Fossil Fuel Industries Fund Midterm Election Campaigns, Dealing Critical Blow to Environmental Protections


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

With the results of the Nov. 4 midterm elections, Republicans hold a majority of seats in the US Senate, meaning the GOP will also be taking over all Senate Committee chairmanships starting January 2015.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is responsible for overseeing the Senate’s climate policy. Inhofe has publicly expressed his belief that climate change is not a man-made problem. After last Tuesday’s sweeping gains for Republicans in the Senate, Inhofe is now likely to be the new Chairman of the committee. The new Republican Senate majority effectively places Inhofe in charge of the Senate committee responsible for reviewing “matters relating to environmental protection and resource utilization and conservation,” according to the committee’s official website.

Inhofe had previously held the position of Chairman of the Committee from 2003 to 2007. He has been an active skeptic of climate change for the past 20 years of his career, but lately Inhofe’s position on the issue had become much more outspoken. In his 2012 book, entitled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” Inhofe explains his skepticism against the theory of climate change, calling it a “conspiracy” that will hurt the oil and gas industries.

The oil and gas industry is a very important sector of the local economy in Inhofe’s home state of Oklahoma and the lower Great Plains region, a part of the country that in recent years has been devastated by record temperatures, massive water shortages, and extreme weather events like tornadoes. Oil and gas companies have also been among the largest contributors to Inhofe’s re-election campaigns.

Inhofe has also spoken out against the Environmental Protection Agency, comparing it to the Nazi Gestapo. Currently, Inhofe serves as the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, which is responsible for “oversight of agencies, departments, and programs within the jurisdiction of the full committee, and for conducting investigations within such jurisdiction.” This includes oversight of the EPA. According to the Guardian, Inhofe is likely to advocate for amending or repealing the EPA’s rules for cutting power plant emissions, an important component of President Obama’s environmental agenda.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on Nov. 2, which warns that 95 percent of the emissions that lead to climate change are man-made. The report stressed that the ongoing debate over whether climate change’s cause is man-made should cease, as the evidence unequivocally suggests that climate change is real, caused by man-made factors, and that its impacts are present on every continent. The IPCC urges governments to be committed to stopping and combating climate change, including every nation reducing their reliance on fossil fuels down to zero by the end of this century.

The IPCC stated in a press release that “[i]f left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” The report released on Nov. 2 by the IPCC is actually a “Synthesis Report” that summarizes the findings of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, which was released over the past 13 months and prepared by over 800 scientists. According to the press release, it is “the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever undertaken.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the current Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, responded to the IPCC’s report on Nov. 2, stating, “the world’s top scientists are telling Members of Congress and policy makers around the globe that we cannot just try to adapt to climate change. Instead we must act now to reduce dangerous carbon pollution or it will it lead to irreversible impacts for human health, food and water supplies, and vital infrastructure.”

In Santa Barbara County, environmentalists faced a defeat when Measure P, the ballot initiative that sought to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and other oil extraction techniques in the county, was overwhelmingly voted down with about 63 percent of voters voting against the measure and only 37 percent voting for it. Opponents of Measure P argued that the initiative was anti-business and was designed to eliminate the oil and gas industry throughout the county. Supporters of the measure said it would have had no effect on conventional oil drilling and would have left intact all existing operations. According to a Nov. 5 KPCC report, “oil companies, most from out of state, poured money into the No campaign, [contributing] 20 times what the Yes side had in Santa Barbara.”

An Oct. 21 Washington Post article also revealed that, with the total amount of money spent on both sides, Measure P became “one of the most expensive local ballot initiatives in history.” The article cited findings that energy companies including Chevron Corporation, Aera Energy LLC, and Occidental Petroleum contributed $7.6 million into the No on P effort, while supporters of the initiative raised $300,000. “The total combined spending, around $8 million, amounts to more than $18 for every one of the 435,697 people who live in Santa Barbara County,” stated the article. Bans on fracking were passed in San Benito and Mendocino Counties, but fracking and other high intensity oil extraction techniques are not as present in those counties.