An uproar ensued last week within Democratic party circles with the news that Heather Zichal, a former fossil fuel company board member, is serving as an advisor on climate change to presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Yet the fossil fuel connections of Biden’s burgeoning circle of advisors do not end with Zichal.
Anita Dunn, another Biden campaign advisor whose hiring was reported in late April, is a managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, a PR and lobbying firm with strong ties to top Democratic brass, which has been promoting natural gas for the utility and pipeline company Dominion Energy.
Biden’s ‘Middle Ground’ on Climate?
In an interview with Reuters, Zichal, who previously advised President Barack Obama, called for a “middle ground” stance on climate change, saying a Biden presidency will likely rejoin the Paris Agreement and protect Obama-era greenhouse gas regulations while supporting nuclear energy, natural gas, and carbon capture technologies.
When the progressive flank of the party and activists both fired back, saying there can be no middle ground on climate change, Zichal tweeted that Reuters got it wrong: “Biden would enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way.”
Zichal left the Obama administration for a seat on the Board of Directors of Texas-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) company Cheniere Energy, netting her nearly $1.1 million. As DeSmog previously reported, shortly before her appointment to Cheniere’s board and while still advising Obama on energy and climate change matters, Zichal met with company executives at least twice.
Anita Dunn and Dominion Energy
Biden’s team of advisors has other ties to fossil fuels through Anita Dunn’s position with SKDKnickerbocker. Dunn had a short stint as President Obama’s first White House communications director.
A recent filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) shows that Dominion Energy, one of the nation’s largest electric and gas utilities, employs SKDKnickerbocker as a contractor. In 2018 alone, Dominion payed the firm over $2.7 million dollars.
As DeSmog reported in 2017, SKDK worked for Dominion in the past, producing TV spots that touted the benefits of natural gas, a fossil fuel that some studies show can have an even worse climate impact than coal.
SKDK received more than $2.7 million from Dominion Energy for contract work in 2018. Credit: FERC
Dominion operates a sprawling system of gas transmission lines and LNG terminals. One of its most ambitious and controversial endeavors is the Atlantic Coast pipeline, a three-state 600-mile project that plans to bring fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale fields of Ohio and West Virginia south to North Carolina.
Documents filed in February this year with the South Carolina Public Service Commission reveal that most recently, SKDKnickerbocker supported Dominion in its merger with utility company SCANA. The firm produced TV ads touting the merger’s supposed benefits for energy consumers.
The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Anita Dunn told DeSmog via email that she does not advise the campaign on policy and does not work on the Dominion Energy account at SKDKnickerbocker. The Reuters story, she added, “isn’t true. The campaign didn’t confirm the policy. Heather Zichal disavowed the story.”
“Joe Biden has called climate change an existential threat and in the coming weeks will release a bold proposal that addresses climate change in a lasting and meaningful way,” Dunn said.
Main image: Anita Dunn, center, in yellow, as President Obama's White House communications director in 2009. Credit: White House, public domain