as a lobbyist for BP and the Association of Oil Pipeline and sitting on the board for Royal Dutch Shell. Stuntz debated Obama surrogate on behalf of the campaigns this month, but strangely, she contradicted multiple positions Romney has clearly opposed. On a carbon tax, Stuntz said, “It’s a huge challenge. But it’s one that Governor Romney would face up to by continuing dialogues … with other countries.” And although Romney has taken painstaking steps to distance himself from the days he acknowledged global warming and sought pollution limits, Stuntz said “he’s certainly not a denier.” Romney has been silent on the issue, however, making it increasingly unlikely he will etch-a-sketch his extreme take on pollution.