The Skywriter

Follow the money at


Follow the money at


By Janelle Corn, Ph.D. See bio at the end of this post. -- Luis

What happened to climate change and clean energy legislation in the U.S. Senate last month? Why did legislation that would have ensured Big Oil pays when it screws up disappear? Steve Kretzmann , director of organization  Oil Change International, wondered too:

As Congress begins August recess, those of us who care about America’s addiction to oil, climate change, and a clean energy future have been scratching our heads, wondering why, after historic levels of pressure we can’t even pass an oil spill response bill, not to mention a real clean energy or climate bill.

Kretzmann proposed we follow the money, and thus the website  was developed, with the help of some of the nation’s top climate advocacy groups, including 1Sky. For example, you can search Clean Up the Senate  (also known as Bobbing In Petroleum) to see Big Oil contributions to U.S. Senators. As last week’s policy update noted, the site caught the attention of The Hill and Politico's Morning Energy. Recently, 1Sky’s Adi Nochur was interviewed by the Wyoming Tribune about the site as well.

The site’s objective is to increase awareness (and outrage) of the massive amounts of influence-buying money pouring into the U.S. Senate. The Hill ran this quote from Krutzmann at the site launch on August 10:

If you’re wondering why Congress can’t do anything meaningful to end our oil addiction or stop climate change, the enormous amounts of money revealed on provide some of the answer.”

The interactive, searchable site uses data from the Federal Elections Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, and presents the data in ways that allows the curious constituent to track the flow of money from the coal and oil industries to their elected officials in the U.S. Congress.  For example, oil, gas and coal industries have spent almost $15 million in contributions to lawmakers during the current Congress, (a number that will likely increase as the election cycle kicks into high gear after Labor Day.) Members of the previous session of Congress (2007-2008) got almost $23 million in donations!

These industries have favored Republicans over Democrats, 54-46 percent, but the coal sector specifically has given more to Democrats in this Congress, providing more than $3.7 million to Democrats compared to roughly $2.8 million to Republicans. The oil-and-gas industry, on the other hand, has given more than $5.1 million to Republicans compared to $3.1 million to Democrats.

Energy votes reflect contributions:

  • Senators voting in favor of a narrowly defeated June 10 resolution sponsored by Senator Murkowski that would have weakened the Clean Air Act and blocked new fuel economy standards, took on average two and a half times as much Dirty Energy Money as those who voted against it.
  • Senators who voted against a June 15 vote sponsored by Senator Sanders that would have eliminated big oil and gas company subsidies have taken more than 3 times more oil and gas money in this Congress than those who voted for the amendment.
  • House votes exhibit similar trends. Members who voted against the recently passed CLEAR Act (HR 3534), which removes the liability cap for oil spills and reforms oil and gas industry regulations, took nearly five times the amount of oil and gas money on average in the 111th than those voting for the Act.

In contrast to industry donations, the voters want action. Senator Rockefeller’s Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act, S. 3072 (.pdf), or “Dirty Air Bill,” is solidly opposed by the public, according to a brand new poll for the NRDC Action Fund:

  • When asked whether “the government should regulate greenhouse gases from sources like power plants and refineries in an effort to reduce global warming,”  60% support it and just 34% oppose it.
  • 54% [of voters] say they are confident in the EPA when it comes to regulation greenhouse gases and just 42% are not confident.
  • When asked about a bill “would suspend the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases for two years,”:
    • Just 37% support it, while 53% oppose it.
    • Opposition exists across the political spectrum.  Among independents, 54% oppose it, while just 35% support it.  Even Republicans are evenly split, with 45% supporting and 43% opposing it.

We can’t outspend Big Oil and Dirty Coal. But we can voice our disgust over the current situation. Get informed (Bobbing In Petroleum) and get active! 

Janelle Corn, Ph.D., is an ecologist and wildlife biologist living in western Montana. She has lived and worked in the western U.S. for 30 years, and is currently an activist for addressing climate change before it's too late. Her new blog is Natural History Now. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.

Share |