[dropcap]U[/dropcap].S. Rep. Cory Gardner has drawn attention for being a champion of oil-and-gas industry interests on Capitol Hill and for being well compensated, if indirectly, by the industry for his efforts. Energy industry representatives have paid the lion’s share of donations into his campaign coffers over the last three years and, in 2010, Gardner made national headlines when Koch Industries and British Petroleum threw him a swank DC fundraiser the same week BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was wreaking environmental havoc in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, the watchdog Sunlight Foundation reported that the Gardner family is now making money more directly from the industry. In August, the oil-and-gas-industry-backed Consumer Energy Education Foundation appointed Gardner’s wife Jaime president.
The main mission of the Education Foundation appears to be to push positive information about oil and gas to the public, to promote arguments against environmental regulation and to recruit students to work for the industry.
In the words of the organization’s website, the aim is to “improve consumer and student understanding of energy resources, energy security and the thoughtful development and utilization of energy resources to help create and support sound and cost-efficient energy policies, to support programs that reduce the costs of energy exploration to lessen the impact of energy policies on consumers.”
Jaime Gardner’s new employer is tied closely to the Consumer Energy Alliance, an oil-and-gas nonprofit group also dedicated mainly to messaging. Both organizations are run out of the same Houston office that houses oil-industry lobby shop HBW Resources. David Holt, an HBW lobbyist, is president of the Consumer Energy Alliance and a member of the board for the Consumer Energy Education Foundation — the “principal officer” of both groups, according to Sunlight. Another high-profile HBW lobbyist is Michael Whatley.
As Sunlight points out, Whatley was the subject of a 2011 exposé at Salon based on more than 300 emails. The messages revealed the way Whatley tapped Canadian officials, who were determined to see the Alberta tar sands fields developed, to help him beat back tougher U.S. emissions standards.
The story suggests the kind of “education” work likely to be done by the organization Jaime Gardner now runs.
As Salon put it:
[blockquote][Whatley’s correspondence] lay bare a sophisticated and stealthy public relations offensive, one designed to manipulate the U.S. political system; to deluge the media with messages favorable to the tar-sands industry; to sway key legislators at state and federal levels; and most importantly, to defeat any attempt to make the gasoline and diesel pumped everyday into U.S. vehicles less damaging to the climate.[/blockquote]
Jaime Gardner’s appointment as president came two weeks after the Gardners returned from a $17,000 five-day junket to Ireland, paid for partly by oil companies channeled through the nonprofit Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange. Rep. Gardner was asked to speak on developing oil resources off the Irish coast.
Jaime Gardner has worked for years in various government positions tied to public land management and energy development. She has also worked for energy nonprofits in the past. She worked for the Department of the Interior during the Bush years as a Special Assistant for Alaska Affairs.
The author of the Sunlight blog, Peter Olsen-Phillips, told the Colorado Independent that neither Jaime nor Cory Gardner returned repeat calls and messages left by him seeking comment. Rep. Gardner’s office also declined to return email messages sent by the Independent.
Gardner entered Congress in 2010 as the least wealthy member of the state delegation in Washington. During his first-term, he sponsored a bill to open up the coast of Alaska to drilling. At the time, observers wondered why a representative from a landlocked district on the high plains in Colorado was leading the charge against regulations on extraction in the arctic seas.
In the years Gardner has been in Congress, his Fourth District has experienced an historic natural gas-drilling boom. The frenzied industrial activity has raised concern among many residents and prompted one of the district’s largest towns, Longmont, to pass a local ban on drilling. Gardner has said he opposes such bans. He said they tread on constitutional rights and squash the “Colorado dreams” of mineral rights owners.
Correction: The original post stated that Michael Whatley was the “principal officer” of both the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Consumer Energy Education Foundation. He is not. The “principal officer” directly linking the nonprofits is HBW Resources lobbyist David Holt.