Emails sent and received by Travis Fisher, an outgoing senior Trump administration official at the Department of Energy, shed light on a murky anti-clean energy network with ties to the fossil fuel industry that operates in the Midwest and nationally.
The emails were obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute via a series of public records requests to Ohio House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz and other state legislators involved in campaigns to roll back Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, as well as bail out failing coal and nuclear power plants.
In one email dated April 16, 2017, Fisher responded to an email chain from Rep. Seitz and Tom Stacy, an Ohio-based anti-wind activist turned paid consultant for the fossil fuel-funded Institute for Energy Research (IER). Fisher worked at IER prior to his January 20, 2017 appointment to the Trump administration as an Assistant to the Secretary of Energy. Fisher’s arrival at the Department of Energy raised alarm bells for clean energy advocates who feared the Trump administration might try to preempt state and local control over renewable energy policies.
Fisher’s email, sent from his private Gmail account, praised Rep. Seitz’s “amazing response” to a memorandum from a Democratic colleague regarding HB 114, a bill to roll back Ohio’s clean energy standards that passed the Ohio House in March of 2017 and is now before the Ohio Senate.
Fisher’s response also CCed two other top Midwest anti-wind activists, the Ohio-based Julie Johnson and Michigan-based Kevon Martis. Martis is a senior policy fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Energy & Environment Legal Institute, which has received funding from the coal industry.
The email shows that while at the Department of Energy, Fisher continued his relationships with clean energy opponents he worked with while at IER. In 2015, Fisher testified against Ohio’s renewable energy standard at a hearing held by the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee, which was chaired by Seitz, then a state senator. Fisher, Martis, Stacy, and New Hampshire-based anti-wind activist Lisa Linowes also all spoke against a key federal tax credit for wind power at a 2014 IER luncheon in Washington, DC.
In his April 16, 2017 email to Seitz and Stacy, Fisher called for “help” on the key issue of “wholesale electricity market reform.”
Fisher’s email came just two days after Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s order that signaled the start of a hasty and controversial grid study that many clean energy advocates worried would be used by the Trump administration as an excuse to target renewable energy policies. The appointment of Fisher to lead that study led to criticism after it was revealed that Fisher had authored an obscure 2015 IER report that dubbed state and federal clean energy policies “the single greatest emerging threat” to the power grid.
Ultimately, Fisher appeared to take a back seat on the study, as the Department of Energy’s non-political staff produced a report that mostly confirmed what was already widely known, which is that the growth of renewable energy is not threatening the reliability of the power grid. Regardless, Rick Perry proposed a bailout of old coal and nuclear power plants that would have provided a windfall to the Ohio-based coal producer Murray Energy and electric utility FirstEnergy. That proposal was recently rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Tom Stacy’s earlier consulting work for IER ultimately tied into Rick Perry’s bailout attempt. A pro-coal and nuclear power 2015 report that Stacy co-authored for IER was cited in a 2017 IHS Markit report sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute, Nuclear Energy Institute, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Perry cited the same IHS Markit report in his bailout proposal.
Earlier emails to Travis Fisher provide a glimpse of a broader anti-renewable energy network
Earlier emails dated November 11, 2016 and November 12, 2016 show that Fisher was copied on other messages from Tom Stacy just days before he was officially named as a member of then-president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team on November 20, 2016. The emails from Stacy, which were sent to Fisher’s IER email address, concerned an earlier effort to roll back Ohio’s “mandates” for renewable energy.
In one email, Stacy called for his IER colleagues to be brought in testify on the issue:
Myron Ebell is also a climate denier who works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which according to the Washington Post has received annual funding from Murray Energy.
Also CCed in Tom Stacy’s November 2016 emails:
- Bill Seitz and two other Ohio state legislators – Troy Balderson and Kris Jordan – who have all been documented members of the fossil fuel-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, the source of so model legislation to roll back state renewable energy standards
- Marita Noon, who was the Texas-based executive director of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy, or CARE, which has counted “oil and gas producers” among its funders
- Joe Nichols of the Ohio-based Buckeye Institute, which received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2016
- Robert Bryce of the New York-based Manhattan Institute, which received funding from ExxonMobil in 2016
- Robert Bradley, the CEO and founder of IER
Amy Harder of Axios just broke the news that Fisher’s controversial stint at the Department of Energy will soon be coming to an end. His departure follows the exit of George David Banks, another top Trump energy advisor with ties to IER and other renewable energy opponents.
Read the emails: