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Oil, Money, and Influence, Continued

RP Siegel | Friday May 20th, 2011 | 1 Comment

I was surprised at how some people took exception to last week’s post which covered the story from Carbon Brief about how nine of the ten most prolific climate-change-denying scientists  on the Global Warming Policy Foundation list had affiliations of one kind or another with ExxonMobil, mostly through their involvement with oil-funded think tanks.

But then, what do I know? I see the actions of fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, leveraging their vast fortunes to gain influence among not only scientists but universities and policy-makers as well. They work hard to plant seeds of scientific doubt in the well-established fact of human-induced climate change.

Their tactics have worked. The folks at Popular Technology, who also commented on my post, posted this vigorous attack on the Carbon Brief study, demanding a retraction. When I asked them if they received any funding from ExxonMobil or other oil companies, they did not respond.

In fact, Carbon Brief’s follow-up to the study I cited shows that the most reputable scientists on the list of skeptics have stated that the presence of their names is a misrepresentation of their position on the issue.

For example, Peter deMenocal, of the Earth Institute at Columbia University said that “this is not an accurate representation of my work.” He and 15 other Columbia scientists want their names removed.

Another author, Professor Richard Zeebe, at the University of Hawaii whose 2009 in the journal Nature Geoscience was included on the list said, “”Using our paper to support skepticism of anthropogenic global warming is misleading.”

Another paper by Meehl et al, which was also on the list, was about solar cycles which have no bearing on the question of human induced global warming one way or the other.

But wait, why are we even talking about scientists when earlier this week, a 52-48 Senate majority voted to extend massive multi-billion dollar subsidies to these same oil companies?

I should have been covering this story but I was off enjoying a junket funded by a consortium of solar energy companies intent on influencing my opinion. (Just kidding. Actually, I was off promoting my book.)

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told the Senate Finance Committee, days before the vote that discontinuing the massive subsidies “would discourage future investment in energy projects in the United States and therefore undercut job creation.” Politics of fear anyone? Haven’t we been there, done that? What exactly does he think the government would spend that $21 billion on, as millions struggle to even fill up their old jalopies with gas, never mind paying for health care, on, if not job creation and economic growth in clean renewable energy?

Tillerson says there is a better way “to reduce prices and raise revenues.” Just get those pain-in –the-butt environmental regulations out of the way so we can drill baby drill.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the 48 senators who voted to extend the subsidies received “an average of $370,664 each in campaign contributions from employees and the political action committees of oil and gas companies,” for a total of $17,791,875. That is more than five times as much as the senators who voted against subsidies received from the same donors, (who often give a little to both sides, to hedge their bets).

According to Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International, “Its pretty amazing how much money is buying power with this Congress. Eliminating oil subsidies is not controversial at all. I’ve seen poll numbers that show up to 80 percent of the public wants to get rid of them. But that’s not how nearly half of the senators feel about it.”

The three Democrats who broke ranks and voted with Big Oil are Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Ben Nelson (D-NE). Landrieu, a long time friend of Big Oil, has received over a million dollars in contributions from oil companies since 1999.

That takes care of the first half of Rex Tillerson’s wish, though it still needs another vote to be appropriated. As for the second half, Mitch McConnell  (R-KY) has a bill ready that will speed up the permitting process for offshore drilling making it easier for the big guys to get out there and do what they do best. This is being countered by Jeff Bingman’s (D-NM) “Spill Bill” that looks to strengthen safety regulations and procedures.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • Rick Rieckhoffsr

    Regarding climete change I was very
    negative about the change being brought
    about by CO2 and it may not be however
    after this las winter with the real bad
    snow storms then to this spring and the
    huge tornados and now with July and
    august heat coming at the begining of
    June I am starting to believe it is changing to the point where it may be
    in the future unbearable, unless we
    can adapt ourselves to the change.