By Alex Kotch
News broke on Friday morning that Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden is crafting a “middle ground” climate policy that will seek to restore Obama-era environmental protections, focusing on rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, increasing fuel efficiency, boosting natural gas, and deploying carbon-capture technology.
But there’s already a potential conflict of interest: Former Obama adviser Heather Zichal, who recently occupied a lucrative seat on the board of the Texas-based liquified natural gas (LNG) company Cheniere Energy, is now an “informal adviser” on climate change policy to the Biden campaign. The company has profited in recent years as the U.S. has increased its liquified natural gas production, something the Obama and Trump administrationshave encouraged.
Cheniere Energy is a regular donor to Republican politicians. In the 2018 election cycle, roughly 75% of the political contributions by the company PAC and individuals who work there went to GOP candidates.
In 2013, while a climate and energy staffer in Obama’s White House, Zichal met with Cheniere officials twice, according to DeSmog. The year before, Cheniere became the first company to receive an LNG export permit from the Obama administration—and the first to receive such a permit in 50 years. She joined the Cheniere board in 2014. According to investigative reporter Nick Surgey, Zichal earned a total of nearly $1.1 million from compensation and stock while a Cheniere board member from 2014-18.
The Biden campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Cheniere’s Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana was one of only two U.S. LNG exporting operations in 2018. Exports are increasing rapidly, as President Donald Trump’s administration has slashed environmental protections. When Trump visited Poland in 2017, he praised the nation for its first LNG import from Cheniere.
Hastening climate crisis
The burning of natural gas emits less greenhouse pollution than burning oil, but during the full cycle of natural gas extraction, transmission, and use, it contributes significantly to the air pollution that is hastening climate change, and it can pollute groundwater. …