At Wednesday’s CNN Climate Town Hall, former Vice President Joe Biden got an awkward question from an audience member. Why was Biden, the Democratic presidential contender who pledged to refuse campaign contributions from oil and gas executives, attending a fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a liquefied natural gas company?
Biden claimed that Andrew Goldman, the co-founder of Western LNG and a former Biden adviser who is co-hosting a fundraiser for Biden today, is not a fossil fuel executive. Later in the town hall, Biden told CNN host Anderson Cooper that he didn’t realize that Goldman is involved in the natural gas industry.
Regardless of what Biden knew, his ties to Goldman bring into focus his significant connections to the much larger liquefied natural gas firm Cheniere Energy. Goldman’s fellow Western LNG co-founder, CEO Davis Thames, was previously senior vice president and chief financial officer of Cheniere Energy, a company that paid Biden’s current climate adviser more than a million dollars to serve on its board until 2018. And a former Biden adviser lobbied for the company.
Cheniere, which is based in Houston and took in $2.8 billion in revenue in 2018, “pioneered the development of LNG exports from the ‘Lower 48’ of the United States at its Sabine Pass LNG terminal,” according to a Western LNG press release. The company is currently developing a natural gas facility in Western Canada, intended to supply gas to Asia.
Exporting natural gas from North America, a practice that the Obama administration dramatically accelerated, facilitates the global consumption of fossil fuels and increases methane emissions, which contribute significantly to climate change. When Biden was vice president, his administration oversaw the biggest natural gas production expansion in U.S. history and lifted the crude oil export ban for the first time in 40 years. President Trump is continuing Obama’s exports policies and helped cement a 2017 deal for Cheniere to export billions of dollars worth of natural gas to China.
Accepting funds from Goldman doesn’t technically break Biden’s No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, since Goldman is not listed as an executive in the firm’s SEC filings—but the company is privately owned and has never filed with the SEC. Doing so breaks the “spirit” of the pledge, said Oil Change USA Strategic Communications Director David Turnbull in a statement Wednesday night.
“We defined the pledge’s rule to make it simple for candidates to commit to and follow, not to provide loopholes to continue raising funds from fossil fuel-adjacent sources,” said Turnbull. “We hope all candidates who sign the pledge truly endorse its goal of ridding our politics of the influence of the fossil fuel industry.”
Reporter Naomi LaChance unearthed a 2018 document filed by Thames with the British Columbia Utilities Commission that lists Goldman as part of “a seasoned team of executives” of Western LNG. Goldman, who is also chief investment officer of Hildred Capital Partners, is “a long-term investor in the liquefied natural gas sector,” according to the filing. Hildred Capital Partners invests in companies in the pharmaceutical and energy industries, among others.
Goldman’s close business relationship with the former chief financial officer of Cheniere Energy has yet to be scrutinized. Thames made a huge amount of money from Cheniere, including $31.8 million from 2012 to 2014, per a 2015 SEC filing.
When Biden entered the 2020 race, he picked Heather Zichal, a former Obama official who made nearly $1.1 million as a member of Cheniere’s board of directors from 2014 to 2018, as his climate adviser. Zichal nearly overlapped with Goldman at Cheniere; Goldman left the company in March 2014, and Zichal joined its board in June 2014.
Thames and Zichal appear side-by-side in the 2015 SEC filing listing their stock holdings.
Biden has a third connection to Cheniere Energy. Former Cheniere lobbyist and vice president Ankit Desai was Biden’s political director for nine months in 2005, according to an archived version of his LinkedIn page. Desai was a vice president at Cheniere from 2013-17, meaning Zichal was on the board for three of those years. In April 2012, when Zichal was Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, Cheniere Energy became the first company to obtain a permit from the administration to export liquefied natural gas. Zichal met with Desai, then-Cheniere CEO Charif Souki, and another Cheniere executive in early 2013 before leaving and joining the Cheniere board. Desai and Zichal previously worked together on former Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
Desai is now a federal lobbyist and adviser to the CEO of Texas-based Tellurian, another liquefied natural gas company. He is also a regular Democratic Party donor, having most recently contributed $500 to the Democratic National Committee in December 2018.
Tellurian’s co-founder and chairman is Souki, who co-founded Cheniere and was chairman, CEO, and president of that company until 2016.
Biden’s presidential campaign has accepted $600 in donations from Tellurian’s vice president of government and public affairs, Jason French. French is not registered as a federal lobbyist, but he is registered as a state lobbyist in Louisiana, where Tellurian is developing the Driftwood LNG Project.
The former vice president’s family has also been involved in the natural gas industry. His son, Hunter, made roughly $50,000 per month from his seat on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, which he held from spring 2014 to April 2019.
In May, Zichal suggested that Biden would pursue a “middle ground” climate policy, something the campaign walked back after criticism. Biden’s climate plan received a B+ rating from Greenpeace, putting his policy in sixth place among current presidential contenders. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has the best plan, earning an A rating, according to Greenpeace.
The climate change activist group Sunrise Movement called on Biden to cancel today’s fundraiser.
“We know how this works: Fossil fuel millionaires drive us towards an uninhabitable future, then host fundraisers and advise candidates to take their advice on policy,” Sunrise Movement Communications Director Stephen O’Hanlon told Sludge in an email. “That corruption got us into the crisis our world faces today. And that corruption needs to end if we’re going to have any chance at securing a livable future.
“How can young people trust Biden to take on the oil and gas lobby if he is getting advice and campaign contributions from the people who are driving us towards an uninhabitable future? If Biden wants to be taken seriously on climate change and earn the support of young people, he needs to cancel tonight’s fundraiser and cut ties with advisers with deep connections to the fossil fuel lobby.”