U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) participate in the news conference in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on March 9, 2023.

(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Senators Launch Probe of Trump's $1 Billion Offer to Big Oil

"Emboldened by impunity, Mr. Trump and Big Oil are flaunting their indifference to U.S. citizens' economic well-being for all to see, conferring on how to trade campaign cash for policy changes."

In the wake of Donald Trump attending a Big Oil-hosted fundraiser in Texas, two Democratic Senate chairs on Thursday initiated an investigation into the recent quid pro quo offer to fossil fuel industry executives by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

After The Washington Postreported that during an April event, Trump pledged to gut climate policies implemented under Democratic President Joe Biden if the fossil fuel industry raised $1 billion for his 2024 presidential campaign, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) launched a probe last week, sending letters to the leaders of a trade group and companies whose executives appear to have attended that Mar-a-Lago gathering.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) followed suit on Thursday, sending letters to the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the same eight companies: Cheniere Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Continental Resources, EQT Corporation, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, and Venture Global LNG.

"Such an obvious policies-for-money transaction reeks of cronyism and corruption," Whitehouse and Wyden wrote. "This solicitation, coupled with troubling reports that fossil fuel interests and other companies have been drafting language for use in executive orders favorable to their businesses during a possible second Trump administration, demand immediate additional inquiry."

"Such an obvious policies-for-money transaction reeks of cronyism and corruption."

"According to reports, Mr. Trump made specific policy commitments, including promises to auction off more oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters, reverse pollution standards for new cars, and end drilling restrictions in the Alaskan Arctic," they detailed. "He also vowed to terminate the pause on new permits for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, allegedly pledging to do so 'on the first day.' Notably, Mr. Trump called the proposed arrangement a 'deal' for the executives given the tax and regulatory benefits that he would deliver for Big Oil companies and executives."

As Common Dreamsreported last week, one analysis found that if the industry executives took Trump up on his $1 billion offer—that has been undercovered by cable news—there would be a major return on investment for the companies, which would enjoy an estimated $110 billion from the tax breaks alone.

"Mr. Trump's blatant quid pro quo offer is particularly concerning in light of concurrent reporting by Politico that the oil and gas industry is drafting 'ready-to-sign' executive orders," Whitehouse and Wyden noted. "The fossil fuel industry's active attempts to write policy for its preferred presidential candidate are simply the latest installment in Big Oil's decadeslong pattern and practice of lobbying for anti-climate policies even while trying to greenwash its public image."

The pair of senators pointed to documents released last month by Raskin and Whitehouse's panels as part of a three-year probe that on Wednesday culminated in them urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the fossil fuel industry for decades of spreading disinformation about their products and the climate emergency.

Speaking with The New Republic's Greg Sargent about Trump's reported comments to Big Oil executives, Whitehouse said last week that "this is practically an invitation to ask more questions," and a "natural extension of the investigation already underway."

As the senators highlighted Thursday: "Of particular relevance here, documents released in the joint investigation detail the industry's outsized influence on energy policy during Mr. Trump's first administration... In turn, the Trump administration appeared to rely on the oil and gas industry to support and defend its anti-climate energy agenda."

"Time and time again, both Mr. Trump and the U.S. oil and gas industry have proved they are willing to sell out Americans to pad their own pockets," they continued. "And now, emboldened by impunity, Mr. Trump and Big Oil are flaunting their indifference to U.S. citizens' economic well-being for all to see, conferring on how to trade campaign cash for policy changes. Such potential abuses must be scrutinized."

Whitehouse and Wyden are demanding answers and documents from API and the executives by June 6. Raskin, in his letters, called for responses and records by next Monday.

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