May 24, 2020 News
By Kiana Wilburg
The company that was chosen by the Energy Department to revise Guyana’s outdated oil laws is no ordinary creature.
In the USA, Hunton, Andrews, Kurth LLP is a goliath which represents petroleum powerhouses like ExxonMobil.
Last month, Kaieteur News published several articles indicating that the firm, formerly known as Hunton and Williams, enjoys a 40-year-old relationship with ExxonMobil. But more extensive research exposed just how intimate that relationship is.
Kaieteur’s investigation found that on July 19, 2016, the law firm had filed a lobbying registration form to represent Exxon Mobil Corporation, effective June 6, 2016. The specific issues they would lobby for in ExxonMobil’s interest include Clean Air Act Regulatory Issues, Clean Water Act Regulatory Issues, Early Action Compact Legislation, Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard Deadline Harmonization Act, Clean Air Implementation Act of 2015, and the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016.
The lawyer who is listed on the document that is expected to represent the client is Charles H. Knauss. He is a partner at the firm. (See Link for registration form: https://disclosurespreview.house.gov/ld/ldxmlrelease/2016/RR/300814978.xml)
During that time, the company would have received approximately US$100M for working in ExxonMobil’s interest. In fact, Hunton, Andrews, Kurth
LLP was working to protect the interest of the oil extraction company up to last year.
Because of its work with ExxonMobil and other groups which seek more relaxed environmental laws, several transparency watchdogs such as The Washington Post, describe the law firm as one of the “nation’s premier challengers of federal air and water pollution standards.”
DELIVERING FOR EX-CLIENTS
A case that occurred in the not-so-distant past gives a clearer picture on why the Hunton group is considered one of the best and most effective defenders of oil companies, and why concerns on not using the law firm to protect Guyana’s interest may be justified.
In November 2017, Bill Wehrum, was appointed Assistant Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA. He was one of Hunton’s finest sharks. But this move did not sit well with many American environmental activists. Their concerns were premised on the fact that Wehrum had spent much of his career life working in the interest of oil companies. In fact, The New York Times said that “Wehrum worked for the better part of a decade to weaken air pollution rules by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency in court on behalf of chemical manufacturers, refineries, oil drillers and coal-burning power plants.”
The decision to give him the job in spite of those concerns, turned out to be an embarrassment for the US government.
In fact, the New York Times had shockingly reported that Wehrum interacted with former clients, despite an ethics rule that prohibits, for the first two years, former industry lawyers and lobbyists from meeting with former clients in private settings to discuss government-related matters.
Democrats who were convinced that his meetings represented an ethics violation, succeeded in getting a probe launched. Details of that investigation showed that it was less than one month after joining the EPA (December), that Wehrum met with two former clients.
The meeting occurred at his old firm, Hunton, Andrews, Kurth. That same month, US media reported that Wehrum, following his unethical meetings, weighed in on a decision that appeared to benefit a former client, DTE Energy.
Wehrum subsequently resigned from his post last year since according to the Washington Post, the matter that was being investigated, affected his old law firm.
The Washington Post reported that Wehrum served as one of the chief architects of the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink the ambition and reach of the EPA. He also
oversaw efforts to ease regulation of the coal industry, slow requirements that cars and trucks become more fuel efficient and overhaul how the agency calculates costs and benefits so as to favour the industry.
The 40 year relationship between ExxonMobil and the American law firm was first raised by British news agency, The Guardian and subsequently picked up by a German Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called Urgewald.
The NGO questioned how Guyana’s authorities, with a straight face, could allow an ExxonMobil affiliate to write the nation’s laws when those very laws would be used to regulate Exxon and many of its subcontractors.
Urgewald also questioned the World Bank’s role in the matter. The Word Bank has given Guyana a US$20M loan of which US$1.2M is being used to pay Hunton, Andrews, Kurth to rewrite the nation’s laws.
Urgewald said that an investigation is needed forthwith as the use of an ExxonMobil sub-contractor to write laws for the country is an affront to genuine efforts to bring rigid governance frameworks into being.
Despite being shown told of the foregoing, Guyana’s authorities have failed to drop all ties with the Virginia-based law firm and return to the drawing board.
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