Sightings from the Treehouse: Fossil Fuel Industry Coup

A new blog series on the environment from Power Wise Director, Bob Donaghue.


After 45 years serving as an environmental scientist in local, state and federal government, it breaks my heart seeing where this country’s leadership is on environmental issues and ethics. There is a deep and pervasive force in our government that has as one of its primary agenda items the elimination of environmental protections allegedly slowing down economic growth. Climate change programs and policies are at the top of the proposed budget cuts at EPA, NOAA and other related agencies.
At a time when the world is truly on the precipice of global ecological disruption, our leadership beholden to the fossil fuel industry is in the process of dismantling the “administrative state” in the words of Steve Bannon. Environmental protection has a bullseye on it not only in the Executive Branch but also by the conservatives in the Legislative Branch. Soon the Supreme Court will lean towards the conservatives.  
It seems the fossil fuel industry has successfully completed a coup of the US Government. The coup was achieved by legal means as a result of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.
Since the 1990s, the industry has been heavily contributing to conservative causes, particularly climate change denial. But after 2010, the fossil fuel industry upped their financial campaign money which was allowed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. During the 113th Congress, total political contributions were $350 million. In comparison, oil subsidies to the industry are about $4 billion annually.  Click here for more information.  Another big contributor is the electric utility industry which is also dependent on fossil fuels.  
For a little historical perspective during the George W. Bush transition in 2000, the Transition Energy Advisory Team held meetings led by Dick Cheney, Vice President and former CEO of Halliburton, an oil industry leader.  The renewable energy industry and environmental advocates were banned from those meetings.  His administration was the first in eliminating references to climate change in government programs and documents.  The fight continued during the Obama years, but was restricted mainly to the Legislative Branch and climate deniers in both the House and Senate.  
The 2016 election saw Republicans gain control of all three branches of government – Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.  In the Executive Branch, Trump is a climate denier and has appointed Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State and Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General for Oklahoma. He is a strong fossil fuel advocate and climate denier and has sued the EPA 14 times.   
Neil Gorsuch is Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, and he is also the son of the late EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch under Ronald Reagan, another President who tried to dismantle or cripple the EPA. With his appointment to the Supreme Court, he will swing the balance back to the conservatives.  He is a strong supporter of the Citizens United decision and corporate interests. I suspect he also has some hatred built up for EPA from the Congressional condemnation of his mother for mishandling $1.6 Billion in Superfund money and her forced resignation in disgrace. More information on the scandal – click here.
It would seem, the fossil fuel industry “owns” the three branches of the federal government, and they also “own” a large majority of state legislatures and governors that behave in a similar manner with the fossil fuel industry. Take Florida as a prime example. Rick Scott, governor, has eliminated the mention of climate change and action in the state that is already suffering serious effects of climate change. 
Although this dark future seems to be locked in for at least the next couple of election cycles, the 2018 and 2020 elections offer an opportunity for other parties to increase their strength and influence. The task to undue the changes being undertaken by the current administration in Washington, DC will be extremely difficult and long. All the while, the global climate heats up.
The following 10 items are some of my thoughts on how we need to proceed:

  1. Vote, Vote, Vote!
  2. Challenge redistricting and gerrymandering by the Republican controlled states.
  3. Pressure your local, state and federal elected officials to support positive climate actions including overturning Citizens United.
  4. Advocate for the mainstream media to increase coverage of climate change.
  5. Encourage cities and states to move forward on policies and programs to mitigate the impacts of climate disruption, much like the City of Atlanta.
  6. Demand an increased emphasis on science education in our schools.
  7. Faith-based organizations such as GIPL, the Evangelical Environmental Network and local congregations need to encourage parishioners to embrace Creation care through education and liturgy.  Pope Francis has taken a huge step in this direction with his encyclical, Laudato si’.
  8. Support and showcase businesses that embrace climate change action such as the renewable energy industry and companies that embrace sustainability.
  9. Get informed about and support legal action taken by environmental advocacy groups to enforce current environmental laws and regulations even if EPA or state environmental agencies do not.
  10. Adapt to a changing climate.

    Stay tuned for more Tree House Sightings (and musings) from Bob Donaghue!