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Activists demand an end to fossil fuel subsidies

Activists participate in an "End Fossil Fuel" rally near the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Footage of Exxon Lobbyist Increases Pressure on Biden to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

"It's time for President Biden to pick a side: Exxon or the American majority?"

Jake Johnson

Environmentalists on Thursday ramped up pressure on President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats to repeal federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry following the release of secretly recorded footage in which an ExxonMobil lobbyist admits that—despite its recent posturing as a proponent of climate action—the oil giant is still undercutting green energy initiatives behind closed doors.

"President Biden and the Democratic Party received a historic majority to deliver relief and solutions for the American people, not Exxon."
—Varshini Prakash and Alexandra Rojas

In a clip filmed by a Greenpeace reporter posing as a corporate recruiter, Exxon's senior director of federal relations Keith McCoy boasts about targeting a number of Democratic and Republican senators—including Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)—in an attempt to water down Biden's $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which originally proposed major investments in combating the climate crisis.

But last week, Biden endorsed a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure plan that excludes virtually all of the major climate planks that the president pushed in his initial proposal, from a national clean electricity standard to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax incentives for green energy development.

The bipartisan deal—which would be funded in part through privatization schemes—also excludes a plank of the American Jobs Plan that called for the elimination of "billions of dollars in subsidies, loopholes, and special foreign tax credits for the fossil fuel industry."

In a clip released by Greenpeace U.K.'s investigative journalism arm Unearthed, former Exxon lobbyist Dan Easley voiced concern that Biden was moving to "take away favorable tax treatment" for the oil and gas industry.

"Exxon must be thrilled that Biden and the Democrats are entertaining an infrastructure plan that ditches climate action," Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement Thursday. "Repealing fossil fuel subsidies is an urgent climate priority and Democrats must address it now."

Ross said Biden and Democratic lawmakers "should stop wasting time" and quickly advance a legislative package that repeals federal fossil fuel subsidies and invests in a rapid transition away from dirty energy. Due to Republican opposition to those proposals, such a bill would have to move through the arcane budget reconciliation process, which is exempt from the Senate's 60-vote legislative filibuster.

"The weak bipartisan offers," said Ross, "are just Exxon's agenda from behind the scenes."

Varshini Prakash of the youth-led Sunrise Movement and Alexandra Rojas of Justice Democrats echoed that message on Friday, declaring that "Exxon's successful efforts to gut the 'bipartisan plan' of major climate investments and corporate tax hikes make clear that this isn't a bipartisan plan—it's the Exxon plan."

"President Biden and the Democratic Party received a historic majority to deliver relief and solutions for the American people, not Exxon," said Prakash and Rojas. "It's time for President Biden to pick a side: Exxon or the American majority?"

The "bombshell" Greenpeace footage was made public a day after progressive lawmakers and activists from more than 500 advocacy groups rallied on Capitol Hill to demand an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Biden's budget blueprint for Fiscal Year 2022, released in late May, proposes eliminating around $121 billion worth of handouts to the oil and gas industry, including an exemption that allows companies to avoid taxes on income from refining and transporting fossil fuels generated overseas.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who spoke at the Tuesday rally, tweeted in response to the Greenpeace clip that "when we give taxpayer-funded subsidies to the oil industry, this is exactly what we’re helping them pay for: shady lobbying to block progress on climate legislation."

"Let's end fossil fuel subsidies," Khanna added.

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