Trump Appointees at Environmental, Energy and Natural Resource Management Agencies: Not Much Expertise, Plenty of Fossil Fuel Connections

Last month, ProPublica published a list of more than 400 officials that President Trump has quietly appointed at agencies across the federal government. These officials were given beachhead positions that do not require Senate confirmation and have received far less attention in news outlets than those who do require confirmation. While some of these appointments may be temporary – the primary purpose of the beachhead appointees is to ensure a smooth transfer of power while permanent leaders are nominated and confirmed – one GOP strategist close to the transition has noted that they are “almost guaranteed a job” if they want one at the department.

To shed more light on some of these appointments, the Sabin Center undertook an investigation of 88 officials who were installed at environmental, energy, and natural resource management agencies. Here is what we found:

More than half (50/88, 57%) of the appointees appear to lack expertise and/or experience that would be directly relevant to the core missions of the departments and agencies that they have joined.*  Some of the appointees in this category are recent college graduates with almost no work experience apart from involvement in the Trump campaign and other GOP campaigns.  There are also quite a few public relations professionals who, while having connections to the industries that are regulated and managed by these agencies, do not have any experience in regulating, governing, or otherwise managing those industries.

This trend is most apparent at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where only 2 of the 11 appointees had relevant experience in environmental protection or regulation (1  has since left the agency). But lack of relevant experience is also a major issue at the Department of Energy (DOE), where more than half (17/28, 61%) of the appointees lacked expertise that would be directly relevant to energy policy and regulation, and the Department of Commerce (13/19, 68%).

More than one quarter of the appointees have close ties to the fossil fuel industry (25/88, 28%). For the purposes of this survey, we considered appointees as having close ties if: they were directly involved in advocacy on behalf of coal, oil, and gas companies; they worked at fossil fuel-funded think tanks and published articles advocating for greater use of fossil fuels; or they had fossil fuel companies as clients when they worked in the private sector. Several of these appointees are registered lobbyists who have lobbied on behalf of the industries they would be regulating or managing; others, while not registered lobbyists, have played a very similar function in their role as consultants. Once again, this trend is most apparent at EPA, where almost two-thirds of the appointees (7/11, 64%) have ties to fossil fuel companies.

The EPA appointments were also disconcerting for other reasons: at least 5 of the appointees have openly denied or expressed doubt about the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, and 9 of them have expressed ideological opposition to environmental regulation (for these appointees, the opposition goes beyond simply opposing a particular rule or program).

These findings reinforce what we already know about President Trump’s antagonism toward environmental regulation and the energy transition, and his avid support for extractive industries and natural resource management that turns a blind eye to climate change and other environmental impacts.

* For the purposes of this survey, we defined “substantial experience and/or expertise that is directly relevant to an agency’s core mission” as follows:

EPA: Experience or expertise in the fields of environmental regulation, management, or policy analysis.

DOE: Experience or expertise in the fields of energy policy, energy regulation, or utility management.

DOI: Experience or expertise in the field of natural resource management.

Commerce: Experience or expertise in the fields of natural resource management, economic policy, trade, and/or investment.

Note that some of the appointees may have worked on matters relating to these fields — for example, a state legislator endorsing a policy to roll back environmental regulations, or a lobbyist working on behalf of the coal industry to roll back regulations for the industry. However, we did not view this as “substantial” experience or expertise as it does not demonstrate that the person has the breadth of knowledge needed to work at these agencies.

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