Following a campaign promising bold climate action, president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team named one of the Democratic Party’s top recipients of fossil fuel industry money to a high-profile White House position focusing in part on climate issues.
On Tuesday, Politico reported that Biden is appointing US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he is “expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists.”
During his ten years in Congress, Richmond has received roughly $341,000 from donors in the oil and gas industry — the fifth-highest total among House Democrats, according to previous reporting by Sludge. That includes corporate political action committee donations of $50,000 from Entergy, an electric and natural gas utility; $40,000 from ExxonMobil; and $10,000 apiece from oil companies Chevron, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy.
Richmond has raked in that money while representing a congressional district that is home to seven of the ten most air-polluted census tracts in the country.
Richmond has repeatedly broken with his party on major climate and environmental votes. During the climate crisis that has battered his home state of Louisiana, Richmond has joined with Republicans to vote to increase fossil fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He also voted against Democratic legislation to place pollution limits on fracking — and he voted for GOP legislation to limit the Obama administration’s authority to more stringently regulate the practice.
Overall, Richmond has received a lifetime rating of 76 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, and he scored 46 percent in 2018 — one of the lowest ratings of any Democrat in Congress.
Richmond, who served as a co-chair of the Biden campaign, has not committed to supporting a Green New Deal. In a postelection interview with CBS Face the Nation, Richmond said: “When we govern, we will govern with our values but when we can’t pass legislation, we shouldn’t be out there talking about it.”
“Cedric Richmond has taken big money from the fossil fuel industry, cozied up w/oil and gas, & stayed silent while polluters poisoned his own community,” the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots group pushing for a Green New Deal, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “How will young people & frontline communities trust our voices will be heard louder than Big Oil in a @JoeBiden administration?”
Varshini Prakash, the Sunrise Movement’s executive director who served on Biden’s policy task force, said in a statement: “Today feels like a betrayal, because one of President-Elect Biden’s very first hires for his new administration has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his Congressional career than nearly any other Democrat.”
Prakash called Richmond’s selection “an affront to young people who made President-Elect Biden’s victory possible.”
Biden has promised a $1.7 trillion plan to combat climate change, and has said the cause is one of his top priorities. During the Democratic primary, his campaign was criticized for working with an energy adviser linked to the fossil fuel industry while promoting a “middle ground” climate policy and opposing a ban on fracking. He was also criticized for attending a major fundraiser by a fossil fuel investor, even as he pledged to reject campaign money from fossil fuel industry sources.
Biden is reportedly considering former Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz for a cabinet spot or for a new international climate envoy post, according to the New York Times. Climate groups have called on Biden to reject Moniz for any position because he joined the board of directors at the electric utility Southern Company after his time in the Obama administration. Moniz has also been a fracking advocate.