Former Vice President Joe Biden has surrounded himself with people tied to the natural gas industry for his 2020 presidential campaign. His climate adviser, Heather Zichal, is a former board member of natural gas company Cheniere Energy, while one of his fundraisers is a cofounder of natural gas company Western LNG. In addition, the super PAC supporting his candidacy has a former gas lobbyist on its board.
But there is another Biden campaign figure whose oil and gas industry connections have not been examined: Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, whom Biden selected in May to serve as his campaign co-chairman.
Despite representing a low-lying Louisiana district that could be one of the areas in the U.S. most immediately impacted by climate change, Richmond has voted reliably in favor of expanding production and exports of natural gas and oil. His voting record is one of the most fossil fuel industry-friendly of all Democrats in Congress.
In 2015, Richmond was one of 28 House Democrats to vote in favor of approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Last year, he voted in favor of a bill from Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) that would undermine the environmental review process for natural gas pipelines by stating that all pipelines that transport 0.14 billion cubic feet per day or less should be immediately approved.
Richmond, a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, has voted in favor of many Republican bills opposed by environmentalists over the years, including Rep. Markwayne Mullin’s (R-Okla.) bill to exempt cross-border pipelines from environmental review, Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) bill to reverse the crude oil export ban, Rep. Doc Hastings’ (R-Wash.) bill to expand offshore drilling, and Rep. David McKinley’s (R-W.V.) bill to block the Environment Protection Agency from regulating the disposal of toxic coal ash.
In 2011, Richmond signed a letter from Rep Charles Boustany (R-La.) calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expedite approval of the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, a project of Cheniere Energy, the natural gas company where Zichal would become a board member.
The League of Conservation Voters gave Richmond an environmental rating of just 46% during President Trump’s first two years in office, a lower rating than several Republicans and conservative Democrats such as Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar.
“This is all deeply concerning,” Sunrise Movement communications director Stephen O’Hanlon told Sludge. “No presidential candidate is going to get taken seriously on climate change if they’re funded by and taking advice from current and former fossil fuel executives, and choosing to take cues from members of Congress who’ve put the interests of oil and gas donors above the health and well-being of their constituents.”
“Vice President Biden should cut ties with Rep. Richmond,” O’Hanlon said.
The oil and gas industry has provided Richmond’s campaigns with a steady stream of funding. Since 2011, Richmond has received $272,550 from PACs and individuals in the oil and gas industry, the fifth-highest amount among all current Democratic members of the House, according to data from OpenSecrets.
Richmond’s top career oil and gas donor is the PAC of Marathon Petroleum, which operates the Garyville Refinery in Garyville, Louisiana, part of Richmond’s district. The Garyville Refinery, which Marathon Petroleum’s website says “is configured to process a wide variety of crude oils into gasoline, distillates, fuel-grade coke, asphalt, polymer-grade propylene, propane, refinery-grade propylene, dry gas, slurry and sulfur,” was the fourth largest oil refinery in the United States as of 2010, when its barrels-per-day output was reported as 436,000 by Reuters. Marathon Petroleum’s website now says the plant has a capacity of 546,000 barrels of oil per day.
Richmond’s second-largest oil and gas PAC contributor, ExxonMobil, also operates a major oil refinery in his district. ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge facility, the fifth-largest oil refinery in the U.S., has a capacity of 502,500 barrels of oil per day.
Joe Biden does not support a nationwide ban on gas fracking. His climate plan, which includes a 2050 target for net-zero carbon emissions and a call to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, was given a “F-” by the Sunrise Movement, far worse than the grades received by the plans of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
The chemical and related manufacturing industry has also given large sums to Richmond. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the industry, including PACs of companies like DowDuPont, BASF, and Ecolab, as well as the companies’ employees, has given Richmond $127,750 since 2011.
Richmond’s congressional office forwarded Sludge’s request for comment to the Biden campaign, but the campaign did not respond at the time of publication.
The Marathon Petroleum and ExxonMobil refineries in Richmond’s district are located along the banks of the Mississippi River. Downstream from these plants and a number of chemical company facilities, also in the district, is a region known as “Cancer Alley,” which for decades has experienced much higher rates of cancer and other diseases than the rest of the United States.
The Guardian recently reported that two constituents from Richmond’s district, after losing numerous family members to cancer, tried to get the congressman to take action on the issue. The constituents traveled from Reserve, Louisiana, to Washington, D.C. in November to meet with Richmond and discuss their concerns, but the congressman only gave them two minutes of his time.
“Looking at his face, it didn’t really seem like he was interested,” one of them told The Guardian. “It was like he was trying to brush us off.”
As Richmond exited the room at the end of their two-minute meeting, one of the constituents asked if he would at least send a letter about contamination from a Denka chemical plant in the district. “There have been letters,” Richmond replied, according to The Guardian. Both Denka and the Environmental Protection Agency told the Guardian that they had received no letters from Richmond’s office.