Biden’s next potential climate adviser has ties to big oil
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy is reportedly preparing to step down from her role coordinating the Biden administration’s climate program in the coming months. President Joe Biden has tapped McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, for a cabinet-level position in 2020, hoping his choice for the first-ever national climate adviser would reflect the urgency of the climate crisis. Although no official decision has been made, McCarthy’s deputy Ali Zaidi is expected to replace her.
Zaidi, who could soon take the lead on the country’s climate policy, spent the Trump years working for major law firms where he represented and provided legal services to dozens of fossil fuel companies and giants investment capital discreetly profiting from the climate crisis and financing fossil fuels. fuel expansion. Previously, Zaidi served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017, holding several climate-focused jobs at the White House before coming through the revolving door. He landed at big business law firms like Kirkland & Ellis, a right-wing firm that acts as a “penncher” between Republican administrations, and Morrison & Foerster, where he used his expertise to advance interests. oil and gas and private giants. equity tycoons.
Climate activists and policy pundits warn that the country’s top climate coordination post should be filled by someone who can stand up to the powerful fossil fuel industry, and that Zaidi’s record is disqualifying. “Fossil fuels have to go for our planet to survive,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. The nation. “Anyone who doesn’t have this principled position and who can’t stand up to the fossil fuel bullies and the financial monster that funds fossil fuels, will back down and not accomplish what we need for a clean energy future on a bomb. delayed as a climate.”
“The problem with this position is that it hasn’t been politicized enough,” Su added. “And I think there’s a real confusion about who decides within the administration. What we do know is that the administration has been adversarial since coming to power.
According to the company’s website, Kirkland & Ellis, advises clients on “mitigating and managing” environmental, social and governance risks to their business, and “on complex regulatory issues relating to climate change.” As E&E News reported last year, Zaidi himself has done legal work for several fossil fuel companies, including Callon Petroleum Company, Midstates Petroleum Company, Mission Coal Company and Murray Energy, according to financial disclosure forms. accessible to the public. He also provided legal services to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s electric grid and was partly responsible for the 2021 freeze. “Zaidi’s history as a representative of fossil fuel companies is completely disqualifying,” said Dorothy Slater, senior researcher at the Revolving Door Project. The nation.
“There is no excuse for Biden’s top climate adviser to be pro-oil, gas and coal, which Zaidi clearly is, judging by his portrayal of companies like Murray Coal. A gun like Zaidi shouldn’t have a position influencing climate policy at all, and based on Biden’s failure on climate so far, he doesn’t deserve a promotion in any way.
Kirkland & Ellis, a fossil fuel industry favorite, defended BP against a 2020 lawsuit brought by coastal workers and residents claiming they had developed health issues as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which killed 11 workers and released nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In a separate case, Kirkland represented BP against fishing companies and others who had sued the company over the oil spill. The attorney handling the case, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, defended the fossil fuel industry so effectively that he landed a job as Trump’s assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources.
In addition to working for major oil and gas companies facing class action lawsuits, Kirkland & Ellis also specializes in private equity advisory, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. The firm has worked for firms like Sun Capital Partners and Blackstone, proving particularly lucrative for the world’s most profitable law firm. At Kirkland & Ellis, Zaidi himself provided legal services to the Blackstone Group, one of the dirtiest companies in the industry and a driving force behind the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Blackstone co-owns “one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants” in the United States and several “oil and gas-melting” pipelines across the country, according to a February report by the nonprofits. LittleSis and the Private Equity Stakeholder Project. He has also directly advised companies like Bain Capital, KKR, Madison Dearborn Partners and The Carlyle Group, which has invested approximately $24 billion in more than six dozen fossil fuel companies.
youDuring the Obama administration, Zaidi served as Deputy Director of Energy Policy for the Domestic Policy Council; associate director for natural resources, energy and science in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB); and political aide to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. As a senior member of Obama’s OMB, Zaidi oversaw “critical aspects” of the president’s climate plan, which he also helped design. In 2017, he joined Morrison & Foerster, a firm that helps companies violating environmental regulations, as a shadow lobbyist. When Morrison & Foerster announced that it had hired Zaidi as a Washington-based senior advisor on climate-related issues, specifically “to assist the firm’s attorneys in advising clients on legislative, regulatory and politics related to global warming and clean energy development,” he praised his government experience.
Morrison & Foerster said the hiring of Zaidi came as the companies were “rethinking[ing] their energy shifts under the Trump administration. Chris Carr, chairman of Morrison & Foerster’s Environment and Energy Group, said in a statement that Zaidi was “immersed in the complex, cross-sector issues surrounding clean energy policy, technology and markets”, and had “exactly the necessary experience and expertise”. our clients need to navigate regulatory changes and advance their interests. »
What kinds of regulatory issues does Morrison & Foerster help clients navigate? In addition to helping companies obtain drilling and mining permits, the company actively defends companies that dump toxic waste, dump chemicals and pollute the environment. They even advise their clients on how to “build and refine marketing claims” to make their businesses environmentally friendly while avoiding false advertising. “We have extensive experience handling complex litigation under the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) laws,” Morrison & Foerster states on its website. “We help our clients defend these claims and related contribution and cost recovery actions; we even asserted a few to make our customers’ burden more bearable by sharing the pain with other responsible parties. We have also litigated and settled several hazardous waste law enforcement actions brought against leading manufacturers and retailers.
While at Morrison & Foerster, Zaidi was also a board member of the Center for Carbon Removal, a climate policy NGO (now known as Carbon180) that lobbied for the same technical carbon removal backed by ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and more. . Despite the hype surrounding carbon removal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said reliance on carbon capture technologies poses a “major risk” to meeting climate goals.
In 2016, at an Atlantic Council event on corporate emissions strategies, Zaidi succinctly presented his perspective on the climate crisis. “It’s not the government’s job to tell CEOs how to run their companies,” he said in response to a question about companies using shadow carbon pricing in their decision-making.