A campaign dubbed “Building a Better America” worked behind-the-scenes, alongside the Trump Administration, to seek out support from Republican Governors for rolling back the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Building a Better America is a 501(c)(4) entity run by two lobbying firms that share many of its staff, 50-State LLC and GuidePost Strategies, and was formed to support the Trump Administration’s NEPA rollbacks. The group generated more than 496,000 comments supporting the proposed rule, according to an analysis of the language that appears on its website under “Take Action” and the same language that appears in the federal register under the proposed rule.
Building a Better America and Trump Energy Adviser Francis Brooke participated in a February 2020 call requesting support of the proposed rule from Republican Governors through a number of tactics, including submitting comments to the Federal Register. Building a Better America provided draft template letters to submit formal comments and offered to help governors with draft op-eds for local newspapers and to host public events with stakeholders in states.
Documented uncovered these efforts through a number of state public record requests made to Governor offices. Below are some of the highlights of the emails obtained by Documented:
- The Republican Governors Public Policy Committee (RGPPC), the policy arm of the corporate-backed Republican Governors Association (RGA), hosted a call in February 2020 with Republican Governors’ offices about the proposed NEPA rollback.
- RGA is a 527 political organization that can accept unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, corporations and lobbyists. Contributions to RGA funds TV ads and mailers that help elect Republican Governors to office. Numerous energy corporations are financial backers of RGA. According to an IRS filing that reported contributions to RGA between January through March 2020, reviewed by Documented, funding to the group includes Koch Industries ($250,000), ConocoPhillips ($75,000), NextEra Energy ($250,000), Ygrene Energy Fund ($100,000), Alliant Energy ($100,000), Xcel Energy ($250,000), American Petroleum Institute ($135,000), WPX Energy ($100,000), Southern Company ($100,000), Marathon Oil ($100,000), and Marathon Petroleum ($400,000).
- A “confidential readout” from the call stated Trump Energy Adviser Francis Brooke provided “responses to common criticisms” of the proposed rule and “illustrative examples from states where projects have been slowed or delayed due to NEPA permitting.” Brooke requested Governors submit formal comments to the Federal Register and explained “illustrative examples from states where projects have been slowed or delayed due to NEPA permitting would be helpful in making the regulatory changes as defensible as possible.”
- During the call, a representative from a lobbyist-run front group called “Building a Better America," offered “suggested messaging” and told the group they could help governors submit formal comments, draft op-eds for local newspapers and host public events with stakeholders in states. Building a Better America provided confidential talking points on the NEPA rollbacks and wrote draft letters for Republican Governors to use, aimed at amplifying Republican Governors support for the rule.
- As a result, Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey submitted comments under the rule, borrowing heavily from the language from one of two letters provided to the Republican Governors written by Building a Better America.
- Other administrations serving under Republican Governors also submitted official comments under the rule to support the changes, including the Idaho Governor's Office of Energy and Mineral Resources and Oklahoma Secretary of Energy & Environment. The Department of Interior also published numerous statements from Republican Governors on its website.
- Additional emails obtained by Documented show within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement of the rule, 50-State, LLC Vice President Larissa Martin sent nearly identical emails to at least two Republican Governor offices requesting supportive statements about the rule. Martin attached a “confidential” document stamped with the “Building a Better America” logo outlining “benefits” of the proposed rule and describes the coalition as “American workers, job creators, and state and local leaders who understand that better infrastructure means more jobs and a more dynamic, competitive economy.”
The emails and letter submitted by Governor Ivey can be viewed below: