The fossil fuel divestment movement has scored a string of successes across the country, convincing universities, cities, and philanthropies to dump their investments in coal and oil. Now, as the Northwest stares down the barrel of five Keystone XLs’ worth of pipelines and export terminals, it’s time to turn the same sort of scrutiny on the lobbying and PR firms who do Big Oil’s dirty work locally.
Over the last few years, Sightline has shined a light on a range of firms surreptitiously pocketing dirty coal and oil money—and perhaps no group deserves a more gimlet eye than Strategies 360.
Senior staff at the firm make liberal use of a revolving door between big business and government: they rotate from top flight positions in Washington’s state capitol to working as paid advocates for coal and oil companies before heading back into key positions in Olympia. Arguably no firm in the Northwest has done as much to advance fossil fuel development. By rights, the firm should be considered an arm of the coal and oil industries, albeit one cloaked in the friendly guise of local boys.
Most recently, Sightline has learned that the firm is behind a controversial bid to site a new oil refinery on the Columbia River at Longview, Washington.
Over the weekend, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that senior officials in Governor Inslee’s administration have been quietly meeting with the refinery project proponents for nearly a year; and Strategies 360 has been involved.
“By rights, the firm should be considered an arm of the coal and oil industries, albeit one cloaked in the friendly guise of ‘local boys.'”
OPB made public a series of email exchanges that included Marty Loesch, formerly a senior player in Governor Gregoire’s administration—general counsel, director of external affairs, and eventually chief of staff—who is now the Chief Operating Officer at Strategies 360. The emails naming Loesch were dated July 18 and 21, 2014; Strategies 360 announced in a press release that he was joining the firm a few days later, on July 28.
When contacted by Sightline, Loesch denied personal involvement in the project, but confirmed that other staffers at Strategies 360 are working on it. Like others at the firm, Loesch boasts close personal connections with leading Democrats at the state capitol, as well as key players in Governor Inslee’s administration.
The firm has been retained by Riverside Energy, an ambiguous subsidiary company of a firm claiming to be based in Houston, with a single aim: to build an oil refinery on the Columbia River at Longview, Washington. According to official documents from the firm that Sightline has obtained, the facility would be supplied by trains loaded with crude from the Bakken region. These trains, notoriously prone to catastrophic fires and explosions, carry fracked shale oil extracted from formations deep underground in an energy-intensive and wasteful process. (In addition, about one-third of the refinery’s “feedstock” would be bio-oil from international sources.)
As Sightline has already documented, Matt Steuerwalt, currently a senior energy policy advisor to Governor Inslee, left the Gregoire administration to join Strategies 360 where, among other things, he acted as the lead lobbyist for developing a coal export terminal at the Port of Grays Harbor. (He also worked for TransAlta, owner of the state’s largest coal-fired power plant, negotiating on behalf of the energy company across the table from his former colleagues.) After the Grays Harbor coal export terminal plans fizzled, Steuerwalt went back to the Capitol, landing a plum position in the upper echelons of Inslee’s administration. Apparently, Steuerwalt hosted at least one meeting with refinery officials in his office.
“The fact is that @Strategies360 is the #oil industry and, as such, it is ripe for a #divestment movement.”
Working alongside Steuerwalt in Grays Harbor was Paul Queary. In recent years, Queary has acted as the spokesperson for an array of fossil fuel terminals, including two companies planning to build oil terminals at Grays Harbor: Imperium and Westway. In aggregate, these projects would move roughly 120,000 barrels of crude oil per day by rail—about 12 trains per week—along a notoriously accident-prone rail line to the Port where the oil would be loaded onto ocean-going vessels. These projects would drastically increase tanker traffic in the Grays Harbor region, endangering a major crab fishery, an internationally important bird sanctuary, and the federally protected fishing treaty rights of the Quinault Indian Nation.
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More recently, Queary has gone to work for an even more controversial oil company: Shell. He now acts as the spokesperson on behalf of Foss Maritime, the company that brought Shell Oil’s titanic Arctic drilling rig into the Port of Seattle. In fact, Saltchuk Resources, the parent company to Foss, has employed Strategies 360 for the past two years, a fact that may suggest their plans to invite Shell’s rig into town were being hatched a long time ago.
Stranger reporter Sydney Brownstone has detailed numerous campaign contributions over the last few years by Strategies 360 and senior staff members to three of the Port Commissioners—John Creighton, Courtney Gregoire, and Stephanie Bowman—who approved the deal in near-secret and with no public input.
The Northwest is home to numerous highly effective lobbying and PR firms. Only a few of them act as lieutenants for big coal and oil firms that seek to transform the landscape of the Northwest. In other words, the businesses and NGOs that hire Strategies 360 have a choice: they could divest from an agent of the fossil fuel industry and take their business elsewhere.
On its website, Strategies 360 boasts about its work with more savory clients, like renewable energy firms and social services agencies. But scroll down to the bottom, and in muted gray font, you can find the tell: a Shell Oil logo. The fact is that Strategies 360 is the oil industry and, as such, it is ripe for a divestment movement.
It remains to be seen whether key clients of the firm—Microsoft, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, and Save Bristol Bay, for example—will play a leadership role redirecting their money to firms with a cleaner record.