New Report by Top Senators Details Financial Ties Between Fossil Fuel Industry and Clean Power Plan Opponents

Read time: 5 mins
Rolls of hundred dollar bills.

On September 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in a major challenge to the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — an enormously high-stakes legal battle, that could determine whether Obama's climate plan is ever put into effect.

The stakes are high not only for the environment, but for fossil fuel companies — and those companies have poured enormous sums of money into efforts that would help ensure the Clean Power Plan never goes into effect, according to a report issued this week by four members of Congress.

The report is formatted as an amicus curie — or friend of the court — brief but was not filed with the court, and it takes a detailed look at the money that has moved behind the scenes. It's entitled, “The Brief No One Filed.”

It was issued by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, and Edward J. Markey — some of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate. Senators Whitehouse, Boxer, and Markey serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee, while Sen. Reid is the Senate Democratic Leader.

“The American public is aware of and alarmed by the massive influx of special interest money and considers this a top problem with elected officials in Washington,” the four senators wrote.  “More than 80 percent of Americans believe the government cannot be trusted to do what is right most of the time.”

Large sums of money — over $100 million — have been funneled from the fossil fuel industry to key players in the litigation, the report concludes. 

“In aggregate, the politician authors of these briefs have received over $107 million from the fossil fuel industry,” the senators wrote, “and while they are ostensibly elected to represent the interests of their constituents, we regularly see them taking positions that are opposed to conclusions drawn about the effects of climate change by institutions and academics in their own states.” 

The senators argued that this money has helped to shape the positions of the players involved in the challenge to the Clean Power Plan, citing the impacts of the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision.

“Prominent Republican leaders used to acknowledge that human-made climate change exists and must be addressed,” they wrote. “They have changed their tone drastically. The change coincided exactly with the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, [citation omitted] which allowed energy interests to exert unlimited influence in Congress.”

The new report describes a vast gulf between the climate denial voiced by the members of Congress who have helped in the effort to block the Clean Power Plan, and the public's opinion on climate change in their home state.

“A Citizen Cabinet survey found 68 percent of registered voters in Texas favor the Clean Power Plan, with 79 percent seeing value in the projected health benefits from reduced air pollution,” they wrote, describing how Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Representatives Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber have vocally denied that climate change exists or is a problem that requires action.

Because the new report was not filed as a brief with the D.C. Court of Appeals, it most likely won't be part of the case file that the court can consider as it decides the case. But the evidence it contains shows that the financial ties between many of the players in the case, and an industry that stands to benefit strongly if the Clean Power Plan is tossed out, are strong.

The list of players includes not only the member of Congress who had filed an amici brief opposing the Clean Power Plan, but the petitioners themselves.

“From the 27 states currently challenging the Clean Power Plan in court, the CAPAF has identified 24 attorneys general and governors [as] climate deniers based on past statements,” the report says. “According to their research, these state officials received over $19 million in career contributions from the fossil fuel industry since 2000.”

And those financial contributions at times were directly tied to the Clean Power Plan, the report suggests.

“For example, based on documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, Murray Energy Corp. donated $250,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2015 and received a closed-door meeting with state prosecutors to discuss the Clean Power Plan,” the senators wrote.

DeSmog's own research is cited five times by the senators, who used information reported by DeSmog to demonstrate the financial ties between the fossil fuel industry and some of the scientists who had filed an amici opposed to the Clean Power Plan, as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and 60Plus Association (tied to the Koch brothers).

Defenders of the Clean Power Plan are adamant that it will not only ward off some of the impacts of global warming (though environmentalists point out that it may not go nearly far enough), but will also have positive impacts for people's health.

“The broad support of medical experts across the country shows that not only is there momentum for action, but that this is imperative for the health of every American,” Albert Rizzo, the American Lung Association's senior medical advisor, said in a statement. “We can take action to mitigate the effects of climate change right now. We must do more to protect everyone's health, and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

As high stakes as the courtroom battles over the Clean Power Plan might be, they also take place in a highly charged political environment. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has pledged to push forward with efforts to implement the Clean Power Plan if she is elected, while Republican nominee Donald Trump has stated that he would scrap it, along with other policies aimed at curbing global warming.

Photo Credit:, CC BY 2.0

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