Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal—Buying Their Happiness at the Expense of the People
Polluters this election year are doing the equivalent of betting it all. They’re spending unprecedented amounts of cash to influence the election in the hopes of electing policy makers who will gut clean air and clean water protections. The latest, is Chevron, a relatively small player, that’s just thrown $2.5 million behind a political action committee to elect House Republicans.
This is par for the course. So far this election season, fossil fuel groups have spent more than $153 million—to get pro-fossil fuel policies in place. In 2011, 90 percent of campaign contributions went to the GOP, and 10 percent to Democrats. The biggest spenders were Shell ($25.7 million), Exxon ($25.4 million) and ConocoPhillips ($22.9 million). The five companies’ oil PACs have donated more than $2.16 million this election cycle. Koch Industries also spends big money to pressure Congress, with $16.2 million on lobbying and more than $1.3 million from its PAC (the top oil and gas spender).
The undue influence was the subject of a recent National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Campus Ecology report that concludes polluters are determined to get their anti-conservation agenda passed into law, and roll back critical regulatory protections.
Not only is this money fueling political campaigns, it is behind many of the shadowy attack ads and television spots that rail against environmental protections, undermine clean energy and promote more coal, gas and oil, ads sponsored by entities with innocuous-sounding names like Patriotic Americans for Clean Energy.
The deluge is unprecedented according to a Sept. 14 New York Times’ analysis of 138 ads.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s trade group (no, not an “institute”), is the biggest dirty energy spender at $37 million so far with its “I’m an energy voter” ads, complaining about efforts this year (that NWF supports) to repeal wasteful oil industry subsidies.
The True Cost of Dirty Energy
The oil, gas and coal industries are among the most profitable of all businesses. They are peddling fuels that spew carbon pollution that has created a virtual blanket around the planet causing global warming and leading to more severe weather more often, protracted heat waves and drought, more intense hurricanes and floods, sea level rise, crop failures, water shortages and massive wildfires.
The student-aimed NWF guide unmasks the multiple ways that oil, gas and coal companies worm their way into molding public decision-making to pad their pockets. It pinpoints how dirty energy—coal, gas and oil—companies bankroll the campaigns of incumbent Congressional leaders and other candidates by financing political action committees (PACs), super PACs, so-called nonprofit “social welfare groups” and other entities, some without public disclosure. Since 1999, the oil, gas and coal companies have greased the campaigns of members of Congress to the tune of almost $1 billion dollars.
NWF also fingers 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations that may be more powerful than super PACs because they can accept unlimited amounts of money and hide their donors. These groups can escape the disclosure requirements that apply to candidates, parties and PACs. These shadow groups have outspent super PACs by a three-to-one margin.
This onslaught of dirty energy money has results. NWF points to 109 votes in the House of Representatives since the start of 2011 for policies that enrich the oil and gas industry, including 45 votes to weaken environmental, public health, and safety requirements applicable to oil companies; 38 votes to block or slow deployment of clean energy alternatives and 12 votes to short-circuit environmental review of the dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Money can’t buy you happiness, the old saying goes, but in this year, Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Coal are buying their happiness at the expense of the people, by outspending, outgunning the rest of us. It’s high stakes for them, but ultimately the stakes are even higher for us, the people who will be stuck breathing dirty air and drinking dirty water if they continue to call the shots.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.