Politics: European Energy Companies Funding Climate Skeptic Campaigns in the U.S.

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There’s been no shortage of attention paid to the vast amount of money being poured in the 2010 midterm campaigns by corporations—with the bulk of the cash going to conservative candidates. Given the strongly skeptical views on climate change that now dominate the Republican Party—and especially their angrier cousins in the Tea Party—that’s bad news for anyone hoping Congress will act on carbon emissions, or even just energy as a whole. But for what greens call the fossil-fuel lobby—the oil and other traditional energy companies that would likely bear the bulk of any climate legislation—that kind of Congressional deadlock is more than worth the price of a campaign contribution or two.

It’s not just American energy companies that are trying to influence the midterms, however. According to a new analysis of campaign finance by the Climate Action Network Europe (CANE), BP and other European companies are funding very conservative candidates who oppose action on climate change. The CANE analysis—which used information on the database to track the  cash—found that nearly 80% of campaign donations were directed toward senators who fall into the camp of climate skeptics. That includes politicians like Republican Senator James “Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who opposed carbon cap-and-trade. At the same time, the CANE report notes that the European companies are also lobbying against tighter carbon restrictions back home—and using the failure of the U.S. to pass a carbon cap as justification. As the CANE report puts it (download a PDF here):

This behind the scenes behaviour exposes a major hypocrisy in those European headquarter-based companies. In Europe they are amongst the most influential and vocal within their sector federations, the confederation of European business (Business Europe) and the Alliance for a competitive European Industry) to avoid more climate action in the EU. The main reason of argument of those companies is that, for instance, the move to a 30% reduction target in the EU by 2020 cannot happen because of inaction in the rest of the world especially in the USA. What is clear now is that those same companies are financing key players in the US political arena responsible for this inaction. This is essentially climate sabotage on a global scale, because the inaction in the USA is one of the main reasons of the failure to agree an ambitious deal in Copenhagen.

Still, calling the donations “climate sabotage” might be going a bit far—and not just because inaction by the U.S. is far from the only reason why an ambitious climate deal failed at Copenhagen. The European companies cited by CANE aren’t donating massive amounts of money, at least by the record-breaking standards of the 2010 campaign—the group counts $306,100 in Senate campaign cash. For comparison’s sake, that’s less than half of what Bill Gates has donated to support California’s embattled climate law, and just 0.2% of the record $163 million Republican candidate Meg Whitman has spent in her—currently losing—campaign to become governor of California. And there’s no law against companies spending cash to fight political regulations they believe will hurt their business—though BP, given its attempts to advertise a green image and it’s recent, um, environmental  and PR problems, might have thought better.

In a perfect world, tighter campaign finance laws would have prevented the 2010 midterm elections from apparently becoming America’s only growing economic industry. Unfortunately, we’re far from a perfect world. Until the Rapture occurs, the only way for advocates of action on climate and energy to win is to fight fire with fire—and get companies who want to see strong energy legislation spend their lobbying capital and campaign cash to make it happen. The strong financial support from supporters of California’s climate law is a good start, but if supposedly green businesses—like the ones in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership—want to see climate legislation happen, they need to write some serious checks.