President-elect Trump’s new cabinet is full of people in the pocket of fossil fuel interests, who are set to bring their climate denial agenda to the White House. That was the core message of a Channel 4 documentary last night.
The Dispatches team travelled to the United States to investigate the controversial figures surrounding Trump in the lead up to his inauguration later this week.
And with the entire world watching Washington, these characters and controversies are no longer contained to the United States. Their actions will have international impact, and given Britain’s special relationship with America, it’s time to start taking a closer look at what’s going on Stateside.
It was a true rogue’s gallery. And DeSmog has the inside track on all the key players.
When Trump comes steps into office on January 20th, climate science deniers from both sides of the Atlantic will step out of the shadows and into the White House.
DeSmog UK this week has mapped this new US-UK climate science denier network, held together in large part by perhaps the most significant organiser in the network: conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.
Below we outline the key players introduced in the Channel 4 Documentary. And as our map illustrates, they’re not that far removed from the decision makers and behind-the-scene influencers that work to shape UK policy and dismantle climate action.
At the core of this newly empowered network is a free market think tank known for promoting climate science denial and previously taking funding from ExxonMobil: the Heritage Foundation. The programme pointed out that since Trump came to power, he has appointed 10 people with links to the group.
Not only has Heritage been busy filling up positions within the Trump team, but it has long supported and been lobbied by several Brexit climate deniers. Just weeks after his appointment as international trade secretary, Liam Fox met with over a dozen Heritage Foundation members – including its president and former Tea Partier Jim DeMint and several individuals who now make up members of Trump’s team.
In October, the Heritage Foundation joined up with another Koch-funded think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (for which Head of Trump’s EPA transition team Myron Ebell has been the head of its environment and global warming policy), and the UK's TaxPayers' Alliance to host a discussion panel on free trade at the Conservative Party Conference. And most recently in November, EU Member of Parliament, Brexiteer, and climate science denier, Daniel Hannan, also made a trip over to Heritage’s D.C. headquarters to talk trade.
Dispatches pointed out that perhaps the most high-profile oil industry appointment in Trump’s cabinet is former Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson was recently named U.S. Secretary of State by President-Elect Donald Trump, a controversial decision due in part to Tillerson’s own, and his company's, ties to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, (one of many topics discussed during the start of his confirmation hearing).
There’s also the awkward reality that over the past year ExxonMobil has come under fire and under investigation by multiple US state attorneys general for having long-held and well-studied knowledge of climate change dating back decades, all the while funding the climate change denial machine to the tune of $33 million between 1997-2015.
Some of Exxon’s anti-climate lobbying has also made its way over to Britain. Documents obtained by DeSmog UK in September show Exxon lobbying government against greener transport policies such as electric vehicles and biofuels.
Pruitt is set to become the head of the US’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He’ll be tasked with dismantling Obama’s clean energy plan – a mission all the climate science deniers featured in the programme were delighted about.
Earlier in his career, Pruitt was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organisation with close ties to energy giants, such as Exxon, Koch Industries, and Peabody, with a long history of climate science denial.
Pruitt does not accept evidence of human-caused climate change, has called for an end to prosecutors investigating how much Exxon knew about climate change, and has previously led legal challenges to end the Clean Power Plan.
Protestors on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) will be on the frontline as Trump pushes to open up the US’s oil and gas fields.
The owners of the DAPL, Energy Transfer Partners, were big donors to the Trump campaign. Kelcy Warren, chairman and chief executive officer of ETP, donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s campaign.
As Dispatches pointed out, ETP seems to have invested wisely. On election night, as Trump waded to victory, an ETP executive was caught on tape saying it “changed everything” and that DAPL “is going through”.
ETP are also big donors to another of Trump’s picks – Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, who previously sat on the company’s board. CEO Kelcy Warren also sat on Perry’s advisory board for his 2015 run for president.
Ironically, Perry will now head up is an agency he said he would get rid of during his run for the presidency during the 2012 election cycle. In a 2011 GOP primary debates, in a now unforgettable gaffe, Perry actually forgot the name of it when he proclaimed he'd throw it by the wayside.
The Dispatches team got kicked out a climate science denial meeting organised by the Heritage Foundation. Speaking at the event was none other than Senator Jim Inhofe (most famous perhaps for throwing snowball in the Senate in attempts to disprove climate change).
According to Oil Change International, Inhofe has received over $2 million in political contributions from the coal and oil industry. One of his top contributors is Koch Industries, America’s largest climate science denial funder. Inhofe is just one Koch ally sitting close to the President.
When Dispatches asked if Trump would aim to make America fossil fuelled again, Inhofe responded simply, “I would hope so. We've got a country to run”.
She has a book to sell, which the Dispatches team were more than happy to buy if it meant getting a few words from Harnett White. She narrowly missed out on a position in Trump’s cabinet, but clearly remains an important player in climate science denier network.
White is the director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a group funded by ExxonMobil, the Koch network, and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
When asked by the British presenters what more US fossil fuels would mean, she kindly offered: “more exports to you.”
McKenna helped put Trump’s climate and energy team together. As he openly acknowledged to the Dispatches team, he is a fossil fuel lobbyist, with that industry’s interest at heart.
When asked about whether he was gambling with the future by continuing to deny climate science, he shrugged and replied “50 years from now, somebody is going to be right”.
Mike McKenna was named as head of the U.S. Department of Energy transition team for President-Elect Donald Trump in mid-November. McKenna, a lobbyist for a firm he founded named MWR Strategies, was one of the first picks by Trump coming just weeks after statements that he would ‘drain the swamp’. According to federal lobbying disclosure forms, McKenna’s clients include companies such as Southern Company, Koch Industries, GDF Suez and Dow Chemical.
Trump has promise to keep American coal industry alive. If he succeeds, one of the major benefactors would be mining company Murray Energy, as Dispatches found when they paid it’s Ohio HQ a visit.
Employees of Murray Energy were Trump’s biggest donors in the run up to the election. Between 2010 and 2012, Murray Energy donated $140,000 to the Heartland Institute, a think tank known for supporting climate science denial.
More recently, the company attended a secretive, lavish August 2015 Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) summit in West Virginia. At that same event, Scott Pruitt – RAGA chairman and now Trump’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – sat on a panel called “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & OTher EPA Rules” with representatives from Murray Energy and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to RAGA for that benefit.
‘That’ Scottish windfarm
Strangely, a windfarm in Aberdeenshire has become a beacon of just how anti-renewable energy Trump is.
As Dispatches revealed, Trump wrote to Scotland’s ex-first minister, Alex Salmond, 10 times complaining about how it ruined one of his golf courses. And during a November meeting between Trump and Brexiteer Nigel Farage at Trump Tower it was reported that Trump urged Farage to continue his fight against windfarms in Scotland.
Photo: Jamelle Bouie via Flickr | CC 2.0