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Flares burning off gas at Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site which is the fourth largest oil field in California. (Photo: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden signed a January 27, 2021 executive order temporarily pausing new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and waters. (Photo: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Fossil Fuel and Other Polluters Gave Tens of Millions in Campaign Cash to GOP Lawmakers Opposing Biden's Leasing Freeze

"Our elected officials are sold out to Big Oil," said Public Citizen.

Brett Wilkins

Dozens of Republican lawmakers who oppose President Joe Biden's executive order temporarily halting new oil and gas leasing on federal lands have taken tens of millions of dollars in career campaign contributions from fossil fuel, energy, and natural resources industry interests, a report published Wednesday revealed. 

"Oil and gas CEOs and their political allies on Capitol Hill are doing whatever they can to prop up a system that allows them to exploit public lands at low costs and boost their profits."
—Alan Zibel, 
Public Citizen

The Public Citizen report—entitled Big Oil's Capitol Hill Allies (pdf)examines fossil fuel industry and other polluters' campaign contributions to the 29 GOP lawmakers from the 70-member Congressional Western Caucus who issued a January 27 statement denouncing an order signed the previous day by Biden pausing new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and in offshore waters pending further review. 

While climate campaigners and environmental activists praised Biden—and also pushed him to make the moratorium permanent—the January statement's signatories said the president's order would negatively impact the U.S. economy and the nation's energy security. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called the directive a "political stunt crafted to pacify the radical left-wing of his party."

Public Citizen's report reveals the Republicans who signed the statement received a combined $13.4 million in career campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests and another $23.6 million from energy and natural resources interests. McCarthy led the list of beneficiaries, receiving over $5.9 million from these polluters during his eight congressional campaigns.

Other GOP signatories to the statement who took more than a million dollars in career campaign contributions from polluting industry interests include Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Garret Graves (R-La.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). 

Almost immediately after Biden announced the moratorium, the fossil fuel lobby group Western Energy Alliance sued the administration, claiming the president exceeded his authority and violated multiple land-use laws. According to Public Citizen, Western Energy Alliance contributed $380,000 to Republican lawmakers over the past three election cycles.

"Oil and gas CEOs and their political allies on Capitol Hill are doing whatever they can to prop up a system that allows them to exploit public lands at low costs and boost their profits," said Public Citizen researcher Alan Zibel, the report's lead author. "After four years of the Trump administration's nonstop fossil fuel giveaways, we need to take a step back and examine whether taxpayers are getting a fair deal from government oil leasing program." 

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman added that "the Biden administration must ignore the fossil fuel industry's complaints and scaremongering, and support our clean energy future by working to get America off dirty fuels as soon as possible."

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