A Student's Guide to How Corporate Oil, Gas and Coal Money Influences U.S. Energy Policy
Courtney Cochran, Kevin Coyle and Lisa Madry
This is a guide to help students and young leaders better
understand how oil, gas, and coal companies influence U.S.
energy policy and public decision-making. This is not just
information, it is a call to action, because, once you look behind
the political-contributions curtain, you will see that, while they
may have huge sums of money, it is really just a handful of
companies paying to influence our energy future. Those of us
who want to see a clean energy future outnumber them by a
significant margin, and they can only succeed if we sit back
and let them.
Download the full report: A Student’s Guide to How Corporate Oil, Gas and Coal Money Influences U.S. Energy Policy (pdf)
Citizens who care about a future with clean air, water, and
healthy and sustainable communities, have to face the reality
that there is something fundamentally wrong with the leverage
money has in today’s politics. Financial contributions made to
elected officials give the oil, gas, and coal companies a supersized
say in how our world is shaped.
The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge facing our
generation and our planet, and our national leaders treat it as
nothing more than a political football to be tossed around to score
points in the latest polls. One of the defining tragedies of the
climate crisis is that it is a struggle of our own making. When
we began burning carbon-polluting fuels at the dawn of the
industrial age, we unleashed unprecedented amounts of
industrial carbon pollution, the primary cause of climate change.
In the United States, we bear an exceptional responsibility:
we produce about 25 percent of the world’s carbon pollution,
even though we only make up about 4 percent of the world’s
population. China just recently became the leading producer of
carbon pollution, nudging the United States out of the top spot
it has held for decades.
Global climate change will create a host of new consequential
weather events and environmental impacts. A temperature
increase of even a few degrees will cause a variety of new
problems for Americans, including protracted summer heat
waves and drought, more intense hurricanes and floods, sea level
rise, crop failures, water shortages, and massive wildfires.
Tropical diseases, such as West Nile Virus, are more likely to
spread across the U.S. In addition, crucial ecosystems supporting
fish and other wildlife will come under unprecedented stress and
fall out of balance.
If there is a silver lining to this crisis, it is that, we have the power
to alleviate it. As the second largest producer of industrial carbon
pollution, the U.S. can make a globally significant contribution to
the solution. Furthermore, The National Renewable Energy Lab
released a report in 2012 showing that we can meet 80 percent of
the total U.S. electricity generation by 2050 with clean renewable
energy, using technologies that are commercially available today!
So why isn’t the U.S stepping up and leading the charge for new
technologies and approaches to solving this problem? The
reasons are many, but chief among them is the disproportionate
influence of corporations with a vested interest in supporting
traditional energy sources. These corporations stand to lose a
great deal should we shift toward cleaner, renewable fuels. Oil,
gas, and coal industries have been among the most profitable
businesses globally for several decades. In fact, 10 of the top 20
most profitable companies in the world are oil, gas and mineral
So how exactly are their record profits spent? Of course,
company shareholders receive a large chunk of money, but the
grim reality is that a lot of these “big bucks” are used to influence
the political process out of the view of the general public.
Fossil fuel energy companies use this money to get sympathetic
legislators into office without the average person knowing how
big their influence truly is.