Fossil fuel executives and oil and gas industry political action committees have poured millions into the campaigns of lawmakers now criticizing the Biden administration’s efforts to move the country away from fossil fuels and build a clean energy future.
Public Citizen analyzed campaign finance data for the 29 lawmakers in the nearly 70-member Congressional Western Caucus who issued a late January joint statement denouncing the Biden administration’s pause on new oil and gas leases. The analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows these 29 members received a combined $13.4 million over their careers from oil and gas interests and $23.6 million from energy and natural resources interests. These House lawmakers, all Republicans, include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the second-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and lawmakers from such oil-producing states as Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Career Fossil Fuels / Natural Resources Contributions to 29 Western Caucus House Members Who Denounced Biden Oil Policy
|Member||District||Career oil & gas||Career Energy & Natural Resources|
|McMorris Rodgers, Cathy||WA5||$636,076||$1,556,304|
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data. Notes: Contributions are from corporate PACs and employees rather than from companies themselves.
The analysis sheds light on the powerful forces opposing President Joe Biden’s decision to place a pause on federal oil and gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters. The move represents an opportunity for a broad reassessment of the U.S. government’s policies for allowing oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters. After four years of an administration that dramatically expanded drilling on public lands and waters, and slashed public health, environmental and safety standards, these changes are essential and overdue.
Shortly after the Biden administration’s announcement, the Western Energy Alliance, a fossil fuel industry trade group, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to overturn the oil leasing pause, Public Citizen’s analysis of political contributions shows the Western Energy Alliance contributed nearly $406,000 to House and Senate lawmakers over the past three election cycles. Of those contributions, 94%, or nearly $380,000, went to Republicans and 6% or $26,000 went to Democrats. U.S. lawmakers from Colorado were the biggest beneficiaries of the energy trade group’s largesse, receiving $60,500 over the past three elections. Arizona’s delegation received the second-most at $32,000, followed by Utah’s at $27,000.
Political Contributions by Western Energy Alliance PAC 2016-2020
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.
Top 5 States For Western Energy Alliance PAC Contributions
Source: Public Citizen analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.
The Biden administration’s recent executive orders on climate and oil and gas leasing represent a much-needed change in government policy. Importantly, they require that the government examine whether taxpayers are receiving enough compensation for drilling on federal lands and waters as well as whether oil drillers should be forced to set aside more money for environmental cleanup. The drilling pause is one of many indications that the Biden administration is serious about preparing for a just transition to a clean energy future, after four years of Trump administration handouts to fossil fuel insiders who had extraordinary access to the top officials.
Environmental advocates have argued for years that laws governing how much companies pay to drill for oil and gas on public land must be updated. Federal rates, currently 12.5% for onshore and between 12.5% and nearly 19% for offshore have not changed for decades. States across the west charge far more – up to 25% in Texas – for drilling on state land.
With oil prices remaining weak, bankruptcies soaring and the prospect of higher drilling costs on the horizon, the flailing oil industry has every incentive to put out bogus arguments about the Biden administration policies. As such, it has not been surprising to see oil industry trade groups and their Capitol Hill allies ginning up false outrage and echoing oil industry talking points in their public statements. Since President Biden’s inauguration, many Republican lawmakers closely echoed the talking points of the Western Energy Alliance. The group was working to combat a leasing pause before the inauguration, putting out a press release in mid-December releasing a study by a University of Wyoming economics professor with a history of pro-fossil fuel research. The study claimed that the incoming Biden administration would create massive economic damage across western states. Kathleen Sgamma, the group’s president, accused Biden of “calculating that he won’t pay a political price while satisfying radical climate activists, but he would be sacrificing the livelihoods of thousands of westerners throughout many sectors of the economy.”
Weeks later, after Biden’s inauguration, several House Republican lawmakers cited the study by University of Wyoming economist Timothy Considine, who has been criticized for writing pro-industry research commissioned by industry groups. The study, conducted for Wyoming’s state energy agency, hinges on U.S. government oil price projections developed before the pandemic that have since been adjusted downward due to the collapse in oil demand over the past year. Politico and Colorado Public Radio reported that the Western Energy Alliance paid to promote the publicly-funded study.
In reality, the leasing pause may have a limited impact on oil exploration and production and thus a limited impact on employment. The main driver for employment in the oil and gas sector is the market price of oil, which plummeted at the start of the pandemic and has recovered only gradually. During the Trump administration, however, oil companies stockpiled permits to drill on public land and some energy executives have told investors they see minimal impact from the Biden administration’s pause on oil leasing. Over the next decade, surging investment in renewable energy, the adoption of electric cars among consumers and growing public concern about climate change do not bode well for oil production. Nevertheless, key Republican lawmakers, many of whom have long ties to the oil industry, were eager to cite the study and adopt oil industry talking points, including the job-loss claims included in the study.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called President Biden’s executive order “a political stunt crafted to pacify the radical, left-wing of his party [that] will cause overwhelming devastation to California’s energy industry, potentially jeopardizing more than 360,000 oil and natural gas-related jobs.” Over his career, McCarthy has been the recipient of nearly $2.1 million in oil and gas industry contributions and $3.8 million in energy and natural resource industry contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. McCarthy’s district includes Bakersfield, Calif., and its surrounding area, a major hub of oil drilling. McCarthy’s top donors over his career include Chevron and Occidental Petroleum, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, represents much of the New Orleans area, a major area for offshore oil drilling. Scalise has received nearly $1.8 million from the fossil fuel industry and $2.7 million from the energy and natural resources industry over his career. His top donors include Edison Chouest Offshore, which owns vessels that support the offshore drilling industry as well as Koch Industries, the giant conglomerate that owns fossil fuel refining and pipeline assets. In a statement quoted by the Associated Press, Scalise claimed that the Biden administration’s actions “will put thousands of Americans out of work, increase energy costs on hard-working families, and make our country less secure.” And in a Fox News opinion piece, Scalise and Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) claimed that Biden “chose left-wing activists over American workers and affordable energy costs,” and asserted that, “When Washington radicals ban drilling on federal lands, Americans lose their jobs, investment flows overseas, and communities across America lose a primary source of revenue for schools, health care, and conservation efforts.”
In addition to top House lawmakers, new members of Congress also have rushed to ally themselves with the oil industry. Herrell, a newly elected Republican from New Mexico, has received nearly $227,000 in oil and gas contributions during her 2018 and 2020 campaigns for Congress – more than some more senior members of the Western Caucus. Herrell, who has received a combined $5,000 from the Western Energy Alliance PAC in her 2018 and 2020 campaigns, asserted that the oil and gas policies “will devastate our state’s economy, destroying more than 60,000 jobs by 2002, and decimate our state’s budget.” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who was elected in 2018, has received more than $76,000 in oil and gas contributions and nearly $236,000 in energy and natural resources contributions. She claimed that the Biden pause on oil and gas leases “will result in the elimination of critical jobs and puts the livelihood of many American families at risk.” Newly elected Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a far-right gun advocate who has mocked a school shooting survivor, asserted that “the U.S. has the highest environmental standards in the world and if we aren’t responsibly developing these resources in America, then other countries will take these jobs and develop these resources.” Boebert has received more than $34,000 in oil and gas contributions and more than $55,000 from the energy and the natural resource sector as a whole and $2,500 from the Western Energy Alliance PAC.
Despite the oil industry’s lobbying campaign, the federal government must fix its broken system for oil and gas leasing, and end the longstanding practice of giveaways to Big Oil, exemplified by the Trump administration’s enthusiasm for the oil industry. It is not surprising that oil and gas CEOs and their political allies on Capitol Hill are doing whatever they can to prop up a system that allows them to exploit public lands at low costs and boost their profits. However, investing in clean energy and cleanup of abandoned wells will create jobs while protecting public lands for outdoor recreation. Protecting our public lands, oceans, and climate for future generations is the right thing to do. Americans are tired of seeing the outsized influence of fossil fuel interests and Big Oil CEOs on our politics.
U.S. Senate Contributions By Western Energy Alliance, 2016-2020
|Thom Tillis||North Carolina||R||$7,500|
|Richard Burr||North Carolina||R||$7,500|
|Kelly Ayotte||New Hampshire||R||$7,500|
|Kevin Cramer||North Dakota||R||$6,000|
|John A Barrasso||Wyoming||R||$3,500|
|Orrin G Hatch||Utah||R||$2,500|
|Lindsey Graham||South Carolina||R||$2,500|
|John Hoeven||North Dakota||R||$2,500|
|Tim Scott||South Carolina||R||$2,000|
|John Thune||South Dakota||R||$1,500|
|James M Inhofe||Oklahoma||R||$1,000|
|Joe Manchin||West Virginia||D||$2,500|
|Heidi Heitkamp||North Dakota||D||$2,500|
|Subtotal – Republicans||$227,900|
|Subtotal – Democrats||$5,000|
Note: Includes former lawmakers and candidates.
U.S. House Contributions By Western Energy Alliance, 2016-2020
|Douglas L Lamborn||Colorado||R||$7,000|
|Kenneth R Buck||Colorado||R||$5,500|
|Yvette Herrell||New Mexico||R||$5,000|
|Wil Armstrong III||Colorado||R||$3,000|
|Steve Pearce||New Mexico||R||$3,000|
|Ryan K Zinke||Montana||R||$2,500|
|Kevin Cramer||North Dakota||R||$2,500|
|Kelly Armstrong||North Dakota||R||$2,500|
|Cathy McMorris Rodgers||Washington||R||$2,000|
|Kristi Noem||South Dakota||R||$1,000|
|Ralph Norman||South Carolina||R||$500|
|Jeff Duncan||South Carolina||R||$500|
|Subtotal – Republicans||$152,000|
|Subtotal – Democrats||$21,000|
Note: Includes former lawmakers and candidates.