The fossil fuel industry has used its immense power and wealth to subvert the facts and manipulate the public. Republicans are complicit in this sophisticated anti-science campaign of disinformation. The Price of Oil calls the fossil fuel industry, one of the “most powerful lobbies in the United States, if not the world. And they are peddling their influence both through lobbying on the Hill and by lining the campaign coffers of our representatives.”
In March 2015 President Obama called out Republicans for their resistance to climate action and their support for fossil fuels. Calling them “shills for the oil companies or the fossil fuel industry,” Obama explained their conduct by saying, “there’s a lot of money involved”.
Follow the money
If you want to know how the fossil fuel industry has hijacked the narrative, follow the money. A study published last summer in the journal Climatic Change revealed how the fossil fuel industry buys politicians and political outcomes. According to the report, the industry outspent green groups 10 to 1 in lobbying on climate change from 2000 to 2016. Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle shows that during this time lobbyists spent more than $2 billion trying to influence climate legislation in the U.S. Congress.
The fossil fuel industry provides huge cash donations to legislators on both sides of the aisle, however, Republicans get the vast majority of that money because they religiously support the interests of the industry even when it is at the expense of their constituents.
When we follow the money the trail leads to Republican legislators. They are the chief recipients of fossil fuel money in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Republicans pocketed $47 million of the $52.3 million the oil and gas industry gave out in campaign contributions to current senators. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has received nearly $3.1 million from fossil fuel donors throughout his career as a federal lawmaker. He ranks fourth behind Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The fossil fuel industry provides considerable rewards to Senators who use their authority to influence policy. For example, a group of 22 Senators got together to urge Trump to ignore science and exit the Paris Climate Agreement. Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) led a coalition of Republicans who co-signed the letter which told the president to exit Paris. They were also successful in killing the Clean Power Plan and undermining the Clean Air Act. All at the behest of the fossil fuel industry.
Here is a summary of the money Republican Senators have received from the fossil fuel industry:
Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming): $728,766
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri): $1,143,574
Senator John Boozman (R-Arkansas): $281,352
Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi): $462,890
Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas): $3,031,956
Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho): $440,937
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas): $2,484,520
Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming): $513,733
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): $772,179
Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma): $1,800,000
Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah): $281,620
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky): $1,975,245
Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky): $286,465
Senator David Perdue (R-Georgia): $184,250
Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho): $209,900
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas): $817,150
Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota): $204,900
Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina): $523,276
Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama): $532,846
Senator Luther Strange (R-Alabama): (NO DATA AVAILABLE)
Senator Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina): $263,400
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi): $686,876
As reviewed by the Center for Responsive Politics, here is a summary of what Republican members of the House of Representatives have taken from the oil and gas industry based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more. (All donations took place during the 2017-2018 election cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission on Friday, February 01, 2019):
Cramer, Kevin (R-ND) $417,646
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA) $405,850
Hurd, Will (R-TX) $394,677
Ryan, Paul (R-WI) $365,878
Brady, Kevin (R-TX) $353,735
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) $324,695
McSally, Martha (R-AZ) $294,077
Walden, Greg (R-OR) $288,150
Blackburn, Marsha (R-TN)$272,999
Culberson, John (R-TX) $270,680
Denham, Jeff (R-CA) $265,598
Sessions, Pete (R-TX) $225,200
Graves, Garret (R-LA) $210,150
Gianforte, Greg (R-MT) $192,888
Olson, Pete (R-TX) $190,578
Flores, Bill (R-TX) $167,350
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $165,900
Mullin, Markwayne (R-OK)$162,950
Upton, Fred (R-MI) $154,250
Trump has reportedly received $223,428 from the oil and gas industry.
Killing ballot initiatives
The oil industry uses its deep pockets and its communications expertise to kill climate action. Two recent examples can be found in midterm ballot initiatives that were defeated in Washington and Colorado. According to public records, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $50 million to crush the two initiatives.
Washington’s initiative (I-1631) would have put a price on carbon emissions, While Colorado’s Proposition 112 asked voters if they wanted to reduce oil and gas drilling.
The Washington initiative failed even though such a carbon tax would have contributed $1 billion per year into climate-friendly investments including job-creating low-carbon infrastructure. The plan had the support of Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, labor unions, tribal nations, low-income communities, and over 600 organizations and businesses.
To defeat 1631 the fossil fuel industry broke a record for the most money ever spent to defeat a ballot initiative. Almost all of the 31 million used to oppose 1631 came from oil companies (BP America, Phillips 66, Andeavor, Chevron USA, and Koch Industries).
The fossil fuel-powered opposition to 1631 raised $31.5 million, those opposed raised about $15 million. Those in opposition to Proposition 112 raised $35 million, mostly from the oil and gas industry (PDC Energy, Anadarko Petroleum, SRC Energy, and Noble Energy). The side supporting 112 raised about a million dollars.
Killing green policy
The industry is also working to kill progressive science-based policy approaches to address climate change. Republicans have maligned the proposed Green New Deal, and when we follow the money we can once again see the influence of the fossil fuel industry.
The oil and gas industry wants to kill the Green New Deal because it calls for a phasing out of fossil fuels. There is no way we can address the climate crisis without addressing fossil fuels as the elephant in the room. The fossil fuel industry is far from ready to acquiesce and they are leveraging their hold on politicians to kill any policy initiatives that threaten their business model.
As revealed by Oil Change International, Senators who oppose the Green New Deal received an average of seven times more donations from the fossil fuel industry than those who support it.
The 12 senators co-sponsoring the Green New Deal resolution have collectively received around a million dollars of funding from oil and gas companies, averaging around 90,000 per senator. The 88 senators that oppose the Green New Deal have received $59 million in oil and gas funding. That averages out to more than 650,000 per senator.
A similar dynamic exists in the House of Representatives. Collectively the Green New Deal’s 85 co-sponsors in the House received $2.2 million from oil and gas industry and $24,250 from the coal industry. Compare this to the other 350 representatives who accepted nearly $50 million from oil and gas and $5.1 million from coal.
“The Green New Deal shows the level of ambition that climate and energy policy could have if Big Oil, Gas, and Coal’s grip on Washington were weakened,” David Turnbull, a spokesman for Oil Change International, said in an email to HuffPost. “The cosponsors of the Green New Deal have by and large bucked the influence of the out-of-control fossil fuel industry, and that shows in their willingness to stand up for bold climate solutions like what we see in the Green New Deal resolutions.”
Thanks to the Citizens United ruling and the influx of dark money, the fossil fuel industry actually spends far more than reviewed here. Some of the ways that they circumvent lax disclosure laws include multi-million dollar ad campaigns and funneling cash through front groups like Americans for Prosperity (the latter recently killed a public transit ballot initiative in Nashville).
There are a plethora of conservative organizations that undermine democracy through their opaque influence. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is a fossil fuel supported group that wields tremendous influence over state governments.
In recent decades the fossil fuel industry including ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into climate denial front groups like Heartland, Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These organizations advocate for fossil fuels by being the front-line purveyors of lies. Their tactics include criticizing climate science and publishing their own pseudoscience. They also host conferences, sponsor panels, and write op-eds and letters.
These groups have been instrumental in casting doubt on credible science. As reported by Inside Climate News, Greenpeace revealed the following:
“ExxonMobil led corporate donations to think tanks, giving nearly $31 million between 1998 and 2014 to 69 groups that spread climate misinformation. The Koch brothers, whose conservative ideology dovetails with their petrochemical business interests, led giving among individual magnates, donating more than $100 million since 1997 to 84 groups.”
According to the same source, Heartland received $650,000 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2006.
As reported by Brulle between 2003 and 2010, 91 groups promulgating climate denial received more than a half-billion dollars from 140 foundations. This includes dark money which uses unnamed financial vehicles that shields the identity of donors.
All is not lost, if voters push back in sufficient numbers they can make a difference. While Big Oil can wield their money and influence it is not always enough to undermine the will of the people. In Washington and elsewhere, fossil fuel industry candidates were defeated by candidates who embrace science. The 2018 Midterm election also saw Democrats flip the House and return facts to their rightful place.
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