Federal lawmakers opposing order to pause new oil leasing received $13 million from fossil fuel interests

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) top recipient of oil and gas donations | 

By Dan Bacher | 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While some analysts have claimed the bankruptcy of several oil companies and the collapse of oil prices last year during the pandemic signaled the “end” of the fossil fuel industry, you wouldn’t know that from the millions of dollars the Big Oil and Big Gas have poured into the campaign coffers of federal lawmakers to oppose any effort to transition to clean energy.

Fossil fuel executives and oil and gas industry political action committees have poured millions into the campaigns of lawmakers now criticizing the Biden administration’s efforts to move the country away from fossil fuels and build a clean energy future, according to a new Public Citizen report.

The report, “Big Oil’s Capitol Hill Allies,” reveals that twenty-nine U.S. House lawmakers who oppose President Joe Biden’s order to pause new oil leasing on federal lands and offshore waters have received a combined $13.4 million over their careers from fossil fuel interests and $23.6 million from energy and natural resources interests

“After four years of the Trump administration ransacking our public lands, ignoring and exacerbating the climate crisis, and accelerating the loss of nature and biodiversity, Americans have learned all too well that the oil and gas industry has far too much influence in Washington,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen in a statement. “The Biden administration must ignore the fossil fuel industry’s complaints and scaremongering and support our clean energy future by working to get America off dirty fuels as soon as possible.”

These members, all of whom are Republicans, are part of the Congressional Western Caucus, chaired by Rep Dan Newhouse (R-WA), who issued a joint statement in late January denouncing the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leases.

On Thursday, February 4, Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) led his Congressional Western Caucus colleagues in an hour-long Special Order on the House floor to discuss what they described as the “negative impacts” of President Biden’s recent “attacks on American energy,” including Executive Orders to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline and indefinitely halt oil and gas leases on federal lands.  

“It is unconscionable that President Biden would – during a global pandemic – eliminate thousands of jobs and prevent the creation of thousands more with just the flick of his pen,” claimed Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) before the Special Order.  “As you will hear from my colleagues, this action was thoughtless and devastating to the hundreds of communities and millions of Americans who rely on the oil and gas industry – from labor unions and local small businesses to rural school districts and conservationists.” Click here to watch Chairman Newhouse’s full remarks.

Public Citizen said many of these lawmakers have touted a misleading study, “The Fiscal and Economic Impacts of Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Moratorium and Drilling Ban Policies,” promoted by the Western Energy Alliance that circulates an exaggerated estimate of the labor market impact on western states resulting from the leasing pause.

“Oil and gas CEOs and their political allies on Capitol Hill are doing whatever they can to prop up a system that allows them to exploit public lands at low costs and boost their profits,” said Alan Zibel, a Public Citizen researcher and the report’s author. “After four years of the Trump administration’s nonstop fossil fuel giveaways, we need to take a step back and examine whether taxpayers are getting a fair deal from government oil leasing program. We also must invest in clean energy and cleanup of abandoned wells will create jobs while protecting public lands for outdoor recreation.”

The report found that two top House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), were the top recipients of oil and gas donations with $2.1 million and $1.8 million respectively, in total career contributions from fossil fuel interests, and $3.8 million and $2.7 million respectively, from energy and natural resource interests.

McCarthy called Biden’s recent executive order “a political stunt” and Scalise claimed Biden “chose left-wing activists over American workers and affordable energy costs.”

“McCarty and Scalise were followed by several lawmakers from key oil-producing states including Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which includes corporate political action committee donations and contributions from fossil fuel employees,” according to Public Citizen.

The study also found that the political action committee (PAC) for Western Energy Alliance, an oil industry trade group that filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to overturn the oil leasing pause, donated nearly $405,900 to House and Senate lawmakers in the past three election cycles, 94% of which went to Republicans.

The biggest beneficiaries of these donations were U.S. lawmakers from Colorado, receiving $60,500 over the past three elections. Lawmakers from Arizona and Utah were also top recipients, receiving $32,000 and $27,000, respectively, according to the report.

The oil industry also dumps many millions of dollars every year into lobbying and campaign contributions on the state level. In California, the top four oil industry lobbyist employers — the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation — spent $10,192,047 lobbying the Governor’s Office, Legislature and regulatory agencies to advance Big Oil’s agenda in 2020, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website by February 1.

The oil companies were amply rewarded for the over $10 million that they spent on lobbying last year. In a year of record fires and an unprecedented pandemic, California oil regulators more than doubled the approval of permits in 2020 to drill new oil and gas production wells.

The California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) of the Department of Conservation, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, approved more than 1,700 new oil and gas production well permits in 2020, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported.

In addition, Big Oil lobbying money and campaign contributions served to defeat even a weak bill to create health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells last August. Other than Alaska, California is the only state to not require health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells. For more information, go to: https://www.dailykos.com/story/2021/2/5/2014097/-Big-Oil-spent-10-million-lobbying-CA-officials-as-new-oil-production-well-permits-doubled-in-2020

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