House Climate Panel Democrats Steeped in Energy Industry Cash

Democrats named to a newly revived House committee on climate change received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil, gas, and utility industries, campaign finance data show.

In all, the nine Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, accepted more than $238,000 from sectors tied to the energy industry, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission 2018 campaign spending data by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Outside Washington D.C., it’s common sense: politicians setting climate policy shouldn’t be taking money from the corporations and executives who have fought for decades to stop action on climate change in order they can protect their bottom lines,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the progressive Sunrise Movement.

New Mexico Democratic Representative Ben Ray Lujan and his political action committee was the top recipient, totaling nearly $120,000 in contributions, including nearly $88,000 from electric utilities such as PG&E Corp., and $25,000 from the oil and gas sector. That figure includes $7,500 from BP PLC, the company responsible for the worst offshore oil spill in the nation’s history.

In a statement, Lujan, who has a lifetime score rating of 96 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, said his “values and voting record are clear.”

“I’ve been battling climate change and advocating for the generation of renewable resources and energy efficiency since my time as the chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, before I was a member of Congress,” he said. “I respect and recognize New Mexico’s long history as an energy state, that is why, throughout my career, I have fought to ensure that New Mexico is a leader in our clean energy future.”

Representative Kathy Castor of Florida, who was named to chair the climate committee, has received more than $7,500 from utilities that include Tampa-based TECO Energy Inc., which produces electricity from a mix of coal, natural gas, and renewable sources. The investigative website Sludge reported last month Castor and her husband sold an investment of as much as $100,000 in a mutual fund made up of fossil fuel utility holdings.

(Mutual funds typically make diversified investments in a variety of securities that may be actively selected by a manager or that passively bundle a predefined mix of securities.)

Castor spokesman Steven Angotti didn’t respond to a request for comment. In an email to Sludge, he said Castor had “divested from the Franklin Utilities Fund to build confidence in her leadership of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.”

To be sure, members of the committee have also received contributions from environmental groups, and renewable energy companies that stand to benefit from the committee’s work. Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado, a freshman, has received $6,500 from the League of Conservation voters for instance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics data.

Yet the contributions the fossil fuel industry had been an acrimonious issue leading to the committee’s creation, with hundreds of activists storming Nancy Pelosi’s office with a demand that Democrats vow to reject any funding from the oil, gas, and mining industries.

“For many contributions, the whole purpose is to get access to a lawmaker with the intent on influencing them,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “Often they are seeking to influence the legislative process for the sole purpose of protecting their financial bottom line.”

So far, however, only one member of the climate committee, California Representative Mike Levin, another freshman, has signed a pledge against accepting fossil fuel donations, according to David Turnbull, a spokesman for Oil Change USA, part of the coalition that is behind the pledge.

“Rejecting the industry’s influence by taking the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge should be a prerequisite to these discussions,” Turnbull said. “By joining the committee, these members have shown they’re interested in tackling this issue; they can show they’re serious about showing true climate leadership by standing up to the industry directly.”

The committee had been disbanded after Republicans took control of the House, but was restored by Pelosi when she returned as speaker.

Republican members of the committee have yet to be named. New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who urged unsuccessfully that the committee be given the power to craft legislation, subpoena witnesses, and ban members from accepting fossil fuel donations, said she had been offered a seat but declined in order to serve on other panels.

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