December 6, 2018

Time To Wake Up: To Davos or not to Davos

As-prepared for delivery

Mr. President, the big oil companies—particularly Exxon, Shell, BP, and Chevron—want us to believe that they’ve turned over a new leaf, that they’re finally in favor of climate action.  All four of them claimed to support the Paris Agreement.  And Exxon, Shell, and BP all claim to support putting a price on carbon emissions; a price that would reflect the costs of the damage climate change inflicts on the environment, the economy, and public health.

For example, here’s Exxon’s website: “ExxonMobil believes a revenue-neutral carbon tax would be a more effective policy option than [other options] . . . .  A properly designed carbon tax can be predictable, transparent, and comparatively simple to understand and implement.”

But is their support for pricing carbon emissions real?  Or is it just PR, just greenwashing by companies desperate to improve their oily, tarnished images?

Well, Senator Schatz and I introduced a carbon price bill in 2014 to put a fee on products that produce carbon dioxide emissions.  And we’ve reintroduced it in every Congress since. 

If the oil companies really supported putting a price on carbon emissions, you’d think that they might have come to see us, the sponsors of that bill.  You’d think, if the oil companies really supported putting a price on carbon emissions, they might have publicly supported our bill, or lobbied other senators to support it.  Or even come to us to say, you know, we’d like to support your bill, but you need to change this or that. 

They’ve done none of that.  Despite their public-facing pronouncements on a carbon tax, we’ve had no visits from oil company reps to our offices; no support for our bill, or any other; no lobbying to help or amend the bill.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada. 

Meanwhile, the giant trade associations they fund, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers, work hard to ensure that Republicans oppose carbon pricing, and indeed any proposals to reduce carbon emissions.

And look what they do when the prospect of getting a carbon fee on the books looks real.  This fall, voters in Washington State will vote on a ballot initiative that would initially price carbon emissions at $15 per ton.

And who is funding the campaign against this initiative?  You guessed it: the oil companies, the very same oil companies that claim to support a carbon fee.  Already, Shell, BP, and Chevron have pledged to pour dollars into a super PAC created by the Western States Petroleum Association, another trade association that fronts for them, to oppose the initiative.

They’re backing the opposition here in Congress too.  Over in the House, Majority Whip Steve Scalise got wind that some of his Republican members were working on carbon fee legislation.  So he introduced a resolution stating that pricing carbon emissions would be bad for the economy.  Guess who Scalise’s most generous donors are:  The oil and gas industry has given his campaign more than $1.1 million, far more than any other industry has given him.  The oil and gas industry has also given Scalise’s PAC $1.5 million.  Again, far more than from any other industry. 

As they say, folks, follow the money.

And where were the big oil companies on Scalise’s resolution?  Not one opposed it.  In fact, when contacted by the press, Exxon, BP, and Shell all declined to comment on the Scalise resolution—but noted their general support for carbon pricing.

When you look at what the big oil companies actually do on carbon pricing proposals, their “general support for carbon pricing” begins to look purely hypothetical.  Or hypocritical.  “General support” gets them a little good PR, fools the unwary, and lets their executives hobnob with global movers and shakers at cocktail parties in Davos, or at home at their golf clubs, without being shamed for disgraceful behavior on climate change.

Their phony “general support” is also belied by the climate denial infrastructure they have set up and funded for years.  They have underwritten dozens of climate denying front groups over the years; and their front groups sprang into action to support this Scalise anti-carbon pricing resolution.

On July 9, 18 of these phony front groups wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan urging him to bring the Scalise resolution up for a vote.  The letter asserts that pricing carbon emissions would harm the economy, citing a bogus study from the fossil fuel industry-funded National Association of Manufacturers.

Now, it’s not so easy to follow the money behind these front groups.  They and their donors are all very secretive about that.  It ruins the purpose of a phony front group if everyone can see the fossil-fuel hand in the phony front group glove.  But enterprising reporters and researchers have been able to shine some light into this dark-money den. 

Let’s see how much money these front groups have received from the four major oil companies, from the American Petroleum Institute, and from trusts and foundations associated with the fossil fuel magnate Koch brothers.

  • American Energy Alliance: Koch-connected organizations gave the American Energy Alliance at least $1.7 million.  A sister organization received at least $160,000 from Exxon.
  • ALEC: Koch-connected foundations gave ALEC at least $600,000. We know Koch Industries is also a donor, but we don’t know how much it has given.  We know Exxon gave at least $1.6 million before announcing this month that it was cutting ties with ALEC.  The American Petroleum Institute gave at least $88,000, while Chevron gave at least $20,000.  Shell and BP also used to fund this front group – we don’t know how much they gave – before they quit in 2015.
  • American Commitment received at least $21 million from Koch-affiliated organizations. 
  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute: Exxon gave at least $2 million.  Koch-affiliated organizations gave at least $5.2 million.
  • Americans for Limited Government received at least $5.6 million from Koch-affiliated groups. 
  • The National Black Chamber of Commerce: Exxon gave at least $1 million.  API gave at least $75,000.  Koch-affiliated organizations gave at least $25,000.
  • Americans for Tax Reform: API gave at least $525,000.  Koch-affiliated groups gave at least $330,000.
  • The Caesar Rodney Institute: Koch-affiliated groups gave at least $50,000.  The Caesar Rodney Institute is part of the larger State Policy Network, which itself is funded by the Kochs.
  • FreedomWorks has received at least $2.5 million from Koch-affiliated groups and at least $130,000 from API.
  • The Heartland Institute: Koch-affiliated groups gave at least $7.1 million, and Heartland got at least $730,000 from Exxon.  This is the group, by the way, that has compared climate scientists to the Unabomber. 
  • The National Center for Public Policy research received at least $445,000 from Exxon and at least $300,000 from Koch-affiliated groups.
  • The Energy & Environment Legal Institute received at least $500,000 from Koch-affiliated groups. Energy and Environment Legal Institute, by the way, is a particularly creepy group whose function is actually to harass legitimate scientists. That is actually what they do.
  • The Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions is an anti-wind energy group.  We don’t yet have information on who funds this one, but like the others, it goes to bat for the fossil fuel industry.
  • The Western Energy Alliance is an oil and gas industry trade association.  The group’s website promises its fossil fuel members that it will “actively influence regulatory actions and legislation on behalf of your business.”  No mystery who’s behind this group, but funding details are hidden.
  • The Cornwall Alliance’s funders are secret, but I’ve seen this bogus front group constantly on the climate denial fringe with other front groups funded by Big Oil.  What’s more, the Cornwall Alliance’s founder doesn’t believe in evolution, thinks that tornadoes are a punishment from God, and, quite despicably, believes that AIDS is a punishment for being gay.  Great guy for Speaker Ryan to be taking advice from.  Great company for all these other phony front groups to be keeping.
  • CO2 Science received at least $100,000 from Exxon and $280,000 from Koch-affiliated organizations.
  • The Mississippi Center for Public Policy received at least $340,000 from Koch-affiliated organizations and is also a member of the Koch-funded State Policy Network.
  • The Institute for Liberty received at least $1.8 million from Koch-affiliated organizations. 

Mr. President, that’s a grand total of over $54 million for these groups from Big Oil and their allies in the Koch network.  And that’s the minimum.  Because all these groups and donors are so secretive about their clandestine funding network, this total is likely far higher. 

Of course, a sophisticated political operative like Speaker Ryan recognized that these were phony front groups and blew this letter off in order to pursue the people’s serious business before the House. 

Actually, no. 

What did Speaker Ryan do?  He agreed to bring the Scalise resolution to the floor for a vote, of course.  With his caucus essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, how could he have said no?  Money talks; and big money commands.

With the resolution heading for a vote, the front groups reappeared, 41 of them this time, with a letter to all House members.  I don’t have time to go through how much each of these groups received from Big Oil and the Koch network, but suffice it to say that almost all of them have been funded by the oil industry and/or the Koch network or are otherwise tied to them.  It’s the Web of Denial my Senate colleagues and I have called out before. 

With this type of orchestrated lobbying campaign by the fossil-fuel front groups, passage of the Scalise Resolution was assured.  Indeed, only six House Republicans had the courage to vote against their fossil fuel overlords.

Instead of listening to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, or the researchers at Columbia University and serious think tanks who study this, or the dozens of blue chip companies who all say that pricing carbon emissions would be good for the economy, House Republicans listened to the phony, fossil fuel-funded front groups—including the group that equated climate scientists with the Unabomber, and the guy who thinks evolution is #fakenews and AIDS is punishment for being gay. 

How low will you go when your big donors whistle?  We just saw.

The failure to act on our climate crisis is a failure of democracy.  When untold tens, even hundreds of millions of special interest dollars slosh through our political system, what voice do the citizens of Rhode Island have, or the people of Florida or Louisiana who are also confronting ever-rising seas caused by climate change? 

When corporate dark money rules, and phony front groups get more political respect than Nobel Prize winning economists – on matters of economics, no less! – what hope is there for reason and truth in this body? 

The fossil fuel industry and its trade associations and front groups have taken the Republican Party hostage, and with it, our American democracy.  It is corruption in plain view, and history’s judgment will not be kind. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is seriously, urgently, time to wake up.    

I yield the floor.

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921