“Double Agents”: Lobbyists for Big Tech, Universities & Eco Groups Also Work For Fossil Fuel Industry
Written by GRB on 08/07/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: “’Double agents’: fossil-fuel lobbyists work for US groups trying to fight climate crisis.” That’s the title of a damning new investigation by The Guardian that reveals how more than 1,500 lobbyists are working for fossil fuel companies at the same time they’re representing hundreds of cities, universities, Big Tech companies, and even environmental groups that claim they’re taking steps to address the climate crisis. The report is based on a new database by the group F Minus that was published online this week.
For more, we’re joined by The Guardian’s environmental reporter Oliver Milman, who is also author of the book The Insect Crisis.
Oliver, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what you found and this contradiction of fossil fuel lobbyists representing the fossil fuel companies but also, for example, environmental groups.
OLIVER MILMAN: Hi there, Amy. Good to be with you.
Yes, as you mentioned, there are about 1,500, at least, lobbyists across the U.S. who do state-level lobbying for fossil fuel companies such as Exxon, Shell, BP and so on, but they also work for some of the most progressive-minded institutions in the country, you know, not only kind of cities, such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, even Baltimore, which is a city that is suing Big Oil because of its climate damages — Baltimore shares a lobbyist with Exxon, which is one of the defendants in that case, quite extraordinarily — but also a range of other institutions: museums, art galleries, the New Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Art Museum in L.A., and Big Tech. The kind of Big Tech companies that said they will do so much to address the climate crisis — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon — all share lobbyists with Big Oil. Apple shares a lobbyist with the Koch Industries network. That’s a group of companies that has done so much to delay and deny the science of climate change, as well as stymie action to kind of cut emissions.
And there’s also more than 150 universities that share lobbyists with Big Oil and Gas, including many universities that have divested themselves from fossil fuels, which is an effort that Bill, who was speaking before, has helped kind of spearhead. There’s universities such as the University of Washington, Syracuse University, California State University, that have all looked to divest themselves of fossil fuels, and yet have lobbyists who work, on other days of the week, on pushing fossil fuel interests. So, there’s this extraordinary kind of overlap.
AMY GOODMAN: So, just to be very clear, Oliver, you have a guy lobbying at the state level, one day saying, “You’ve got to deregulate for Exxon, because I represent Exxon,” he says, and the next day saying, “You’ve got to shut down these fossil fuel companies,” because he represents an environmental group.
OLIVER MILMAN: Yes. That —
AMY GOODMAN: The same guy.
OLIVER MILMAN: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean, this data set doesn’t show exactly what these lobbyists are lobbying on in terms of particular topics, but we know who their clients are, and we know where the overlaps are. So, yes, you work for Exxon on Monday to kind of push the interests of Exxon, to keep drilling for oil and gas, and then, on Tuesday, you’re working for the city of Baltimore, that’s suing Exxon —
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s —
OLIVER MILMAN: — former damages.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Baltimore. In the state of Maryland, F Minus reveals, as you said, many nonprofit groups, municipal, county governments are sharing lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry, including Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University, one of the leading institutions in the research of climate change. The database reveals, quote, “The trustees of Johns Hopkins voted to divest from coal in December 2017, stating that a ‘public and explicit stance will help propel the weight of public opinion toward accelerating the transition away from coal as a source of electric power around the globe.’ Despite this stance, lobbyist listings for 2022-2023 show [Johns Hopkins] sharing one or more Maryland lobbyists with two companies with substantial coal interests: NRG Energy and Holcim Participation,” — if that’s how it’s pronounced — “in addition to five companies with upstream and midstream oil and gas operations. And in Florida, the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital shared a lobbyist with coal-plant operator TECO Energy.” If you can go more into that? And also, a point you make in the piece is that they are then sharing the strategy, say, of an environmental group or university that’s just divested, with the oil companies, because they represent one on Monday and the other on Tuesday.
OLIVER MILMAN: Yeah. I mean, that’s the great danger. I mean, one of the justifications of this is that, well, you know, you want the best lobbyists if you’re a particular institution, including even an environmental group. And there are several environmental groups that share lobbyists with Big Oil. A bit like a lawyer — you could be a lawyer that represents, you know, Donald Trump on one day and Planned Parenthood on another day, and you have this kind of professionalism that means you would have a divide on that. But the practical nature of that, of this, of course, is that there’s this sensitive information you don’t really want to be shared with the other side, particularly if you’re actively campaigning against the other side or suing them in court, as several cities are. So, there is that danger of a conflict of interest there.
And as you mentioned, with Johns Hopkins, there is this slightly opaque nature of divestment from many universities, where they said that they will rid their endowments of fossil fuels, and yet students have been pushing for kind of greater details and clarity about what that means in terms of distancing themselves from the fossil fuel industry at large. And I spoke to several kind of student groups who have said they are very disheartened that their universities are continuing to work with those links to the fossil fuel industry even though they say they’ve divested. It’s clear that Big Oil isn’t toxic, isn’t radioactive, in terms of its reputation, as perhaps the tobacco industry may be. All these progressive institutions are very happy to work with those aligned with Big Oil, if they feel that they can get something out of that.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about Big Tech, Oliver?
OLIVER MILMAN: Yeah, of course. I mean, it may not surprise some people who are a little cynical about Big Tech’s pronouncements on things like climate change, but it’s still quite extraordinary that you have these large companies that have vowed to do so much to address the climate crisis. Apple, for example, has vowed to kind of decarbonize its entire supply chain by 2030, and yet it shares lobbyists with the Koch network. Amazon employs fossil fuel-aligned lobbyists in 27 different states. A Microsoft lobbyist also works for Exxon on other days of the week. Google has lobbyists with seven different fossil fuel clients. I mean, the list goes on and on.
This is an industry that has been called out several times for underdelivering on its promises on the climate crisis. And it’s clear that the wielding of political power and influence is far more important to them than staying true to any kind of ideals of distancing themselves fully from the fossil fuel industry.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to quickly get to insurance industry. You tweeted, “Some of these overlaps are particularly jarring. State Farm, which [is] halting new policies in CA due to wildfires, has fossil fuel-aligned lobbyists in 18 states. Top ski resorts, and their melting snow, also pay for oil and gas lobbyists.” Knowing this information, can you talk about the significance of State Farm halting new housing insurance policies in California and employing lobbyists who also work for carbon polluters?
OLIVER MILMAN: Yeah. I mean, some of this doesn’t seem just to be a kind of conflict of interest. It seems to be going actively against the interests of the companies that are paying these lobbyists. I mean, State Farm, like you say, they announced in May that they’ll be taking no more homeowner policies in California due to what they call the kind of growing catastrophic risk of wildfires, and yet they employ these fossil fuel lobbyists all across the U.S. They seem to be actively working against their own financial interest. They’re paying people to create — they’re helping other companies create the pollution that they then have to pay for when it comes to insurance premiums due to wildfires and floods and other huge climate disasters.
And ski resorts, too, really seemed quite surprising to me. I was very kind of interested to see that you have these top ski resorts, like Vail and Jackson Hole, that have lobbyists that also work for fossil fuel interests, given the existential risk that global heating causes to the ski industry due to melting snow and glacier loss and so on.
So, yeah, it’s really quite surprising to see these kind of overlaps. And until now, we didn’t know about it. There wasn’t this transparency until now. Now it’s been revealed, and maybe some action might be taken.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Oliver Milman, what are the universities, from Bard to Johns Hopkins to University of Washington, etc., and the environmental groups saying about these shared fossil fuel lobbyists?
OLIVER MILMAN: There’s two kind of main defenses. One is, you know, it’s quite normal for lobbyists to have lots of different clients. This is just the way the business is done, which is a kind of — maybe a kind of cynical and grubby way of looking at politics, but probably a realistic one. The other one is that it’s actually beneficial. Some of the green groups told me, “Well, if you have a fossil fuel lobbyist, they will help connect you to politicians who you wouldn’t normally talk to.” You know, a Republican politician might not take your call if you’re the Environmental Defense Fund, but if you have a fossil fuel lobbyist who they do speak to, you can gain access through them. It’s a way of gaining access to those in power, which, again, you might see as a kind of a cynical way of looking at things, but it’s the way things are done in state capitals and, of course, in Washington, D.C., too.
AMY GOODMAN: Oliver Milman, environmental reporter at The Guardian, whose new investigation is headlined “’Double agents’: fossil-fuel lobbyists work for US groups trying to fight climate crisis.” We’ll link to the piece at democracynow.org.
Next up, we go to Guatemala City, where election officials have rejected an attempt by the ruling business and political elite to overturn results from the first round of a presidential election where the progressive, anti-corruption candidate came in second in a shock to almost all, the race leading to an August 20th runoff. Stay with us.