Senate Dems Hope To Investigate Dark Money In Climate Politics

Yesterday the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis held a hearing titled “Dark Money and Barriers to Climate Action” that explored the fossil fuel money which has funded years of climate denial in America.

Groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce have long used their immense lobbying power to stop climate legislation as well as stymy efforts to spur clean energy to the detriment of all Americans. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) made it clear, he wants Senate Democrats to be given subpoena power to investigate how much money groups like the Chamber receive to fund climate denial as this would be important public information.

The Facts: Expert witnesses like Dr. Justin Farrell of the Yale School of Forestry explained that there is strong empirical evidence showing fossil fuel money was used to deceive the American public about the urgency of climate change. There have been tens of millions of dollars (likely more) spent by think tanks and “grassroots organizations” (really they’re front groups) to manipulate public opinion and sow doubt regarding the urgency of climate change. Additionally, Harvard’s Dr. Naomi Oreskes pointed out that many of the climate-denying non-profits are actually working to promote for-profit activities like the sales of oil and gas.

The History: The climate denial machine has lead to a significant divide among Democrats and Republicans when it comes to climate issues. This wasn’t always the case, as in the early 1990s, Republicans were actually one point more likely to believe that climate change was a problem. It was after President George H.W. Bush made a vow to do something about climate change in 1992 that the misinformation campaigns really kicked into full gear. But now, as these campaigns have been active for decades, we’ve set climate action back 30 years which means we could have had the chance to avoid much of the current human suffering we’re witnessing as a result of a warming planet.

Why This Matters: Everyone at the hearing agreed that we need campaign finance reform but in the meantime, Congress must investigate the full influence that dark money has had on the politics of climate change. As Senator Whitehouse put it, 

The hardest part is to try to figure out about the conversations that took place — powered by the unlimited dark money capability that these special interests have. The hardest thing to find around here is the small room where the lobbyists and the candidate met and the lobbyists said, ‘We are coming after you, you are toast, if you don’t do what we say.’ And the candidate realizing that with millions, billions of potential dark money spending to drop, that is a very real threat … Ultimately, the threats that Citizens United enabled are the darkest part of this.”

Go Deeper: Last week’s episode of the Energy Gang podcast did a deeper dive into the current lawsuits that fossil fuel companies are facing, in large part due to their involvement in covering up climate science. The Gang had a good convo about climate misinformation at the 38:33 mark, definitely worth a listen!

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