Energy & Environment

Biden Interior nominee questioned on past work for fossil fuel industry

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President Biden’s pick for the No. 2 spot at the Interior Department fielded a question Thursday on his previous work for fossil fuel companies during his confirmation hearing as progressives look to press him on the issue. 

“There’s been some criticism of your nomination because of your associations in your private sector experience in recent years with fossil fuel companies and other commercial entities. … Can you answer those questions and address any allegations of conflict of interest or tainting of your views in terms of the issues that’ll come before the department?” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) asked Tommy Beaudreau. 

Beaudreau, an energy lawyer and a former Obama administration official, said that he accepts the criticism of the past work, adding that it “comes with holding these roles.” 

“I have been in government service for a long period of time during the Obama administration. I am accepting of the scrutiny and criticism that comes with holding these roles,” Beaudreau said. 

He added that he’s “a little bewildered” by some of the criticism because of “what I believe was a very strong track record during the Obama administration on conservation,” as well as what he described as his “tough but … fair-minded” reputation as a regulator.

Beaudreau also said that he has already started working with Interior’s ethics staff and will be mindful of his ethical obligations. 

After Beaudreau’s response, King clarified that he doesn’t “necessarily hold those concerns” that he raised, but wanted to give the nominee a chance to respond to them. 

The question comes amid concerns from a coalition of progressive environmental groups Thursday about Beaudreau’s work for companies including oil giant Total and multinational mining company BHP, as revealed by an ethics form. 

“Tommy Beaudreau is too cozy with the industry that is most responsible for the escalating climate crisis,” said the letter, which was signed by progressive environmental groups like and the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Beaudreau is expected to garner at least some bipartisan support, as he’s seen as a more moderate compromise after the White House pulled back its initial announced nominee Elizabeth Klein. 

Klein was retracted amid reported concerns from Senate moderates that she was too progressive. She is now a senior counselor to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 

Beaudreau also faced questions from Republicans about the White House’s pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. 

“Are you aware … that when you inject uncertainty into a leasing process that not just those who lease but all the oilfield service industries, it stills investment and those jobs that normally would be created begin to be shed because of the uncertainty? Is there any way that those involved in development on the Outer Continental Shelf should not receive this pause as creating uncertainty?” asked Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). 

“Not being at the department I haven’t been part of these conversations, but I have seen what Secretary Haaland, for example, has said about the review and during the roundtable that the secretary convened I think was very clear about the purpose of the review and the desire to have everybody at the table” Beaudreau responded. 

“I appreciate very much your question … but I also have faith in the secretary’s statements about the purpose of the review,” he added. 

The pause has no end date, but the administration has stressed that it will not be permanent and is instead “pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practice.”

The nation’s public lands agency recently announced that its pause on issuing new oil and gas leases will last at least through the end of June. 

Beaudreau held several roles at Interior under the Obama administration, including serving as the first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. He was also the department’s chief of staff and was acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management. 

Tags Angus King Bill Cassidy Deb Haaland Interior Department Joe Biden

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