Democratic senators are demanding information about what they call the Koch brothers’ “infiltration” of the Trump administration, charging that Koch-linked personnel have secured key federal jobs and are determining US environmental and public health policy.
The senators – including Sheldon Whitehouse, Edward Markey, Catherine Cortez Masto, Tom Udall, Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren – sent letters to eight government bodies and the White House requesting “information related to efforts by Charles and David Koch, Koch Industries, and the numerous groups they fund to influence decisions”.
The Koch network includes advocacy groups and thinktanks funded by the billionaire brothers that tend to advance a stridently conservative agenda, including promoting energy extraction within the US and the sloughing off of regulations.
“I think right now it’s the most powerful political force in the United States,” Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said. “If you don’t believe that deregulation is good and that pollution ought not to be checked and that billionaires ought to be able to pull strings secretly in government, this ought to be a pretty high priority.”
The Democrats have identified nine Koch-affiliated staff at the Department of the Interior, for example, which oversees more than 400m acres of federal public land that certain Koch operatives have long thought should be handed over to states and exploited.
They include the principal deputy solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, whose résumé gives a sense of how he may respond to matters before the interior department.
Jorjani was previously a director at the Charles Koch Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute and also worked at the Koch-supported Freedom Partners.
The CV notes that when he worked in the interior department of George W Bush, his job as the project manager of a 105-person “climate change task force” entailed “limiting damage from climate change alarmists.”
In the current administration, Jorjani has been linked to efforts to permit mining near the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and also to rescind protections for migrating birds.
The CV of Doug Domenech, a top interior appointee responsible for territories including American Samoa and Guam, meanwhile, is forthright about his work at the Koch-linked Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was head of the Fueling Freedom project, where his job, he writes, was “managing national, grassroots legislative effort related to opposing electric power plant emissions regulations.”
According to its website, the Fueling Freedom project’s goal was to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels”. In one op-ed, a Foundation director observed that gasoline-powered cars often carry expectant women to hospitals.
Another high-ranking interior staffer hired under Trump, Tim Williams, says in his résumé that when he worked at the Koch-funded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, the overarching mission was “persuading public officials to embrace an agenda of economic freedom.”
When the administration announced that it was shrinking two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which are under the purview of Williams’ current employer, his former employer was jubilant, saying it marked the end of “an era of executive overreach.”
Koch Industries and various Koch-linked organizations did not respond to requests for comment, but their views are reflected in a Koch document published by the Intercept in which the network celebrates its victories under Trump.
“In the first eleven months of President Trump’s administration, the White House and Congress have closely followed the Network’s Roadmap to Repeal,” wrote the document’s authors, referring to a three-step strategy to undo the legacy of Barack Obama that includes rescinding his executive orders and defunding his initiatives. “We have seen progress on many regulatory priorities this Network has championed for years.”
In the report, the network claims partial credit – without explaining its role – for high-profile wins such as the announced repeal of the clean power plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline; and the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.
It also says it notched less visible, but still consequential, rollbacks, such as overturning a rule intended to provide safeguards for waterways affected by coalmining.
A late-2017 report by the not-for-profit group Public Citizen suggested that 44 Trump administration officials had close ties to the Kochs, including Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was recently defended against charges of ethical lapses by several Koch groups. Another is Vice-President Mike Pence, about whom Steve Bannon has said: “I’m concerned he’d be a president that the Kochs would own.”
“Since the incoming Trump administration really had a dearth of public policy expertise on most issues, the Kochs and their policy groups have provided some of the key people,” said Alan Zibel, who wrote the report.