fossil fuels

Climate activists protest outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019 in New York City.

(Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

US Climate Groups Call on Multiple Industries to Fire Their Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

Eleven groups united on Thursday, "calling on lobbyists to pick a side in the climate fight."

Weeks after a public interest watchdog unveiled the deep ties the fossil fuel industry maintains to numerous industries in the U.S.—with universities, technology firms, and insurance companies employing many of the same lobbyists as the oil and gas sector—nearly a dozen climate justice groups on Thursday issued a call for governments and institutions across the country to "fire" their fossil fuel lobbyists.

F Minus, the research group behind a database released last month showing that more than 1,500 lobbyists have worked both for fossil fuel companies and local governments, schools, and other businesses, was joined by organizations including, Food & Water Watch, and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) on Thursday in issuing the demand.

The groups warned that lobbyists employed by companies like Amazon and State Farm; cities including Minneapolis and Park City, Utah; and institutions such as Omaha Public Schools and the University of Washington are "playing both sides of the climate crisis by lobbying on behalf of oil, gas, and coal companies at the same time they are lobbying on behalf of communities and businesses being harmed by the climate crisis."

The lobbyists in question, they said, must choose between taking money from the industry international scientists agree is causing planetary heating, extreme weather, and other effects of the climate emergency, or working on behalf of the nation's communities.

"Hiring a fossil fuel lobbyist is radically at odds with fighting the climate crisis," said James Browning, executive director of F Minus. "It's time to talk to these lobbyists in a language they understand—money—and force them to choose between getting paid to work for the perpetrators of the climate crisis or its victims."

The group revealed last month that universities which have bowed to significant pressure in recent years to divest from fossil fuels are still employing lobbyists that work to promote the pollution-causing industry's interests.

Johns Hopkins University, for example, divested from coal in 2017 but still employs lobbyists for NRG Energy and Holcim Participation, which both have "substantial coal interests."

"Young people will live with the climate crisis the longest and experience some of its worst impacts," said the groups Thursday. "Yet hundreds of colleges and public school districts employ lobbyists whose work on behalf of fossil fuel companies is making the crisis worse. We call on educational institutions to cut ties with these lobbyists."

The groups also noted that a number of cities whose residents are at risk of climate impacts continue to work with fossil fuel lobbyists. Minneapolis' plan to cut city emissions by 80% by 2050 is at odds with the fact that it shares a lobbyist with Enbridge, the Canadian oil company whose pipeline in Wisconsin was ordered to be partially shut down in June due to its risk of causing an environmental disaster on tribal land.

Minneapolis and other cities that employ fossil fuel lobbyists "must end those relationships now—and throw all resources behind lobbying 100% for climate solutions and climate policy progress," said Deborah McNamara, co-executive director of ClimateVoice, which also signed the statement.

"The imperative to act on behalf of climate action and climate policy progress is clear," she added. "At every turn we must be proactive in building new systems, calling out the misalignments in our current systems, and ensuring that all of our activities align with climate leadership and action."

The groups also noted that Amazon has employed fossil fuel lobbyists in 27 states while signing onto an international industry pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and insurance companies including Liberty Mutual, Berkshire Hathaway, and State Farm work with lobbyists in dozens of states—even as the insurance industry has increasingly withdrawn from operating in states and communities facing extreme weather events.

"Liberty Mutual is sharing lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry and it shares a board member with Exxon," said Mary Lovell, energy finance campaigner at RAN. "They deny coverage for homeowners and businesses while providing coverage for fossil fuel projects in the same areas."

The lobbyists' ties to universities, cities, and companies relied on by millions of Americans enable them to "cloak a radical pro-pollution agenda in respectability," said the groups.

"All of these organizations and their constituents face a harrowing climate future unless we do more to check the power of the fossil fuel industry," they added. "Fire its lobbyists."

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