George David Banks, a top advisor to President Trump on climate change, once worked as the “D.C. liaison” for the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED), a coalition of “individuals, organizations, communities, and businesses” founded by the anti-wind activist and climate skeptic John Droz, Jr.
Droz received national attention in 2012 for his role in drafting a “National PR Campaign Proposal” to “… constructively influence state and national wind energy policies.” The “confidential” draft plan called for “joining forces” with a number of powerful special interest groups backed by the Koch brothers. It was soon followed by a February 2012 meeting between local wind power opponents, including Droz, and representatives of some of these same Koch-backed groups.
Droz is equally well known for his role in fooling state lawmakers in North Carolina into a passing a controversial moratorium on the use of sea level rise protections in coastal planning. Droz often describes himself as an “independent physicist” and he does hold degrees in physics that he earned back in the 1960s and 1970s. However, according to Droz’s own resume, his professional career since 1979 has been in real estate, where he has made enough money to pursue other interests like bashing wind power on the side. Droz is not an expert on climate change, and he has, in fact, embraced unscientific conspiracy theories.
“One insightful observer commented that the whole AGW hypothesis was never about climate anyway — but rather it is ultimately about control (of population, lifestyle, energy use, etc.),” Droz’s official position on global warming concluded (AGW is short for anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming).
As AWED’s director of D.C. operations in 2012 and 2013, Banks worked as part of what the Washington Post dubbed an “unusual coalition” that pressured Congress to allow a key federal tax credit for wind power to expire. The coalition included the utility Exelon and Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, as well as a number of local anti-wind groups.
Around the same time he was working for AWED, Banks was also a policy advisor to Heartland Institute, which was working with the American Legislative Exchange Council and other Koch-backed groups to use “model legislation” to repeal another key driver of wind power growth: state renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Droz was already working with ALEC and other groups with ties to the Koch brothers to attack North Carolina’s RPS, and in 2013 he worked to recruit wind power opponents in other states to the campaign.
Who paid George David Banks to work for the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions?
A brief bio of Banks put out by the White House press office when he was appointed by President Trump to serve as a special assistant for international energy and environment made no mention of AWED or the Heartland Institute, nor does his LinkedIn profile.
What Banks does reveal on his LinkedIn profile is that at the same time he was working for AWED in 2012 and 2013, he was also the managing director of Battle Group, LLC, a:
“Strategic consultancy that works to bridge and integrate state and local advocacy efforts with free market lobbying campaigns at the national level, focusing on energy and environment issues.”
A consultancy is, by definition, a company that gets paid to provide professional advice or services, yet AWED and its founder John Droz – a self-described “independent physicist and energy expert” – have long sought to portray their anti-wind efforts as powered by volunteers and free of financial ties to the fossil fuel and utility industries.
“All of our efforts (including this website) are from donated time and effort on the part of committed citizens,” AWED said on its PTCFacts.info website, set up to oppose the 2012 extension of the wind production tax credit. “We have received zero funding from any source for our efforts to promote better energy policies.”
“Everyone involved with AWED (including me) is an unpaid volunteer, who is committed to Science-based energy policies,” John Droz, the founder of AWED, told the Energy and Policy Institute via email in 2017.
“So the short answer is that Dave was paid nothing for any efforts he contributed to promoting Science,” Droz said. (Banks often goes by his middle name, David or Dave)
However, asked if other “individual, organizations, or companies may have been paying Banks for his work on wind energy issues while he was a ‘volunteer’ for AWED,” Droz pleaded ignorance.
“I have no knowledge of any other groups that Dave was connected with during the period of time he volunteered for AWED,” said Droz.
Banks started the Battle Group and worked as AWED’s director of D.C. operations after a 2011-2012 stint on the staff of Republican Senator James Inhofe, where he sparked controversy with a leaked memo that used the words “our partners” to describe the oil industry.
Just after Banks left Inhofe’s staff, Politico Pro ($) asked Banks about his ties with the lobbyist C. Boyden Gray, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. Here is how Banks responded:
“I was kind of on the circuit with some of these guys, but there’s obviously a limit of what you can do in the Senate,” he said, noting a desire to do media appearances and speeches. “I’d like to do more of that if possible.”
In 2009-2011, Banks had worked as a partner for Boyden Gray & Associates, where according to his LinkedIn profile he was a registered lobbyist for Constellation Energy, which merged with Exelon in 2012. While Banks was working with AWED in 2012, C. Boyden Gray was lobbying against the wind PTC for Exelon, which along with Gray publicly campaigned for the PTC’s immediate expiration. Gray also served at the time on the board of directors for Freedomworks, which partnered with Banks and AWED to manufacture public opposition to the wind PTC.
Exelon also for several years funded the Koch-backed American Energy Alliance’s attacks on the wind PTC. This group was another member of the “unusual coalition” that Banks and AWED campaigned alongside in 2012 and 2013.
Exelon did not respond to a request for comment on whether it made any payments to Banks or the Battle Group during the time period in question.
Droz’s 2012 proposal for a national PR campaign by local anti-wind activists had called for “joining forces” with a number of national Koch-backed groups. Sure enough, it was Christine Harbin of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity that organized a 2012 letter signed by a number of local anti-wind groups and national organizations backed by the Koch brothers, according to a document found on the website of one of the signers, Auglaize Neighbors United. Among the signers were AWED, Freedomworks, and the American Energy Alliance.
“We are working with several other national organizations who are also against the PTC,” according to an update found in that same document from the Auglaize Neighbors United website. “Our DC liaison, Dave Banks, has been actively working with these groups, who have been meeting once a week to discuss strategy, etc.”
AWED’s relationships with Banks and other D.C. insiders opened some powerful doors in Washington. Banks joined Droz and other AWED supporters for a meeting with staff for then House Speaker John Boehner, according to a “AWED December 2012 DC PTC Trip Report” that Droz posted online.
Asked about these relationships in 2017, Droz again feigned ignorance.
“Of course I am familiar with Americans for Prosperity, Freedomworks, and Exelon,” Droz told the Energy and Policy Institute. “None of those people (to my knowledge) paid anyone to assist in this issue.”
Bank’s public work as AWED’s director of D.C. operations appears to have ended sometime in 2013, around the same time he joined the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). At CSIS, Banks again fought against the wind PTC alongside C. Boyden Gray and Exelon. Banks continued to target the wind PTC in 2015, while executive vice president for the American Council for Capital Formation, where he later defended Donald Trump’s tweet that claimed climate change was a hoax manufactured by the Chinese.
George David Banks faces questions about his past lobbying in 2017
Banks has faced scrutiny as one of many former lobbyists appointed by Trump to work on the same issues they lobbied on within the past two years, despite a campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.” Banks was registered as having lobbied for the American Council on Capital Formation (ACCF) on “Tax, Environment, and Regulatory Issues” in 2015 and 2016. Banks and ACCF now claim he was “mistakenly” registered as a lobbyist, and that the work Banks did for ACCF did not actually qualify as lobbying.
As mentioned earlier, in 2009-2011, Banks was also a partner in Boyden, Gray & Associates, where his LinkedIn profile discloses he was a “Registered lobbyist for Constellation, FirstEnergy and Nuclear Energy Institute.” Lobbying reports for Banks from this time can be in the U.S. House and Senate lobbying disclosure databases.
Banks worked on “lobbying campaigns” for AWED and the Battle Group, according to statements about his work found online. However, searches of the House and Senate lobbying disclosure databases found no reports for lobbying done by “George David Banks” between 2012 and 2014, which covers the time period he worked for AWED and ran the Battle Group.
What Banks’ anti-wind allies want from Trump
“FYI I have some connections to the Trump transition team, and (as you can tell from news stories), things are moving along quite quickly,” Droz wrote to supporters shortly after the 2016 election.
Droz’s post-election message also included a revealing “list of some major issues that need addressing” by the Trump administration. The list included a call to “Terminate special renewable subsidies (e.g. PTC and ITC).” Droz and AWED also joined a letter that called on Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, which was signed by many of the special interest groups they worked with on previous attacks on the wind PTC.
The American Energy Alliance, with which Banks worked closely during his time at AWED, backed Trump’s presidential campaign and has played an outsized role in defining the new Trump administration. The Institute for Energy Research, the American Energy Alliance’s research arm, continues to promote Droz’s anti-wind work on its blog, MasterResources.org
Still, ending the wind PTC before it’s current expiration date of 2020 appears to be a non-priority for most Republican lawmakers in Washington, and it’s worth a reminder that Trump actually backed the PTC while on the campaign trail.
But Droz and AWED have found some success working with Republicans and Koch-backed groups at the state level since 2012. In 2017, Droz provided support to Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina who tried to halt an Amazon wind farm based on the pretense that it posed a risk to a Navy radar installation – a claim the Navy denied. One of those same lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, later tacked a moratorium on new wind farms onto a major solar bill that was signed into law – a move that pleased Droz. During a recent podcast interview with H. Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute, Droz said he also supported a successful effort by state lawmakers in Texas to pass legislation that makes new wind farms located near military bases ineligible for property tax exemptions.
The local communities and states that Droz and AWED target next will do well to remember whose interests these wind power opponents have aligned with, and it’s not the interests of the majority Americans who want to see more, not less, support for wind power.