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Rick Perry Rejoins Pipeline Company After He Steps Down From Trump Admin Energy Department

Energy
Rick Perry Rejoins Pipeline Company After He Steps Down From Trump Admin Energy Department
Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Rick Perry speaks at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

Former Trump administration Energy Sec. Rick Perry, who resigned from his cabinet-level post effective last month, has joined the board of directors of the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to a filing made today with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Energy Transfer.


Before joining the Trump administration, Perry had served on the board of Energy Transfer, the pipeline company behind controversial projects including Dakota Access, Bayou Bridge, and Mariner East, but resigned to become Secretary of the Department of Energy. On January 1, 2020, Perry was appointed as a director of LE GP, LLC, the general partner of Energy Transfer LP, according to today's SEC filing, made after the market closed. ("Energy Transfer is structured as a master limited partnership," Bloomberg reports.)

The news comes on the same day that Pennsylvania regulators announced a record $30.6 million fine for Energy Transfer over an explosion of the company's Revolution pipeline. State regulators said they would resume permitting for the firm's Mariner East project.

Energy Transfer is currently seeking to roughly double the flow of fossil fuels along its Dakota Access project, raising the pipeline's capacity to 1.1 million barrels a day, up from the 560,000 barrels of oil currently flowing through the Dakota Access system.

Perry first joined the board of the company, then known as Energy Transfer Partners, in February 2015, as he was facing state-level felony charges, dismissed a year later, for abuse of power during his term as Governor of Texas.

In 2017, after being chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Department of Energy, Perry said that he regretted his previous statements about eliminating the very department he would go on to lead. During his tenure in the Trump administration, Perry sent a proposed rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to speed the approval of a proposal which would ensure that nuclear and coal plants received compensation for the "resilience" they give to the power grid, The Washington Examiner reported.

Speaking at CERAWeek, an annual energy conference in Texas, in March 2018, Perry said "clean" fossil fuels are the future, and a focus on renewables isn't the answer. "Listen, we support renewables," he told the audience, but suggested that the focus under the Paris Agreement was not the right approach. "What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" he asked, pointing to projections that fossil fuels aren't going anywhere soon.

The Revolving Door Spins

The Trump administration has come under fire over revolving door concerns before — often involving the hiring of former corporate lobbyists for government roles. "At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump's first term, his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows," ProPublica reported in October.

Other former high-level Trump officials have also come under fire for accepting roles in industries previously under their purview, including former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In July last year, Bloomberg reported that Zinke began working as a consultant for oil and mining firms after leaving the Interior Department, drawing criticism from good governance watchdogs. Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly similarly drew condemnation when he joined the board of Caliburn International, operator of the largest U.S. center for housing migrant children, after playing a role in policy debates over the separation of migrant children from their families. And former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt was reportedly in talks in September 2019 to work as a consultant for a Kentucky coal mining executive, according to The New York Times.

A January 28, 2017 executive order issued by President Trump requires executive branch appointees to pledge that they will not lobby agencies where they previously worked for five years.

'Historic' Fine for Energy Transfer Announced in Pennsylvania, Permitting Bar Lifted

Perry joins a company with a troubled track record when it comes to the law.

On the same day as the SEC filing announcing Perry's new role, Pennsylvania announced that it had reached an agreement with ETC Northeast Pipeline, LLC, an Energy Transfer subsidiary, over the 2018 explosion of the Revolution pipeline, part of the state's expanding network connecting the shale gas industry and the plastics and petrochemical industry.

The agreement includes a $30.6 million fine, one of the largest in commonwealth history — dwarfing the $13 million in prior fines issued as of September last year by state regulators for environmental violations during Mariner East pipeline construction. It also lifts a permit bar that blocked Energy Transfer from obtaining new permits for its pipeline construction projects, including an ongoing expansion of its Mariner East pipeline system.

"The settlement announced Friday means the company can also begin the process of repairing the Revolution pipeline, which links shale wells in Beaver and Butler counties to an Energy Transfer gas processing plant in Washington County," the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports.

In August, state auditors reported that Revolution pipeline's permits were "reviewed and authorized" by a county-level office that lacked authority to review so-called "gathering" pipelines like Revolution.

Pennsylvania environmentalists decried the commonwealth's lifting of the permit ban, which was established in early February 2019 after Energy Transfer struggled to repair the site of the Revolution blast and repeatedly created sinkholes that exposed buried portions of the Mariner East 1 pipeline project.

"There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities," Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement when the bar was announced. "This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated."

Last month, Energy Transfer and its security contractors were charged with criminal conspiracy, bribery, and other related offenses in the state over allegations centering on alleged intimidation tactics used by the firm's security guards, who also served as Pennsylvania state constables, in what prosecutors referred to as a "buy-a-badge" scheme. "We do not believe these charges have any merit," an Energy Transfer spokesperson told The Intercept when those charges were announced.

"Given the disastrous environmental degradation Energy Transfer caused with its Revolution pipeline, the company has lost its social license to operate," Joseph Otis Minott, attorney for the Clean Air Council, said in a statement today on Pennsylvania's agreement with Energy Transfer.

Reposted with permission from DeSmogBlog.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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