Feb. 21 (UPI) -- From the mixing of U.S. policies and special interests, to backing away from transparency in oil and gas, it's been a "very bad year," a watchdog group said.
Transparency International releases its global corruption indices late in the day Wednesday. In its review last year, which was published less than a week after Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office, the group had already moved the United States down two points on its index in part because of concerns that money was influencing policy decisions in the country.
Zoë Reiter, a senior project leader for Transparency International, said a gauge of the pulse of American sentiment from as recently as December found a general loss of trust in political institutions. A month later, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stoked controversy when he told Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican and potential Senate candidate, that his state could be removed from the Trump administration's plans for offshore development.
"Americans are all too aware of the undue influence of money and politics and that many policy and resource allocation choices are not necessarily made in the public interest but rather special interests," Reiter told UPI. "The special need to exclude Florida but no other coastal states makes no sense to many of us."
Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, later testified that Florida was still under consideration, following allegations that Zinke's announcement was a political stunt.
Florida drilling proposals have been met with bipartisan opposition from the state's U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat. Rubio in early January asked Zinke "to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation's bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes."
Last year, Transparency International's Americas director Alejandro Salas told UPI there were particular concerns about Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO, as U.S. secretary of state. As a former official within the American Petroleum Institute, Salas said Tillerson worked against transparency measures outlined in the Dodd-Frank Act that called on companies to disclose payments they've made to individual governments.
Reiter said that by February of last year, parts of the Dodd-Frank Act were already dismantled. And up until last year, the U.S. government was party to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a body that seeks to find how revenue tied to the oil, gas and mineral resources sector makes its way through member-state governments and economies.
The U.S. government endorsed the EITI in 2004 and committed to its standards in 2011. When the EITI boards approved the U.S. application in 2014, it became the first member of the Group of 8 industrialized nations to achieve candidacy.
Reiter said that when parts of Dodd-Frank were dismantled, watchdog groups were concerned it may be a watershed moment for deregulation and, by her read, they weren't wrong.
"It's been a very bad year for transparency in the energy and mining sector," she said.
President Trump has put fossil fuels at the top of his energy policies. Though former President Barack Obama ended a ban on crude oil exports, the amount of U.S. oil leaving domestic shores has accelerated exponentially since Trump took office.
After pulling out of the EITI, Healy E. Baumgardner, a global fossil fuel adviser at The 45 Group, former Trump campaign spokeswoman and the former press secretary for the Energy Department under President George W. Bush, told UPI that over-regulating was stifling a fossil fuels industry that was bolstering job growth, the overall economy and U.S. energy dominance.