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Why Beto O’Rourke’s Oil-Related Money Shows We Need a Just Transition to Renewable Energy
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.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.