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Report: 1,500 Big Oil Lobbyists “Double Agents” for Supposed Climate Champions

Even groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council have hired lobbyists with fossil fuel clients.

Protestors stand outside the Phillips 66 Los Angeles Refinery Wilmington Plant on November 28, 2022, in Wilmington, California.

Over the past decades, the fossil fuel industry has worked around the clock to exercise its influence over every level of politics — with moves including, as a new report reveals, injecting its lobbyists into the very groups that are purportedly working at the front lines to combat the climate crisis.

According to a new database published by divestment advocacy group F Minus on Wednesday, there are over 1,500 state-level lobbyists who are working as lobbyists for fossil fuel companies while being employed by a wide variety of state and municipal governments and progressive, climate and research groups, as first reported by The Guardian.

At least 150 universities — including ones that have vowed to divest from fossil fuels, like California State University, Syracuse University and the University of Washington — have ties to this vast network of fossil fuel lobbyists, who F Minus refer to as “compromised.” Tech companies that present themselves as progressive and forward-thinking like Apple, Microsoft and Google have hired lobbyists with ties to the Koch network and a variety of fossil fuel companies, like Exxon.

Supposedly left-leaning cities whose leadership has vowed action on the climate crisis, including Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have hired these lobbyists. The database reveals at least seven lobbyists who work for companies like Exxon and Phillips also representing interests in Montana, where a district court just finished hearing arguments in a landmark case brought by 16 youth residents who say that the government’s failure to protect them against the climate crisis is against the state’s constitution.

Even big climate groups whose stated missions are to advocate for the climate and environment have hired these lobbyists.

As F Minus found, the Environmental Defense Action Fund, the advocacy arm of climate group Environmental Defense Fund, employs multiple lobbyists who also advocate for Exxon, as well as fossil gas producers like Calpine and Duke Energy. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) political fund employs a lobbyist for Duke Energy and another lobbyist group that also works for mining and fossil gas company BHP.

“When you hire these insider lobbyists, you are basically working with double agents,” Brown University environmental sociologist Timmons Roberts told The Guardian. “They are guns for hire.”

The findings reveal not just how far the fossil fuel industry has extended its influence over the national energy sphere, but also how covertly it does so. They speak to the extraordinary uphill battle that climate advocates face in the mission to convince lawmakers and officials to draw down the use of fossil fuels as the climate crisis only continues to worsen.

“It’s incredible that this has gone under the radar for so long, as these lobbyists help the fossil fuel industry wield extraordinary power,” James Browning, a former lobbyist for Common Cause who helped put together the database for F Minus, told The Guardian. “Many of these cities and counties face severe costs from climate change and yet elected officials are selling their residents out. It’s extraordinary.”

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