When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, Big Oil saw an opportunity to enrich itself. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has deliberately concealed the dangers that its products pose to the earth’s climate, prevented the federal government from taking action to reduce America’s fossil fuel addiction, and lobbied for billions of dollars in subsidies that have hidden the true costs of its products. The industry has foisted the costs of its pollution onto local taxpayers. It has tried to sue environmental activists into silence, and has promoted legislation that makes it a felony to protest an oil and gas pipeline.
Despite all of this, you might still be shocked at how shamelessly the fossil fuel industry has behaved during the COVID-19 crisis. From the earliest days of the pandemic, the fossil fuel industry’s lobbyists have used their deep contacts within the Trump Administration to receive a dazzlingly long list of handouts.
Want to help fight back? Send a letter to your representatives in Congress asking them to defend the country from fossil fuel profiteering.
Here are a few ways that the fossil fuel industry is taking advantage of the crisis:
- Immunity from lawsuits: When a fossil fuel company causes harm, a community should be able to sue in court to recover the costs of cleaning up the mess. That’s what EarthRights is helping communities in Colorado to do. Since at least 2018, the fossil fuel industry has lobbied for corporate immunity from lawsuits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that corporate immunity is a top priority for him during the next round of COVID-19 stimulus negotiations. If successful, fossil fuel companies would be above the law, even when they pollute communities’ land, air, and water.
- Suspension of environmental protections: In March, the fossil fuel industry’s leading lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute, asked the federal government for relief from regulations designed to protect public health and safety. Three days later, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would stop enforcing environmental regulations. In May, Trump took steps to make these changes permanent.
- Silencing of indigenous voices: During the pandemic, the Trump administration has fast-tracked a number of controversial fossil fuel projects, including several near indigenous lands. In Alaska, the federal government has pushed forward with a proposal by ConocoPhillips to drill next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Indigenous communities have raised concerns that the government’s use of virtual public hearings prevented the communities most affected by this project from participating. Most of these communities lack access to reliable internet and phone and are unable to travel because of the pandemic. After trying to do the same thing in New Mexico to Navajo communities, which are being hit hard by COVID-19, the federal government relented to public pressure and extended the public comment period by four months.
- Bailout money: The fossil fuel industry lobbied hard to get a piece of Congress’s first stimulus package — funds that could have gone to state governments instead. When Congress declined to include an explicit bailout for Big Oil, the Trump administration acted on its own. The government changed the rules of the Federal Reserve’s bond buyback program, ensuring that at least 90 fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Chevron, were eligible. The federal government also bought $3 billion in oil and gas for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in a move that was possibly illegal.
- Even more subsidies: The fossil fuel industry depends on dozens of subsidies from the federal government; many fossil fuel operations would not be viable without subsidies. During the pandemic, industry lobbyists convinced Congress to give them at least $1.5 billion in no-strings-attached tax benefits. The Trump administration also cut royalties and rent for fossil fuel companies drilling on public lands.
Want to Learn More?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The fossil fuel industry is active at the federal level, the state level, and around the world. Here are a few resources that we recommend:
- Vox analyzed how the fossil fuel industry is taking advantage of COVID-19 to lobby for policy goals that existed before the pandemic.
- In an op-ed in the New York Times, a former member of the Federal Reserve argued that the Federal Reserve should not be used to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
- Drilled News maintains a detailed list of what has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to scroll down to see what’s happening in your state.
- The Project on Government Oversight documented corruption at the heart of the fossil fuel industry’s interactions with the Trump Administration, especially in the Department of Interior.
- The Center for International Environmental Law described how the fossil fuel industry’s deception has been going on for decades.