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With Economy 'Overlord' Mnuchin Controlling Bailout Funds, Green Group Demands to Know What 'Climate-Killing Companies' Are Seeking Government Cash

Mnuchin "can pick winners and losers as he sees fit, even if it destroys our climate. That's terrifying."

Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin speaks while President Donald Trump listens during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin speaks while President Donald Trump listens during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Are fossil fuel companies asking the Trump administration for a bailout amid the coronavirus pandemic? The Center for Biological Diversity is demanding to know.

The environmental advocacy group on Monday filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the answer, asking the Treasury Department which fossil fuel companies, if any, have asked for a share of the $450 billion pot included for "distressed industries" as part of the economic aid package —the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act—signed into law last month.

The group's request (pdf) includes a non-exhaustive list of companies that may have asked for those funds, including energy giants Baker Hughes, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Phillips 66.

Transparency around who's looking for the funds, to be overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is especially important, said the Center, given a signing statement issued by President Donald Trump just after approving the economic relief bill. Trump indicated in that statement his administration's intention to disregard the bill's mandate for oversight of how Mnuchin allocates the funds.

"The public has every right to know which climate-killing companies are asking the Trump administration for a bailout," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. "Mnuchin is now the overlord of the U.S. economy and can pick winners and losers as he sees fit, even if it destroys our climate."

"That's terrifying," he added.

Even before the coronavirus led to worldwide economic fallout, the fossil fuel industry was already taking American taxpayer dollars to "destroy the world."  The U.S. props up the fossil fuel industry with at least $20 billion a year in federal subsides.

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"If the fossil fuel industry can't survive without billions in federal assistance, the public has a right to know that fact," added Hartl.

"This money would be far better spent building a green economy based on renewable energy," he said. "These documents will show once and for all that the fossil fuel industry is nothing but the biggest recipient of corporate socialism in the history of the world."

The Center's FOIA request was filed just days after Trump hosted top oil and gas executives at the White House for a meeting on economic relief, sparking ire from a number of climate groups.

Climate advocates' fears appear to have been justified.

At the meeting, Trump said he had the industry's back.

"We'll work this out and we'll get our energy business back," the president said at the meeting. "It's a very vital business."

"We've got to make sure that we preserve and even make greater our energy industry," Trump added.

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