Congress

Some climate change panel members are literally invested in the issue

Panel members have investments in fossil fuel companies, and at least two have ties to clean-energy industries

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., attends a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in the Rayburn Building in January. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One member of the House committee created to address climate change stands out for what he owns: hundreds of oil and gas wells in North Dakota oil fields worth millions of dollars.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota, received at least $400,000 from those wells and as much as $1.1 million in the previous year, as well as $75,000 in salary from Armstrong Corp., his family’s oil and gas business. He also owns at least 289 wells, worth between $2.9 million and $11.5 million, though in a recent interview Armstrong said he owns more than 300 wells.

A review by CQ Roll Call of the personal finances of all 15 members of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, a House panel created in January, found that a majority of the members have some personal investment in fossil fuel companies, often through broader investments such as mutual or index funds, or through their spouses.

It also found at least two Democratic Reps. — California’s Mike Levin and Illinois’ Sean Casten — who worked in clean-energy industries, which would stand to benefit if Congress regulated carbon emissions more aggressively.

Three Republican members on the committee — Armstrong and Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer and West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller — have direct ownership of oil and gas businesses, which would be penalized if Congress chose to regulate carbon emissions.

Asked if these investments pose conflicts of interest while serving on the committee, a spokesman, Brandon VerVelde, said Armstrong would use his business experience to “educate” the committee and follow “applicable” laws.

“My dad’s been in the oil and gas industry since 1975,” Armstrong told CQ in a 2018 interview for his member profile, adding that in 2011 he joined Armstrong Corp., moving from practicing law.

Palmer owns direct stock in Marathon Petroleum Corp. and CVR Energy Inc., a petroleum refining firm owned by Icahn Enterprises LP, the holding company of activist investor Carl Icahn. Icahn was an advisor to President Donald Trump in 2017, before resigning that August.

Palmer reported that his stake in each company is between $1,000 and $15,000.

And Miller owns through her spouse between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of shares in three oil-and-gas companies: Chevron Corp., Halliburton Co. and Phillips 66. She also owns between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of stock in two utilities, Spark Energy Inc. and Exelon Corp., which both use some fossil fuel-generated power.

Imprecise numbers

Congressional rules allow members to disclose investment income in wide ranges, making pinpointing their net worth an impossible task.

Representatives for Palmer and Miller did not answer questions of how their personal stock holdings might pose conflicts of interest in serving on the committee and gave no indication of selling specific stocks.

Palmer has been dismissive of human-made climate change. In a statement after being named to the committee, he said: “My hope is that the Committee will examine the underlying causes of ‘climate change’ and focus on sensible solutions,” placing the term in quotation marks.

“I am focused on finding solutions on this committee that will allow the United States to become energy independent, preserve our environment, and build a strong economy,” Miller said in a statement.

While California Democrat and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who established the committee, has said she would not require its members to reject campaign donations from energy companies, far less attention has been paid to members’ personal finances.

In an interview, Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Congress has never adopted standards for when members should recuse themselves from a committee.

“Congressional committees should strongly consider barring members of Congress from serving on committees over which they have a financial stake, because you can’t be a judge and jury at the same time,” Scherb said. “And for many members of Congress that’s the case on a daily basis,” he said. “They can’t conduct true oversight when they have a financial stake in them.”

Levin reported that in the previous year he had received $160,000 for work for FuelCell Energy Inc. and $26,000 in consulting fees from Energy & Environment Inc., an engineering company.

A Levin spokesman, Eric Mee, said the lawmaker no longer has financial ties to either firm.

Casten, who worked to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the private-sector before his election, prioritized addressing climate change in his campaign.

He made more than $800,000 from two companies, Recycled Energy Development and Ironclad Energy Partners, in the latest year, according to the latest figures available.

Spokeswoman Maddie Carlos said Casten, who was the CEO of RED, does not have financial ties to either company.

The majority of the committee has either arms-length investments in fossil fuel industries, through mutual funds or broader investment pools, or no apparent ties, according to the latest disclosures available.

Nine members own fossil fuel stocks through broader funds. Disclosures from Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Joe Neguse of Colorado, along with Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith, reveal no apparent ties to fossil fuel firms.

Committee Chairwoman Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, and ranking member Garret Graves, a Louisiana Republican who says he owns an electric motorcycle and didn’t seek out this role, both have small fossil fuel investments through broad funds.

Armstrong filed an unusually long 41-page document while running for Congress, which included the information about his income from his wells and other sources.

It shows a sprawling web of investments, including hundreds of wells and seven real estate rental properties in southwestern North Dakota, skirting the southern edge of the Bakken oil patch.

He does own at least one asset not connected with drilling: Army’s West Sports Bar in Dickinson, North Dakota, which says it houses the “largest antique gun collection in the Midwest.”

Watch: Socialism through the Republican lens

This article has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Garret Graves owns an electric motorcycle, not an electric car.

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