Big Oil's Fingerprints

May 6, 2011
By Jenesse Miller

[UPDATED May 9, 2011] You don’t have to be a detective to find Dirty Energy’s oily fingerprints all over our current national political debate on expanding oil drilling. But it helps that there are still investigative journalists who look into these things every now and again.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act” by a 266 to 149 margin. The next day, the Huffington Post revealed that the sponsors of the bill, which would expand oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and open the coastal waters of Virginia for exploration, received $8.8 million in contributions from Big Oil.

I’m sure you join me in believing fervently that the industry’s millions have absolutely zero influence on the motivations of the bill’s sponsors. Not.

According to the Huffington Post:

The oil and gas industry is one of the most politically active interests groups in Washington. In the 2010 mid-term election cycle alone it spent $30 million in contributions to federal candidates... And those figures pale in comparison to the amount the industry spends on lobbying. In 2010, oil and gas companies spent just under $146 million employing the service of nearly 800 lobbyists.

The “Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act” passed by Big Oil's friends in the House is just the first of a series of largely GOP-supported, fast-tracked bills intended to loosen restrictions on offshore drilling. The three bills passed the House Committee on Natural Resources in April.

Closer to home for Californians, one of the next steps is to put to a House vote HR 1231, or “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act,” which would require that each five-year offshore leasing plan include lease sales in the areas containing the greatest known oil and natural gas reserves. Every five years, the federal government would be required to lease at least 50% of available unleased acreage off the West Coast, Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and much of the East Coast.

It's been called the “Law of Eventually Drilling Everything” by Richard Charter, senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife. A vote on the House floor is expected this week.

According to California Watch:

Under existing law, the government decides which areas to lease. This new law would effectively double the current level of offshore drilling. And states, such as California, would have no say in the matter. “Earlier versions of bills like this generally allowed a state to veto projects,” said Regan Nelson of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Californians have consistently made it clear that they oppose new offshore drilling off their coast," she said. “This bill is so out of sync of what people want. They’re willing to put oil production over all other considerations.”

Considerations like the clear environmental hazards of drilling, and risks to the public’s health and safety. It was only a year ago that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, creating one of the largest environmental catastrophes ever.

It’s mind-boggling that in light of that very recent disaster, federal lawmakers including those that represent California are considering encouraging more drilling off the West Coast.

California Congressman Jeff Dunham claims that he supports the series of bills allowing more drilling in part because domestic energy production will “bring relief at the pump.” Rep. Denham is joined by fellow Californians Rep. Tom McClintock and Rep. Jim Costa in supporting the bills.

But a study conducted by the federal government's Energy Information Administration showed that new drilling off the country's coasts would only reduce gas prices by a few cents. (Oops! So much for that argument.)

Compare those pennies to the millions of dollars in contributions being doled out by the oil industry, and suddenly certain lawmakers’ urgent calls to allow more risky offshore drilling makes more than enough “cents.”

Speaking of something that makes no sense (or cents) for us taxpayers… Americans are still paying for billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, despite record oil industry profits and despite the fact that a recent poll found that 74 percent of voters support eliminating tax breaks to oil companies.

According to the national League of Conservation Voters, ExxonMobil recently announced nearly $11 billion in profits; BP announced $5.5 billion profits; and ConocoPhillips announced $3 billion in profits—all in the first three months of 2011. Obscene is the word that comes to mind.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to bring to the floor a bill, authored by Senator Max Baucus, that would end the billions of dollars in tax breaks for large oil producers--estimated to cost taxpayers $5 billion each year--and increase breaks for clean-energy producers.

As national League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski says of the handouts to Big Oil:

And as ire over gas prices grows, so will frustration with Members of Congress who remain close to Big Oil. So while Speaker Boehner and others may be confused about where they stand on the issue, the choice is clear: end the Big Oil handouts now or see what the voters think in eighteen months.

The cherry on top of all of this? New opinion polling released today by the Pew Research Center shows that the public prioritizes developing alternative energy over expanding oil, coal, and natural gas by a 63-29 margin.

California voters made it clear what they thought of Dirty Energy's election meddling last fall by overwhelmingly defeating an oil industry-funded attempt to repeal our landmark clean energy law. I expect we'll once again make it clear in the 2012 elections what we think of elected officials covered in Big Oil's fingerprints--in other words, those who put oil industry profits above the needs of the Californians they claim to represent.

- Jenesse Miller, Communications Director, CLCV



Leave a Comment

Take Action »

Be an environmental champion: take action to protect our air, water, and health.

Know Your Legislators »

Who represents you in the Assembly & State Senate? Find out how they voted on key environmental proposals.

Stay Connected »

Keep up with the latest from CLCV: environmental news, urgent action alerts, and more.

Donate »

Your support for CLCV helps maintain California's standing as the nation's environmental leader.

2016 California Environmental Scorecard

New for the 2016 legislative session: The 43rd annual California Environmental Scorecard rates elected officials on 2016, another successful year for the environment in spite of heavy opposition from polluting industry.

Find out how your legislators did in 2016 in CLCV's California Environmental Scorecard.