On Friday, billionaire investor Carl Icahn left his role as regulatory adviser to Donald Trump, just before The New Yorker published an article entitled “Carl Icahn’s Failed Raid on Washington.” The article detailed Carl Icahn’s potential conflicts of interest, including his heavy lobbying for a rule change about blending ethanol into gasoline, a rule which affects the profits of Icahn’s Texas-based petroleum refining company, CVR. According to The New Yorker, in the months after Trump’s election, the stock price of CVR nearly doubled, which meant Icahn’s own wealth surged, at least on paper, by a half a billion dollars. For more, we speak with Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. In March, Public Citizen asked lawmakers to investigate Carl Icahn’s actions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Friday, billionaire investor Carl Icahn left his role as regulatory adviser to Donald Trump, just before The New Yorker published an article entitled “Carl Icahn’s Failed Raid on Washington.” The article detailed Icahn’s potential conflicts of interest, including his heavy lobbying for a rule change about blending ethanol into gasoline, a rule which affects the profits of Icahn’s Texas-based petroleum refining company. Icahn became a majority investor in CVR Energy in 2012, with hopes of later selling it at a profit, according to The New Yorker. Icahn then railed against the obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule which resulted in increased expenses and lower stock prices for CVR Energy. Analysts say Icahn used his role with the Trump campaign, and later the administration, to push to change the regulation.
AMY GOODMAN: According to The New Yorker magazine, in the months after Trump’s election, the stock price of CVR nearly doubled, which meant Icahn’s own wealth surged, at least on paper, by a half a billion dollars.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Tyson Slocum, who is director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. In March, Public Citizen asked lawmakers to investigate Carl Icahn’s actions.
Tyson Slocum, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of who Carl Icahn is and what exactly he did during his reign as Trump’s adviser on regulatory reform.
TYSON SLOCUM: Yeah, so, Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor, he’s the chairman of the board of a holding company called Icahn Enterprises, which in turn controls shares of a couple dozen or so large corporations with holdings around the world. He has a long, interesting relationship with Donald Trump. They’re both New Yorkers. Carl Icahn at one point even bailed out Trump Entertainment, which was the holding company for the Taj Mahal casino and other properties. So, the two had an interesting personal and professional relationship. And during the presidential campaign, Carl Icahn was an early public supporter of Donald Trump and actually had a title in the campaign as a formal adviser to the Trump campaign on a number of different regulatory and financial issues. At one point, Donald Trump even mentioned that he would consider Carl Icahn to be treasury secretary.
In August of 2016, in the heat of the campaign, Carl Icahn wrote a letter to the Obama Environmental Protection Agency demanding that that agency change this obscure rule governing the renewable fuel standard. The renewable fuel standard was a Bush-era law that requires oil refiners to blend certain amounts of ethanol, mainly made from corn, into gasoline, so folks can put it in their cars and boats and other things. Carl Icahn saw himself disadvantaged by the way the rule was written. Small, independent refiners, such as CVR Energy—and I mean small in comparison to the huge, vertically integrated oil companies, like Exxon and Chevron and BP—Carl Icahn’s company didn’t have ethanol blending facilities. And so he was forced to go out into the open market and buy credits. And those credits, the price of that was largely determined by a trading market, in what’s known as renewable identification numbers. And Carl Icahn was losing those bets. He was forced to buy those credits at a high price. So he wanted to change what’s known as the point of obligation. He wanted to change the point at which he would have to buy those credits, so that he wouldn’t have to buy them anymore, basically. It’s a little complicated, but, basically, he was just trying to relieve his company of the obligation of having to buy these credits.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Tyson—
TYSON SLOCUM: And so, he—yes?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tyson, once President Trump gets in the White House, this role that he gives to Icahn of an adviser, but not really an employee of the government, the role that he had then?
TYSON SLOCUM: Absolutely, Juan. This was very significant. So, Trump wins the election, and on December 21st, during the transition, President-elect Trump formally names Carl Icahn as a special adviser on regulatory policy for the president of the United States. And Carl Icahn took that job title and ran with it. Even though, as you said, Juan, that he was not a formal government employee, he had this official title. He was using this official title in filings that his companies were making to the Securities and Exchange Commission. And in January and February, Carl Icahn was using this new title given to him by President Trump to initiate negotiations with the renewable fuel industry, the companies that produce ethanol, to try and force them to agree to Icahn’s terms to change the standard.
AMY GOODMAN: Tyson, we just have 30 seconds.
TYSON SLOCUM: And one tactic—yes?
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could explain, then, what happened and his ouster, or, rather, his leaving?
TYSON SLOCUM: Right. So, basically, what happened is, it appeared as though Icahn had secured the support of the renewable fuel industry. In February, he got the head of the Renewable Fuel Association to agree in principle to a compromise that would change that point of obligation, so Icahn’s refining company wouldn’t have to buy those credits anymore. The problem is—and this wasn’t really reported—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
TYSON SLOCUM: —at length in The New Yorker article, is that big oil companies, like BP and Exxon, were against Icahn’s change. And they started pushing back really hard. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.
TYSON SLOCUM: —Icahn has a lot of—yes.
AMY GOODMAN: But we’re going to do Part 2 of our discussion. Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen.