Quantcast

Why Beto O’Rourke’s Oil-Related Money Shows We Need a Just Transition to Renewable Energy

Insights + Opinion
Greenpeace

By Tim Donaghy

Time is running out for the oil and gas industry, and they know it. But delaying the transition to a clean energy economy even for a few more years means billions of dollars in profits for their investors. The 2018 elections show that even in their twilight years, oil cash can corrupt our democracy and block necessary progress on climate. The industry spent millions to kill off a Green New Deal-style initiative in Washington state and a Colorado initiative that would have increased the buffer between homes and schools and drilling areas.

When popular democracy threatened their profits, the oil industry opened up their checkbooks. And they'll run the same playbook on the fledgling Green New Deal too — unless we stop them.


This is why phasing out fossil fuels and getting dirty energy money out of our elections are key ingredients in any federal action on climate change. Real climate leaders need to counteract the political, financial and social power of the fossil fuel industry, or risk seeing a tide of oil money wash away progress.

But we also need a just transition that lifts up workers and communities. Here's why.


While O'Rourke actually didn't take PAC money, he did raise a ton of money in individual donations from people who work in the oil and gas industry. Center for Responsive Politics

Recently, a mini-controversy erupted across Twitter when people realized that the number two recipient of oil and gas campaign contributions in 2018 was actually … Democratic rising star Beto O'Rourke, who nearly unseated Texas Senator Ted Cruz in a close race. In fact, only Cruz himself raised more money from the oil and gas industry.

The revelation was immediately sucked into the insatiable vortex of speculation about the 2020 presidential primaries, contrasting O'Rourke's record with that of other presidential hopefuls. It was especially confusing since O'Rourke had publicly pledged not to take any money from political action committees (PACs, which are often used by corporations and industries to influence elections) and was even at one point listed on the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge website before being removed. What gives?

While O'Rourke actually didn't take PAC money, he did raise a ton of money in individual donations from people who work in the oil and gas industry. When you donate money to a political campaign you have to disclose your employer — meaning that everyone from drilling crews all the way up to the CEO count in the industry contribution totals. And it turns out oil is still an enormous part of the Texas economy.

The following map from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the counties with the highest concentrations of oil and gas employment. The counties in green show communities where the local economy is most dependent on oil and gas, and where a just and equitable energy transition is most crucial. Naturally many of those counties are located in Texas, and in fact O'Rourke made it a campaign talking point that he had visited each one of Texas's 254 counties.


A just transition away from fossil fuel reliance envisions an inclusive, participatory process that leaves these workers and communities better off than before. Policies to bring about this transition could include local and state planning bodies, protections for workers such as guaranteed pensions and wage replacement, job retraining and placement in growing renewable industries, and investment targeted at specific communities. As climate justice activists have stated, "Transition is inevitable. Justice is not." Without the voices of these workers and communities, any plan to build a more sustainable economy will inevitably fail.

A lot of O'Rourke's oil and gas donations were indeed from ordinary Texans excited by his candidacy, but at least some came from oil and gas executives and other wealthy donors giving the maximum $2,700 contribution, which is also a serious problem. The No Fossil Fuel Money pledge applies not just to PAC money, but also donations of $200 or more from fossil fuel executives. O'Rourke was on the right track in calling out the pernicious influence of PAC money on our elections, but we still need to demand more of our politicians. Hopefully going forward, he (and many other candidates) will be able to fully comply with the pledge.

In comparison, his opponent Ted Cruz took over $100,000 directly from the oil and gas industry PACs — including a $40,000 check from Valero's PAC, and $5,000 donations from PACs representing Phillips 66, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, and others.

But a question remains: are small donations from ordinary folks in the oil industry the same as a $2,700 check from a CEO — or a mega-donation from a PAC? Clearly PAC and executive money are donated with the goal of obtaining access to politicians and ultimately influencing policy to benefit companies who are wrecking the climate, and overall small donations only make up a small fraction of campaign funds. But in many places where the oil and gas industry is strong, there are inevitably a large number of non-millionaire workers who depend on the industry for their livelihood.

Corporate money in politics is absolutely corrupting our democracy, yet O'Rourke's small donors should remind us that many parts of the U.S. are economically dependent on oil and gas extraction, and that those workers need to be at the center of any transition away from fossil fuels. The good news is that we know that building out a clean energy economy will require putting a lot of people to work, and dollar for dollar, renewable energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels.

It will take strong climate leadership in D.C. and a committed movement of people to defeat these entrenched 19th-century industrialists. In order to get us to the green future we want, federal legislation MUST halt any major oil, gas, and coal expansion projects.

Tim Donaghy is a senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

MStudioImages / E+ / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Backpacking is an exciting way to explore the wilderness or travel to foreign countries on a budget.

Read More Show Less
Tim P. Whitby / 21st Century Fox / Getty Images

The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.

Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.

The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less