Jie Jenny Zou of the Centre for Public Integrity
Tuesday 12 December 2017 11.00 GMT
“You want to talk about something that saves lives? It’s the access to energy around the globe,” Perry said, countering a woman worried about deadly hurricanes and a man whose hometown is being submerged by the rising Philippine Sea. “I am proud to be a part of this industry. I am proud to be an American.”
It was an opportunity for the former Texas governor to champion an industry he’d long embraced by showing fealty to the petroleum council, an arcane federal advisory committee dominated by energy executives. Picking up on Perry’s message was interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who has pledged to fast-track drilling and open more areas to fossil-fuel development.
The two took turns reassuring the council’s nearly 200 members during a meeting at the opulent Hay-Adams hotel in Washington DC, that the White House would be a friend, not foe, to big oil. “We’re now in the business of being partners, rather than adversaries,” Zinke said. “If I were in the industry, I’d be pretty happy.”
It wasn’t the first time that global warming had been cast aside by the energy department’s petroleum council, successor to a wartime body created by Harry Truman. In 1972, the council buried the industry’s own climate research with the help of top executives at the American Petroleum Institute, a longtime ally that once shared a building with the council.
API has gone beyond the lobbying typical of trade associations, helping spawn permanent substructures within the executive branch that ensure its voice is heard. These government entities, which include the petroleum council and an obscure but powerful White House office, have for decades worked in tandem with API to fortify the oil and gas industry, often, its critics say, at the public’s expense.
The council’s composition and views have been fodder for complaints from those outside of industry. Its leaders have been the biggest, loudest voices in oil; until February, former ExxonMobil CEO and current secretary of state Rex Tillerson was council chairman. Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney led the group before he became vice-president in 2001.
Of 192 members on the council’s roster, 144 come from the oil and gas industry. Over its lifetime, the council claims, almost a third of its 2,800 recommendations have been “fully implemented”.
These recommendations – to open more of the Arctic to drilling, for example – stand a good chance of being embraced by the Trump administration. At the petroleum council’s meeting in September, energy secretary Perry put his audience at ease. “The government’s not going to be in your way,” he said.
With contributing reporting from Chris Young and Rachel Leven.
Read a longer version of this article on the Center for Public Integrity’s website.
This is the first of three pieces this week in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity about how Big Oil tightened its grip on US politics. Read the second part on Thursday: How the oil industry set out to undercut clean air.