Former EPA official launches ‘dark money’ group to promote Trump’s energy agenda
Environmental and energy policy is poised to be a hotly contested issue in the leadup to the 2020 election.
One new group that stands to play a key part in that conversation is Energy 45 Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization founded by outgoing senior Trump administration adviser Mandy Gunasekara “to promote the Trump energy agenda” following her resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The source of money fueling the group may remain a mystery. Gunasekara told the Center for Responsive Politics that the group’s funders will be allowed to remain anonymous.
“I will respect their preferences,” Gunasekara said.
Moreover, the “dark money” group’s website was purchased weeks before Gunasekara left the Trump administration, while she was seemingly still on EPA payroll.
In a resignation letter to the White House dated and effective Feb. 7 — the same day House and Senate Democrats floated their “Green New Deal” — Gunasekara formally resigned from her position as principal deputy assistant administrator at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation then announced plans to launch the group.
Incorporation records confirm that the group was incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization the day after Gunasekara’s resignation with the stated purpose being “to inform the public about the environmental and economic gains made under the Trump Administration” by “educating policy makers and the general public regarding legislation and other matters of importance to the people and economy of the United States.”
Domain registration records reviewed by CRP reveal that the group’s website was quietly registered to Surya Gunasekara — Mandy Gunasekara’s lobbyist husband, who started lobbying the EPA shortly after his wife joined the agency — on Jan. 20, weeks before his wife’s resignation.
Mandy Gunasekara told CRP that her husband has no official role in the organization and that his name is listed due to their use of a shared GoDaddy account.
Surya Gunasekara joined Capitol Hill Consulting Group in November 2017 and began lobbying for an energy company called Ameresco during the final quarter of the year.
During the first quarter of 2018 and the final quarter of 2017, he and two other lobbyists at the firm are listed as lobbying the EPA. Issues listed on the firm’s Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) filings include “Energy Savings Performance Contracting; FY19 Appropriations for federal energy programs; Renewable Fuels.”
An initial Q2 lobbying disclosure for 2018 also lists the EPA but an amended Q2 filing for 2018 does not mention the agency.
Mandy Gunasekara has been the Trump administration’s top air and climate adviser at the EPA for the past two years but has her own history in the revolving door, working as Senior Director Legislative Affairs at the National Association of Chemical Distributors before she was hired by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2015.
Under then-Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), she became the committee’s Clean Aire Act and Climate Change counsel. Gunasekara is perhaps best known in D.C. circles for her connection to Inhofe’s highly publicized snowball stunt on the floor of the Senate.
“Continued environmental progress will be borne out of innovation, not oppressive regulations, government take-overs or green new deals,” a page touting “America First Environmentalism” on the website reads, in an apparent jab at House Democrats’ Green New Deal spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and released the same day Mandy Gunasekara resigned from the EPA.
On another page titled “Exposing Liberal Energy Fantasies”, the Energy 45 website continues pushing back on the Democrats’ new environmental proposals. “Led by self-avowed socialists, the Democrats have made a leftward lurch so dramatic that it would make Stalin blush. Their policies to combat climate change are nothing but a proxy for draconian government control that prohibits car ownership, kills domestic energy production, and harms low-income communities the most,” the website reads.
Building on her resignation letter’s condemnation that the Paris Climate Accord is one of “many bad deals,” the group’s website touts Gunasekara as the “chief architect” of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement who “worked to repeal the disastrous Clean Power Plan” and create “opportunities for beautiful clean American coal.”
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