There is a growing merger between oil and state that is disturbingly seamless.
It’s not just that the US Senate’s environment committee is dominated by Republican climate change deniers and friends of big oil.
Industry and state government officials, through the American Legislative Exchange Council, are basically trying in private to rewrite US environmental regulations.
As the Washington Post recently helped reveal, at these private meetings they’ve plotted how to starve the EPA of funding or even abolish it, and fine-tuned model bills to help states skirt EPA rules; they’ve discussed opposing tax breaks for wind-energy firms, and ways to smear the environmental movement’s spokespeople.
And the New York Times just investigated an unprecedented secret alliance that is seeing oil companies team up with the state attorneys general they fund to impede environmental regulations. In one case, oil lobbyists have been writing letters that Oklahoma’s AG is stamping his name on before sending to the EPA and even President Obama. Other AGs are getting draft bills from fossil fuel lawyers—to block environmental measures or to clear roadblocks for dirty energy projects.
“It is nice to have everybody singing from the same sheet of music,” is how the president of the West Virginia Coal Association put it, referring to lobbyist-drafted legislation being promoted by that state’s AG.
What is stunning about this is that state attorneys general regulate the energy industry and traditionally have sued corporations to ensure they’re complying with the law; now they’re doing joint court challenges with oil companies to bend those laws to their advantage. Once known as “lawyers for the people,” they’ve become the lawyers for big oil.
And the closeness with the oil industry is bipartisan.
You saw that with former Louisiana Democratic senator Mary Landrieu—funded by oil—trying to out-compete a Republican to see who would be a bigger booster of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Obama’s new top energy diplomat? A former oil lobbyist. This is the person who will be a key negotiator for next year’s crucial UN deal in Paris.
Meanwhile, Shell and Chevron were well-represented at the UN talks currently taking place in Lima, Peru, with Shell’s top climate change adviser David Hone speaking at an industry-sponsored side event on Monday. (“We clearly value what our relationship with ALEC offers,” Hone declared in Lima after being asked about the oil giant’s continuing membership in the group.) The event promoted the industry’s favorite techno-fix, carbon capture and storage, and was originally titled “Why Divest from Fossil Fuels When a Future with Low Emission Fossil Energy Use is Already a Reality?”
It was disrupted by activists demanding that fossil fuel lobbyists be kicked out of the climate negotiations, and pointing to an international legal precedent in the World Health Organization treaty on tobacco control. “Without tackling the influence of the fossil fuel industry, we’re never going to stop dangerous climate change,” said Corporate Europe Observatory’s Pascoe Sabido. “That means banning fossil fuel lobbying at all levels, not just in the UN talks, by which time it’s often too late to make a difference.”
Photograph by AP/Elaine Thompson.