EXCLUSIVE: Top Biden Bureaucrat Consulted With Eco-Activists To Justify Infusing Social Justice Into Wind Program

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A senior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) official consulted climate activists about finding legal justification for the agency’s push to get developers to invest in “underserved communities,” according to communications obtained by Protect the Public’s Trust.

Marissa Knodel, a senior adviser at BOEM who formerly worked for eco-advocacy group Earthjustice, sought the advice of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Ocean Conservancy, two environmental activist groups, in 2021. Knodel was looking for a legal explanation as to how encouraging offshore wind developers to invest in “underserved communities” aligns with BOEM’s mission, the discovered emails reveal.

Specifically, Knodel wanted to find a legal strategy to make sure that offshore wind bidding credits — which are commitments from developers to do things like support workforce development programs — would support “underserved communities” in ways that align with BOEM’s mandate to pursue “orderly and expeditious” offshore wind development. Functionally, the bidding credits can increase the value of a developers’ bid because the developer commits to engaging in certain activities, according to the Regional Economic Action Coalition, a California-focused economic development and research organization.

The Ocean Conservancy was unable to provide a specific legal roadmap to Knodel, but advised her to proceed carefully so as to not advance offshore oil and gas interests with her actions.

“These records are very revealing about the Biden administration’s grossly disparate treatment of different segments of the energy industry,” Michael Chamberlain, executive director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told the DCNF. “While it appears BOEM was bending over backwards working with special interests to try to tie offshore wind to their environmental justice goals, they were simultaneously twisting themselves in knots looking for ways to prohibit those same rules from benefiting oil and gas producers.” (RELATED: Commercial Fishers Say Biden Admin’s ‘Ocean Justice’ Initiative Totally Ignores Their Concerns)

BOEM previously “asked for feedback on a proposal to award bidding credits to developers that directly invest in underserved community benefits,” Knodel wrote in a message to Ocean Conservancy officials in July 2021. “In addition to learning more about how to identify those communities and what those benefits might be, I am researching how we connect those bidding credits to our [Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)] authority, both the general purpose of the statute and our 43 USC 1337(p)(4) renewable energy factors specifically,” Knodel continued, before asking the Ocean Conservancy officials whether they have conducted similar research on a potential justification and whether they could help her.

“We’ve thought a bit more about the questions you raised concerning bidding credits for investments that benefit underserved communities. I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer, but, then again, you probably wouldn’t have asked if there were,” the Ocean Conservancy officials wrote back to Knodel on August 3, 2021.

“We’re 100% supportive of the idea of investing in underserved communities. At the same time, it will be important to ensure that in the process of incentivizing those sorts of investments, BOEM doesn’t create unintended consequences for those communities, like meeting fatigue, creating confusion as multiple would be developers propose different plans, or encouraging would be developers to overpromise/over commit (and underperform),” the Ocean Conservancy officials added. “It would also seem wise to ensure that whatever model or interpretation is used doesn’t create unintended momentum toward expanded revenue sharing for offshore oil and gas activities.”

In January 2021, the Biden administration enacted its “Justice40” agenda, which requires that 40% of the benefits of certain types of environmental spending to flow to “disadvantaged communities.” Environmental justice is effectively the combination of environmentalism and social justice ideology, and the concept plays a major role in the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

During the first few days of August 2021, Knodel also corresponded with NRDC’s Valerie Cleland on an email thread with the subject line “question about offshore wind & underserved communities.”

I am researching how we connect those bidding credits to our OCSLA authority, both the general purpose of the statute and our 43 USC 1337(p)(4) renewable energy factors specifically,” Knodel wrote to Cleland on August 2, 2021. “To justify offering a bidding credit to developers for investments that directly benefit underserved communities, we need to demonstrate that such investments advance offshore wind development (or, in statutory language, the orderly and expeditious development of offshore wind on the OCS). I’m curious whether you or others you know have researched this question, particularly the legal justification?”

“The key question which we would like to have solid evidence for is that investments by developers in benefits for underserved communities advances our mission to develop OCS energy resources (in this case, offshore wind),” Knodel wrote to Cleland later in the exchange.

However, NRDC does not appear to have been able to provide Knodel with a specific legal strategy, either.

BOEM regularly engages with a diverse set of government partners and key stakeholders regarding the work of the agency, including Tribes, Federal, state, and local government agencies, ocean users, industry, academia and environmental organizations,” an agency spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “In addition, BOEM considers the potential effects from the offshore wind activities it authorizes on all potentially impacted communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns. In an effort to require early and regular engagement from offshore wind developers with Tribes, ocean users, underserved communities, and other stakeholders, BOEM has included an engagement reporting requirement for all offshore wind auctions held during the Biden-Harris administration.”

In addition to large volumes of Knodel’s emails, Protect the Public’s Trust was also able to obtain copies of her calendar for 2021 and 2022. Knodel appears to have been scheduled for numerous meetings pertaining to environmental justice, Justice40, diversity, equity and addressing the concerns of Native American tribes, including those located in regions like the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Some of the meetings on her schedule included June 2021 meetings titled “discuss EJ workplan and committees” and “D&I learning journey – Unconscious Bias,” as well as a July 2021 “ocean climate meeting convened by GreenLatinos.” August 2021 meetings included one titled “inclusion as a risk management strategy” and “Justice 40: covered programs.”

NRDC and the Ocean Conservancy did not respond to requests for comment.

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