Senator Calls Out U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Role in Propping Up Big Oil, Blocking Climate Solutions
If you have been following this blog for a while, you know full well that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s hostility to environmental solutions is nothing new. To give just a couple of examples, the Chamber litigated against the Clean Air Act; it co-sponsored a sham study that President Trump later cited to justify withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord; it has sued the EPA at least 15 times; and it once even infamously called for a “Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st century” to put climate science on trial. Public Citizen even debated the U.S. Chamber on NBC’s Meet the Press over Obama’s EPA plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Others have taken notice of the Chamber throwing its weight around in the energy arena, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In a recent letter to Pope Francis, Sen. Whitehouse highlighted how the Pope’s global goal of climate action and emissions reductions is being undercut in the United States by the massive lobbying power of Big Oil. Sen. Whitehouse even explicitly called out the Chamber’s role in Big Oil’s sabotage of efforts at climate solutions, noting that “[g]roups like the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others have been employed as adversaries of meaningful climate legislation, in some cases with little apparent support for their opposition from the majority of the companies that make up their membership.”
The senator hit the nail on the head when it comes to the role the U.S. Chamber plays in propping up Big Oil’s lobbying efforts. The Chamber is collectively receiving millions of dollars from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Philips, Occidental Petroleum, Philips 66, Hess, Apache, Tesoro Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Marathon Petroleum, and Noble Energy—and those are just the companies we know about because of their own spending disclosures, given that the Chamber does not disclose its donors. All of this adds up to massive lobbying power in the legislative sphere directed toward Big Oil’s interests, as the Chamber was, in 2017, the largest lobbying organization by spending in the country.
For its part, the Chamber is not at all ashamed of its role in propping up polluting energy sources to the exclusion of clean energy solutions that could ameliorate the effects of climate change or slow it down. Earlier this month, Chamber president Thomas J. Donohue published a blog post entitled “America Seizes Control of Its Energy Destiny,” celebrating the U.S.’s massively renewed focus on fossil fuel extraction and supply “bolstered by the Trump administration’s emphasis on pro-growth energy policies.” In other words, the Big Oil companies that make up the Chamber’s members and donors stand to profit hugely off of a shameless return to promoting fossil fuels to the detriment of green, renewable energy sources—and our environment.
Donohue’s post also promotes the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute, which works to “unify policymakers, regulators, business leaders and the American public” behind a Big Oil-friendly energy agenda. The Institute proudly touts buzzwords like “innovation,” “clean energy,” and “efficiency,” but the actual policies it advocates for are just the opposite. For example, it calls for offshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) that represent the same things Big Oil has always wanted: domination of the U.S. energy market to maximize profit, with no regard for the environmental destruction caused along the way.
True to form, the Chamber has also been painting the fossil fuel industry as the put-upon victim of vicious attacks by some massive opposition out to get them. In a recent post called “The Climate Change Tort Racket,” the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform wrote that “[p]laintiffs’ attorneys and left-leaning politicians are ganging up to shake down big oil.” The post asserts that these big bad plaintiffs are seeking to rob the poor oil industry of its resources, “looking for quick cash.” This, of course, ignores the plainly observable reality that Big Oil is a lobbying behemoth, armed with all of the legal power that the money of corporate mammoths can buy. Big Oil is Goliath, not David. Not to mention that Big Oil’s business is threatening all of human civilization with runaway global warming, and Big Oil has known about the threat longer than just about anyone and has been actively lying about it.
As Sen. Whitehouse’s letter to Pope Francis makes clear, the Big Oil lobby in the U.S., as propped up by the likes of the U.S. Chamber, has been an immovable obstacle in the way of the United States meeting its global obligations to reduce carbon emissions and promote climate solutions. Through blocking meaningful climate legislation, and through lobbying an extremely corporate-friendly Republican-controlled White House and Congress to remove barriers on the fossil fuel industry and deter them from alternative energy sources, the hope for the U.S. to be a global leader on climate issues seems grim.
Still, all hope is not lost. Nearly half of the Chamber’s board members have taken pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a number of companies have already left the Chamber over its environmental policies. Customers who buy products from otherwise forward-thinking companies speaking out is one of the best ways to create enough momentum to get our nation’s leaders to finally stand up to Big Oil, fully embrace clean, renewable energy and become a force for positive global impact on mitigating climate change. By pressuring the Chamber’s members to #DropTheChamber and signing the petition to urge Pepsi, Disney, and Gap to stop funding the Chamber, the public can play a major role in moving the 800 pound gorilla that is the Chamber away from its current status quo of squashing climate solutions.