Earlier this month when the NAACP published a report on how the fossil fuel industry throws money around to exert its power and get what it wants (more money and power, so more pollution) we used Mike Rowe’s faux-working class persona as an example of how Big Oil co-opts community leaders.
While that was a fine national example, we’ve seen some unfortunately apt examples at both the international and state-levels that may be a harbinger of what’s to come.
For example, in response to John Kerry’s recent climate-centric trip to India, the oil-loving-evangelicals at the Cornwall Alliance trotted out their token brown “Pro-Science, Pro-Life” research associate, Indian Vijay Jayaraj. He penned an open letter to Kerry, criticizing climate policies “from people living in energy poverty,” as though the fossil fuel industry was going to magically connect everyone currently without electricity to the grid (for free), if just the US would let them!
Closer to home, we recently told you Big Oil was bragging about beating back climate policies in various states. But now thanks to some investigative work, we know a whole lot more about what they don’t want you to know: paying off and co-opting off minority groups to burnish their image.
That’s one of many revelations in a major investigation by Daniel Rothberg and Riley Snyder at the Nevada Independent, who expose Southwest Gas’s “full-court press attempt to push back against legislation — and broader policy efforts by the Sisolak administration — aimed at transitioning from natural gas to electric appliances in buildings.”
Southwest Gas, a major utility provider, has been using its deep pockets to undermine efforts to reduce gas use and fight climate change, recruiting mayors and other leaders to sign on to letters, rallying opposition to kill bills in committee, and donating heavily to COVID-19 relief efforts, all as part of “a well-coordinated media campaign defining AB380 as banning ‘natural gas appliances in homes and business’ — a characterization that the bill’s drafters dispute.”
AB380 was the name for Nevada legislation that would have required the gas utility to explain in regular reports how its own spending plans will keep prices down and electricity flowing, while also planning for meeting zero emissions by mid-century.
But the industry wanted to stir up fear, so it framed the bill as a ban, and got to work making it look like there was a groundswell of opposition, when in fact it was just cashing in some goodwill tokens its “philanthropy” had earned. Because last year, the industry’s Western States Petroleum Association was giving gift cards to Nevada’s Black and Hispanic Legislative Caucuses, who in turn invited the WSPA and Southwest Gas to give presentations early in the legislative session, where they could frame the bill as a ban on gas.
Ultimately, even though revisions to the bill addressed concerns over its unintended impacts on poor communities and communities of color, those efforts failed as lawmakers lobbied by the industry “raised concerns… echoing many of the arguments made by the natural gas utility and the coalition opposing the bill.” Specifically, “the coalition had repeatedly argued that the effects of AB380 would disproportionately affect communities of color, seniors and low-income households.”
If it sounds bizarre that a climate bill that would protect people of color, seniors and low-income households from the sort of pollution that saddles them with medical bills (in addition to the health problems), that’s because it is. But a bad-faith attack on legislation that would hurt their bottom line sounding bizarre has never stopped the oil and gas industry before. Or, as the Sierra Club’s Elspeth DiMarzio told the Nevada Independent, “it is absurd that they are weaponizing equity amidst a climate crisis. Responsible energy planning was about making sure there was a plan to protect low-income communities down the road.”
It’s absurd, but that’s not stopping them.
If anything, it seems to be working!