Big Oil had a pandemic party in the White House
When it comes to capitalizing off a crisis, this isn't their first rodeo.
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Good morning. It’s Friday, at least according to the squiggly lines on the bottom right corner of my computer screen.
Last week, we talked about what might happen when the threats posed by climate change — to our communities and their health and survival — intersect with the economic and public health crises brought on by COVID-19. While the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package provided no relief to most cities and counties already facing steep bills over climate change, Big Oil and their allies were quietly pushing through a list of favors that would put a heaping more of disaster on these communities’ plates.
Last Friday, a handful of GOP senators including John Cornyn and Ted Cruz; CEOs of oil majors from Exxon to Chevron; head of the American Petroleum Institute; and other valentines of the fossil fuel industry received exclusive invitations to meet face-to-unmasked-face with the president in the Oval Office, where the industry’s stranglehold on our democracy went on full display.
“I’m with you 1,000 percent,” the president reassured the room, kicking off a cascade of compliments and praise. Cloaked in MAGA-style boasts about returning energy dominance to America, the group of executives requested more taxpayer-funded giveaways for the industry’s largest corporations. And Trump, with hundreds of thousands of Big Oil’s dirty money in his pockets, sounded more than ready to comply.
“It’s a great business,” Trump said. “It’s a very vital business. And, honestly, you’ve been very fair.”
Let’s talk about fairness for a minute, then. The oil and gas industry hasn’t wasted a minute exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. Here are just a few examples of what they’ve been up to while the rest of us stayed at home:
They pushed through approval to begin construction of the long-contested Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, aided by the fact that three states including South Dakota passed laws last month making non-violent protest a felony. Despite isolation measures, this includes installing “man camps,” or temporary housing for oilfield workers (which have long been breeding grounds for violence against women and other criminal activity) in Indigenous communities that are already less protected from the virus and its fallout.
They bullied the EPA to halt enforcement of public health protections during a public health crisis, and are actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions where they can. A new study from researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health linked areas with higher levels of air pollution to higher death rates from COVID-19.
They helped encourage a rule to restrict the amount of scientific and public health research used in designing environmental policy, which has now been fast-tracked by the EPA.
They are lobbying the government to spend billions buying up and storing their oil — billions that could go to hospitals, families in dire need, or the millions of people at risk of losing running water in the midst of this pandemic. The list goes on.
Delivering over 800,000 messages asking senators to block attempts to resurrect the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Credit: 350.org
Trump and the rest of the industry’s puppet show claim to be feeding fossil fuels for the sake of “millions of jobs.” But where in their bailout proposals do we see concern for the immediate needs of workers, other than how many can be laid off at once? Even before this crisis, an executive at Exxon made 110 times that of its average worker; an executive at Chevron, 152 times. If this administration wanted to invest in struggling oil and gas workers or their futures, it could do so. But so long as CEOs are funding their re-election, the chance that working people will see any of this money is slim to none.
If our leaders are comfortable bailing out corporate polluters over addressing the country’s most urgent needs, we’ve got a serious problem on our hands, explained Jamie Henn, activist and co-founder of the international climate movement 350.org.
“During World War II, President Roosevelt said that he didn't want to see a single millionaire created from the war effort,” Henn told me. “His point was simple: no CEO or corporation should be profiting off of public disaster or the government's response. We knew that Exxon wasn't below profiting off of the climate crisis. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they're willing to profit from the coronavirus crisis, as well."
The eerie reality is that this industry has invested in the probability of disaster for quite a long time. For decades, they have known the irreversible destruction their own products would unleash, and they knew they wouldn’t be made to pay a cent for the consequences. Even now, they expect special treatment above all others, thanks to the friends they bought and paid for in the White House and Congress.
They know that in this chaos, in the ongoing feedback loop of disaster they helped create, lies more opportunity for them to run the table and line their pockets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the failures and injustices of our economic and political systems, and that includes the relentless greed and cruelty of the fossil fuel industry. But it has also shown how quickly the realm of possibility can expand, from fiscal conservatives endorsing forms of universal basic income, to private companies transforming their factories to meet the urgent need for PPE, to Congress approving trillions of dollars in stimulus without so much as an utterance of “who will pay for it?”
In this new reality, suddenly the notion of holding Big Oil accountable in order to lessen the brutality of another worldwide crisis doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.
And don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Bernard Levy, the head of oil giant BP: "People talk about the 'art of the possible,' the current crisis is redefining 'possible' day by day," he told The Times of London. "We should reflect on that next time someone says that tackling climate change is too difficult, or too costly."
… You don’t say?
ICYMI News Roundup
This week, we have a recommendation: check out Drilled News’s Climate & COVID-19 Policy Tracker to stay up to date on the many policy changes influenced by polluters since this began. It is THOROUGH, let me tell you what.
Stay safe, and listen to this little gem brought to you by John Prine. Until next time.