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ELECTION INSIDER: Big Oil’s Midterm Meddling

Oct 28, 2022 Ricardo Gomez
In five minutes, we’ll tell you what you need to know about the low-profile — but high-stakes — races fossil fuel interests are trying to rig.
ELECTION INSIDER: Big Oil’s Midterm Meddling
(AP Photo/Martha Irvine)

While the Democratic and Republican parties have not made climate action a priority this election season, Big Oil is on the offensive at the state level, spending big to control the narrative.

What’s at stake for Big Oil on November 8? Which key low-profile but high-stakes offices are fossil fuel companies spending on — and who are the top recipients of all those dirty funds?

In this edition of Election Insider, exclusively for supporting subscribers, we break down the big climate races and power players spending to control the climate agenda.

Five Important Gubernatorial Big Oil Recipients

On October 6, three West Coast governors and the Canadian Premier of British Columbia signed a pact to make the region — which boasts 57 million people and a combined GDP of $3.5 trillion — the first area on the continent to transition to 100-percent clean electricity and a low-carbon economy.

The actions of governors, in other words, have extensive impacts on climate change, and for meaningful transformation to happen, the number of states slashing carbon emissions must grow. That cannot happen when gubernatorial elections are being won by candidates taking in vast sums of fossil fuel money, as we highlight below.

  1. In the 2022 cycle, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has raked in $16.5 million from Big Oil and Gas, including more than $3.5 million from Texas oil mogul Syed Javaid Anwar, who has made a fortune from shale fracking and has emerged as a top oil and gas donor to candidates who support the fossil fuel industry. In total, Abbott has taken more than $34 million in fossil fuel donations throughout his political career — and the results have shown in his actions. In 2021, Abbott blamed Texas’ rolling power outages on green energy despite the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. After President Joe Biden called for stricter regulations on greenhouse gas methane in January 2021, Abbott ordered Texas to “use all lawful powers and tools to challenge any federal action that threatens the continued strength, vitality and independence of the energy industry.”
  2. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has taken $3.5 million in fossil fuel donations this cycle, and nearly $9 million over his political career. Patrick was a major proponent of the state’s Oil & Gas Investment Protection Act, lambasting “green” Wall Street firms that “boycott” the oil and gas industry while declaring that he is “committed to ensuring Texas is the top state for oil and gas in America.”
  3. Mark Ronchetti, a Republican candidate for Governor of New Mexico, has taken nearly $750,000 from oil and gas while saying he will  “unleash New Mexico energy” and fight freezes on federal oil and gas drilling leases across the United States. That money could have an outsized impact on the climate crisis, thanks to New Mexico’s historically weak enforcement of the fossil fuel industry, and the counterproductive consequences of Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). According to a recent Capital & Main report, the IRA has reduced certain land protections and positioned New Mexico’s unleased federal land as a prime target for the fossil fuel industry. Oil and gas production accounts for more than half of the state’s climate change emissions, which are driving the state's historic wildfires.
  4. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has brought in $695,000 from oil and gas this cycle. Roughly $100,000 of that money came from the petroleum refining company First Coast Energy — whose CEO, Aubrey Edge, Desantis appointed to the board of governors of Florida’s state university system. In 2021, Desantis signed some of the country’s most draconian laws prohibiting local governments from banning fossil fuels and switching to clean energy.
  5. Betsy Johnson, an independent running for Governor in Oregon, has taken about $240,000 from fossil fuel and logging companies. While that might not seem like much money, it’s atop a mammoth $3.75 million Johnson has raked in from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has targeted Democratic candidate Tina Kotek because of his disdain for a supposedly leftward lurch in the state’s government. Thanks to that hefty sum, for the first time in 40 years, the GOP is poised to capture the Governor’s office in Oregon, as the latest polls show how Johnson is acting as a spoiler candidate, giving Republican candidate Christine Drazan an edge in a tight race. That would be very bad for the environment: Drazan will prioritize the interests of logging companies, and plans on rolling back Oregon’s commitments to reducing air pollution.
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Big Oil’s Favorite State-Level Candidates

State-level executive officers have tremendous power over environmental issues. Here’s a rundown of the fossil fuel and energy industry’s involvement in five state races that will shape how states manage energy transitions.

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