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The intricate relationship between politics and the fossil fuel industry has come into the spotlight with a recent analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), revealing that ten U.S. senators hold significant investments in Big Oil stocks. This ownership, amounting to between $403,023 and $1,201,000, raises questions about potential conflicts of interest, especially as these senators play pivotal roles in committees responsible for climate and environmental regulations.
The analysis shows a striking partisan divide: eight of the ten senators are Republicans, collectively owning up to $1,106,000 of these stocks, approximately 92% of the total. This is noteworthy, considering the Republican senators’ historical stance on climate change legislation and their influence on committees that directly oversee environmental policies.
Among these senators, Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) holds the most substantial investment in Big Oil, with stocks valued between $119,006 and $360,000 in Exxon and Chevron. Moran, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has a track record of opposing climate regulation and endorsing fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. His committee has jurisdiction over issues directly affecting climate change, such as environmental disasters and oceanic matters.
Nebraska Senator Pete Ricketts, a Republican with a diversified Big Oil portfolio, is another significant figure in this context. Owning stocks in Chevron, Exxon, Phillips 66, Valero, and ConocoPhillips, Ricketts, as a newly appointed member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has substantial sway over environmental laws and the Environmental Protection Agency. His previous opposition to climate regulations as Nebraska governor, including his stance against the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), further underscores the potential conflict of interest.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), the ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, also raises concerns. Holding stocks in Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and Phillips 66, she plays a crucial role in both committees most relevant to Big Oil. Capito has actively resisted climate regulations, including efforts to impede the EPA’s clean power plan and introducing legislation favoring the Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite owning stock in a company behind the project.
The climate crisis skepticism extends to Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama), who has expressed views denying human-induced climate change. Tuberville’s significant holdings in Exxon, Marathon, and Chevron add to the narrative of Big Oil’s influence on climate policy.
On the Democratic side, Senators such as Thomas Carper (D-Delaware) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), despite holding Big Oil stocks, have shown support for climate protection and regulations. However, these investments still present a dichotomy between personal financial interests and legislative responsibilities.
The senators’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry come at a time when crucial legislation like the IRA, aimed at mitigating the climate crisis, is being debated and passed. The consistent opposition from Republican senators against such legislation, juxtaposed with their investments in fossil fuel companies, paints a concerning picture of the influence of personal financial interests on critical policy decisions.
This scenario is not limited to the Senate. A 2020 Sludge analysis found that across Congress, members own up to $92.7 million in fossil fuel stocks, highlighting the pervasive nature of these investments in legislative circles.
The revelation of these investments has reignited calls for Congress to prohibit lawmakers from trading individual stocks, ensuring that personal financial gains do not influence policy decisions. However, efforts to pass stock ban legislation have stalled, with key members of the Democratic leadership reportedly impeding progress on such reforms.
In conclusion, the ownership of Big Oil stocks by U.S. senators, particularly those with significant roles in environmental and climate-related committees, poses serious questions about the integrity of legislative processes concerning climate policy. As the world grapples with the escalating climate crisis, the need for transparent and unbiased policymaking becomes ever more critical. The CREW report not only highlights the conflict of interest inherent in such investments but also underscores the urgent need for reform in how lawmakers manage their personal finances vis-à-vis their legislative responsibilities.