Flush with record profits from sky-high energy prices, the U.S. energy industry has poured millions into the campaigns of House lawmakers supporting giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.
Republican energy legislation, misleadingly dubbed the “Lower Energy Costs Act” would represent a return to the drill-everywhere, climate-denying policies of the Trump administration. Contrary to claims that it would “unleash American energy dominance,” the bill is chock full of favors for the fossil fuel industry. It would raise consumers’ energy bills by promoting exports of fossil fuels to Asia. With renewable energy making up a rapidly growing share of U.S. energy production, the Republican bill would go in the opposite direction, rolling back policies to promote clean, renewable energy enacted in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
To illustrate the extraordinary power of the oil and gas industry in bankrolling lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Public Citizen analyzed campaign finance data from OpenSecrets.org. The analysis found that:
- Fifty members of the House of Representatives have received a combined total of $27.9 million over their careers from fossil fuel interests. That includes $8.3 million in the 2022 election cycle alone.
- These top 50 House career recipients of oil and gas campaign contributions include 45 Republicans and five Democrats, with $24.2 million going to Republicans and $3.6 million to Democrats.
- The top 10 House career recipients of oil and gas money include nine Republicans — including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). McCarthy has raised $2.8 million over his career from fossil fuel interests, including Chevron and Occidental Petroleum. Scalise has raised $2,1 million over his career from fossil fuel interests. Cuellar has raised $1.3 million from oil and gas interests over his career.
- New GOP House lawmakers have been prodigious oil and gas fundraisers. Seventeen lawmakers in their first or second term in Congress, all Republicans, have raised a combined $9 million from oil and gas interests over their careers and $5.4 million in the 2022 election cycle alone. Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) has been an especially prodigious oil and gas fundraiser, raking in nearly $1.1 million from oil and gas interests in just two election cycles.
- Of the top 50 career fossil fuel money recipients, 19 are from Texas — by far the most of any state, including 15 Republicans and four Democrats.
False Claims About Energy, Fearmongering About Chinese ‘Communism’
Big Oil has long captured Republicans with generous campaign contributions. In the 2022 election cycle, political contributions from oil and gas industry political action committees and individuals exceeded $29 million, with about $23 million, or 80%, going to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.org. Since President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021, Republican lawmakers backed by the fossil fuel industry have repeatedly echoed industry talking points and distorted the Biden administration’s record on energy issues. Industry executives battled Biden’s decision to pause federal oil and gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters. The industry and oil states initially won a court victory, causing the Biden administration to reopen public lands and waters for oil and gas drilling. However, that ruling was later struck down.
Since then, Republicans have continued to falsely claim that Biden administration policies have pushed up energy prices and have continued this messaging campaign even as prices have gradually declined. Scalise, whose Louisiana district is home to numerous fossil fuel companies, recently alleged that “President Biden and his extremist friends in Washington have waged a war on American energy, and hard-working families across the country are paying the price.”
Similarly, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R- Wash.), claimed that, “From the gas station to the grocery store, President Biden’s war on energy is making life unaffordable for the hardworking people of this country and forcing us to be dangerously reliant on supply chains controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.” McMorris Rodgers has received nearly $950,000 in oil and gas campaign contributions during her career. She did not mention that the GOP energy bill will deregulate exports of liquified natural gas for purchase by companies around the world. That includes Chinese companies, who are already major buyers of U.S.-produced natural gas. In fact, an analysis by Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen and BailoutWatch documented that Chinese companies signed long-term contracts for more than one-fifth of total LNG volumes agreed to in export deals reached since the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont), whose term as Interior Secretary under the Trump administration was marked by scandal and rapid expansion of fossil fuel industry giveaways, including massive sales of leases to drill on public lands, has framed Biden administration policies in hyperbolic terms. “The only campaign promise Joe Biden is keeping is his promise to kill the American energy sector,” Zinke said. The Montana congressman has received about $537,000 over his congressional career from energy companies, including Continental Resources, Marathon Oil and Occidental Petroleum.
Several fossil fuel-friendly lawmakers have pushed specific industry giveaways into the bill. Pfluger, representing oil-producing west Texas, inserted a provision repealing a fee intended to discourage harmful methane emissions. This methane fee was supported by several oil and gas companies and fossil fuel-friendly Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) when it passed last year as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) inserted a provision to promote the leasing of federal lands for coal mining. “I know and firmly believe that coal is the energy of the future,” Hageman said at a House committee hearing earlier this year. (Renewables have now surpassed coal in the share of electric generation in the United States.) Another coal advocate, right-wing extremist Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) mocked the science of climate change at the same hearing, saying: “I’m not here to deny climate change. I don’t think anyone here is. It happens four times a year — we’re very, very much aware of that.”
An Ongoing Threat to Green Energy Policy
The Republican energy bill stands no chance of being enacted in full, as lawmakers in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, will not take it up and President Biden has already threatened to veto it. But, Republicans are sure to push pieces of the bill, potentially using the looming debt ceiling expiration as leverage. “At some point, Republicans are going to have to vote for a debt-limit increase. At some point, they’re gonna have to vote to keep the government open,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said at an industry conference earlier this month. “And the question that I think the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is gonna be asking is: What am I … going to get for that? And energy is at the top of the agenda of almost every Republican that I talk to on Capitol Hill now.” Speaker McCarthy has listed “measures to lower energy costs” as one of the numerous items he wants to discuss with Biden as part of debt ceiling negotiations. It is possible that GOP policy ideas like these could become the basis for a bipartisan deal, potentially jeopardizing bedrock laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Biden administration has little to do with the day-to-day fluctuations in the international markets for oil and gas. Instead, prices hinge on short-term factors such as economic growth forecasts and the global balance between supply and demand. Gasoline demand plunged during the early months of the pandemic, sending crude oil prices below zero at one point in 2020. But consumer demand for energy rebounded faster than the industry anticipated. Prices at the pump soared as demand surged. Then last year, the war in Ukraine sent prices skyrocketing even higher, but energy prices have gradually declined as the global energy markets adapted to the temporary disruption.
In fact, one of the key components of the Republican plan – pushing more fossil fuel exports and especially shipping more fuel to Asia – would increase prices for American consumers. The Republican proposal would put upward pressure on the price of methane gas used to heat homes and fuel power plants.
The Republican legislation would force the Interior Department to lease all lands nominated by the fossil fuel industry for oil drilling automatically and at least four times a year. It would repeal commonsense reforms passed last year to ensure oil and gas drillers pay a reasonable rate to drill on public lands and eviscerate standards for federal review of natural gas export terminals while short-circuiting meaningful public input and review and gutting protections for public health, safety and the environment. The legislation would require at least two offshore lease sales every year in both the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska and curtail meaningful environmental reviews before drilling. The bill would allow mining companies to dump waste on public lands and exempt the oil and gas industry from complying with endangered species protection.
Table 1: Top Recipients of Oil & Gas Contributions Among New U.S. House Members
|2022 Cycle O&G
|De La Cruz
Source: Public Citizen analysis of OpenSecrets data.
Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the Biden administration has not slowed U.S. energy production. In reality U.S. crude oil production is expected to exceed its Trump-era high this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While Republicans have accused the Biden administration of mounting a “war on energy” and of being hostile to energy interests, Biden has, in recent cases, sided with the oil industry. In March, the Biden administration approved a massive arctic oil and gas drilling project, allowing ConocoPhillips to drill for oil in the remote Alaskan wilderness. Both the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have prioritized the expansion of liquefied natural gas exports as a centerpiece of their energy lobbying. The Biden administration has also embraced the efforts to export LNG overseas, disregarding the interests of U.S. consumers and marginalized communities alike. These policy decisions threaten to undermine the many clean-energy policies enacted under Biden.
Just one week after international experts warned that the planet is in danger of crossing a key global warming threshold within a decade, fossil fuel-funded policymakers are pushing to accelerate the climate crisis by locking in decades of new fossil fuel production and emissions. The Republican energy legislation represents a shameful neglect of our collective responsibility to protect Americans and the world from climate chaos. By irresponsibly promoting the expansion of fossil fuel production and exports, this energy package would delay the transition to a clean, secure, and affordable energy system that would bring true energy independence and security.
The fossil fuel industry is already raking in record profits at the expense of consumers and future generations, yet their supporters in Congress wish to lock us into increased extraction, volatile energy prices, and environmental degradation in exchange for even higher profits for oil and gas companies. If proponents truly cared about lowering energy prices, helping U.S. consumers and spurring the U.S. economy, they would instead insist on accelerating the transition to 100% clean energy. Every day we wait increases both the cost of the transition and the costs that climate chaos will impose on society.
Table 2: Top 50 Career Recipients of Oil & Gas Contributions Among Current Members of U.S. House of Representatives
 The analysis examined OpenSecrets data on candidates who were elected to Congress in 2022 and were the top 50 recipients of oil and gas contributions during that cycle. We compiled career oil and gas contributions for those members, also from OpenSecrets data. The data includes campaign contributions from company political action committees as well as contributions over $200 from individuals.
 Zinke recently returned for his second stint in Congress after serving as Interior Secretary under the Trump administration, and a tally encompassing his full career is not available. To arrive at a total, we added $345,000 in oil and gas contributions cited in a 2016 OpenSecrets analysis to his contributions from the 2022 election cycle.