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Revealed: Heather Zichal Met with Cheniere Executives as Obama Energy Aide Before Board Nomination

9:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Portrait of Heather Zichal

Zichal through the revolving door?

Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant for energy and climate change to President Barack Obama and nominee to sit on the board of directors of LNG export company Cheniere Energy Inc., held two meetings with Cheniere executives while working for the White House.

White House meeting logs show Zichal attended the meetings with three executives from Cheniere, owner of the Sabine Pass LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facility, the first terminal to receive a final approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) during the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

The meetings appear to have taken place just over two weeks apart from one another, according to the meeting logs. The first meeting was on January 14, 2013, and the second on January 29, 2013. Just over eight months later, Zichal resigned from her White House job, with Reuters citing “plans to move to a non-government job.”

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki — who is facing a major ongoing class-action lawsuit— sat in on both of those meetings. He was joined by Cheniere executives Patricia Outtrim, vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs, and Ankit Desai, vice president of government relations.

Desai, a Cheniere lobbyist, formerly worked with Zichal on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, serving as his budget director. Desai also formerly served as political director for then-U.S. Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden.

Zichal served as Kerry’s energy and environment policy adviser for the 2004 campaign and in 2006, became his legislative director, a job she held until becoming policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“Ms. Zichal served as the top energy advisor to the President of the United States at a time when Cheniere was beginning construction on [Sabine Pass LNG],” Katie Pipkin, Cheniere’s senior vice president of business development and communications told DeSmogBlog. “The meeting was simply to inform and update the administration on that project.”

Pipkin also denied that two separate meetings took place in January 2013 between Cheniere and Zichal, telling DeSmogBlog, “Our records indicate only one meeting with Zichal on the 29th.” She did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on that claim.

While at the White House, Zichal earned a salary of $140,000 per year. If elected to the Cheniere board, she will make $180,000 per year, plus own 6,000 shares of Cheniere stock.

White House Open Door for Cheniere

According to a DeSmogBlog review of White House meeting logs, between 2009 and 2013, the Obama White House held 32 meetings with Cheniere board members and lobbyists, including the two attended by Souki, Desai and Outtrim.

Together, Souki and Outtrim attended four other meetings with White House officials and eight more each, either on their own or as part of other meeting blocs.

The Obama White House door has remained open to Outtrim even though she donated $10,000 to Republicans running in the the 2014 mid-term elections, according to OpenSecrets.org. Outtrim has also co-hosted a fundraiser for U.S.Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

Just 10 days after Cheniere landed its final approval from FERC to export LNG from Sabine Pass on April 16, 2012, the White House hosted a meeting with Outtrim and fellow board member R. (Robert) Keith Teague.

Majida Mourad, vice president of government relations for Cheniere, also met five times with the White House.

Two of those meetings were held directly with President Barack Obama himself, one on December 4, 2011, and another on January 18, 2013. First Lady Michelle Obama also attended the second meeting.

Prior to becoming a lobbyist for Cheniere, Mourad served as a senior aide for Spencer Abraham, former secretary of energy during the first term of the Bush Administration.

“Not Uncommon”

Some wonder whether Zichal will provide Cheniere even further top-level access to the Obama Administration if elected to the company’s board.

“Heather Zichal taking a position on Cheniere’s board of directors would be another example of the revolving door between those who set energy policies and the corporations that reap financial benefits from those policies,” Emily Wurth, water program director at Food & Water Watch, told DeSmogBlog.

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Former Obama Energy Aide Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

 

Face photo of Heather Zichal

Revolving door: An Obama energy aide may join a fracking giant.

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board.

The announcement, made through Cheniere’s U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company’s stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders’ vote and the company’s by-laws.

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman‘s book The Frackers — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere’s audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit dommittee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company’s annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere’s audit committee charter further explains.

Cheniere (stock symbol LNG, shorthand for “liquefied natural gas”) is currently awaiting a final decision on Corpus Christi LNG, its proposed LNG exports facility. That terminal would send gas obtained predominantly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the global market.

The company already received the first ever final approval to export fracked gas from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in April 2012 for itsSabine Pass LNG export terminal, which is scheduled to be operational by late-2015.

The nature of what role Zichal will play on the board and audit committee of the first company to make a major bet on LNG exports remains unclear. But one thing remains clear: she joins a politically well-connected cadre of Cheniere board members.

Other prominent Cheniere board members include John Deutch, former head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Vicky Bailey, a FERC commissioner, both of whom worked for the Clinton administration.

And given Zichal’s former role as liaison between the oil and gas industry at the White House and her track record serving in that role, it raises the question: was she working for the industry all along?

Zichal Oil and Gas Services

Zichal was best known to many as the main mediator between the oil and gas industry and the White House during her time working for the Obama administration. In fact, Cheniere cites that experience as the rationale for nominating her to serve on the board.

“Zichal has extensive knowledge of the domestic and global energy markets as well as the U.S. regulatory environment,” reads the “skills and qualifications” portion of her nomination announcement on Cheniere’s Schedule 14A. “She brings a diversified perspective about the energy industry to our board having served in significant government positions during her career.” 

As Obama’s “climate czar,” Zichal headed up the effort — mandated via an April 13, 2012 Obama Executive Order — to streamline regulatory oversight of the gas industry in the U.S.

Titled, “Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources,” the Executive Order signed in the form of a “Friday news dump” created “a high-level, interagency working group that will facilitate…domestic natural gas development” overseen by Zichal.

Obama signed the Executive Order after meeting with Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute (API), and other industry leaders. According to EnergyWire, API requested the creation of that working group.

“We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities to avoid unnecessary and overlapping federal regulatory efforts and are pleased to see forward progress,” Gerard told the Associated Press in response to a question about the order.

A month later on May 15, Zichal spoke to API about her efforts and those of the Obama administration on fracking.

“It’s hard to overstate how natural gas — and our ability to access more of it than ever — has become a game-changer and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy,” she told API.

Just think about it: a few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that the United States would need to build more terminals to import natural gas overseas. And today, America is the world’s leading producer of natural gas and we’re actually exploring opportunities for exports.

As a May 2012 Bloomberg article explained, among Zichal’s tasks was wooing API head Jack Gerard, which she appears to have succeeded at.

Similar to the interagency working group created by the April 13, 2012, Executive Order, Zichal also oversaw the Bakken Federal Executives Group, which was created through the signing of Executive Order 13604 on March 22, 2012. That order was part of the same package that called for expedited building of the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Executive Order 13604 created an interagency steering committee with a goal “to significantly reduce the aggregate time required to make federal permitting and review decisions on infrastructure projects while improving outcomes for communities and the environment.”

Zichal was also instrumental in legalizing the American Legislative Exchange Council‘s (ALEC) approach for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands, overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

“Zichal met more than 20 times in 2012 with industry groups and company executives lobbying on the proposed rule,” reported EnergyWire. “Among them were the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), along with BP America Inc., Devon Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.”

Beyond overseeing streamlined permitting for fracking sites on both public and private lands, Zichal also oversaw the White House file for the Pavillion, Wyo., fracking groundwater contamination study.

Conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many believe the White House — counseled by Zichal — made a political calculus to cancel the ongoing investigation, the first of three major major studies on the subject shutdown by the EPA.

“Deeply Embedded”

The Zichal nomination is taking place alongside the deployment of the Obama Administration regulating coal-fired power plants through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rule is a de facto endorsement of fracking and gas-fired power plants as part of the “all of the above” energy policy.

As the Zichal case makes clear with regards to climate change-causing fracked gas, LNG exports flow through the revolving door in Washington, DC, and beyond.

“The fact that one of Obama’s top climate advisors is now helping expand fossil fuel use raises questions about how deeply embedded oil and gas industry interests are in the administration,” Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace USA told DeSmogBlog.

As You Sow: Coal Investments, Shale Gas, a Bad Bet

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Two lumps of coal

Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr

In a missive titled “White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal,” As You Sow concludes that coal is becoming an increasingly risky investment with each passing day. The fracking boom and the up-and-coming renewable energy sector are quickly superseding King Coal’s empire as a source of power generation, As You Sow concludes in the report.

As You Sow chocks up King Coal’s ongoing demise to five factors, quoting straight from the report:

1. Increasing capital costs for environmental controls at existing coal plants and uncertainty about future regulatory compliance costs

2. Declining prices for natural gas, a driver of electric power prices in competitive markets

3. Upward price pressures and price volatility of coal

4. High construction costs for new coal plants and unknown costs to implement carbon capture and storage

5. Increasing competitiveness of renewable generation resources

Prong one pertains to what groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Republican Party at-large, and the conservative media echo chamber have coined a “War on Coal” and a “Regulatory Train Wreck,” echoing what the shale gas industry’s PR squad has coined a “War on Shale Gas.”

According to As You Sow, regulations have tied the hands of the coal industry to a sufficient level that it’s no longer as lucrative of a venture to make a capital investment into coal as it is to invest in the shale gas and renewable energy industries. “Uncertainty about future regulations plagues coal plant operators who face the incremental imposition of more stringent standards over time,” As You Sow explained.

Shale Gas “Killing” Coal Power Plants

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