The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Paying the GOP Handsomely to Deny Climate Change

Republican super PACs in the House and Senate raked in major donations from the fossil fuel industry this year. Proving to be money well spent, GOP lawmakers are ramping up a campaign of outright climate denial.

Naughton coal-fired power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. (Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

As climate change unleashed blistering heattoxic air quality, and deadly floods on millions of Americans this year, congressional Republicans’ two super PACs raked in nearly $4 million from fossil fuel donors, according to new federal election filings reviewed by the Lever.

As the donations poured in, Republican lawmakers began adding fine print to congressional spending bills that would hobble the federal government’s efforts to combat climate change.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which backs GOP House candidates, reported receiving more than $950,000 from oil and gas firms and executives during the first half of the year. The donors included top executives at the firms Energy Transfer Partners, United Refining Company, and Midland Energy, whose CEO, Syed Javaid Anwar, contributed $125,000.

In total, the Congressional Leadership Fund has hauled in more than $19 million so far this year. The group’s communications director boasted this month that the combined haul with its dark money arm, the American Action Network, is significantly outpacing GOP fundraising at this point in the last election cycle.

The Senate GOP’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has received $2.8 million this year from just three fossil fuel firms: Occidental Petroleum Corporation, whose largest shareholder is billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation; Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation; and Texas-based refiner Valero Energy Corporation.

Exempt from campaign contribution limits, the two super PACs are fundraising juggernauts for the national GOP. During the last election cycle, the Senate Leadership Fund launched the most expensive-ever advertising campaign for GOP Senate candidates after raising nearly $290 million.

The Congressional Leadership Fund helped Republicans retake the House with a $260 million war chest for TV and digital ads, mailers, polling, and other outside spending. Of that total, $27 million was from fossil fuel donors, whose dollars helped the super PAC boost its fundraising well above its 2020 total of $165 million.

Oil and gas companies were among the corporate interests that continued giving generously to the GOP’s House fundraising arm even after members it backed voted to overturn the 2020 election results, as the Lever reported previously.

Fossil Fuel Money In, Climate Denial Out

For fossil fuel interests, recent GOP donations proved to be money well spent. As ecological tipping points approach, and some two-thirds of Americans now worry about what climate change will mean for them personally, congressional Republicans are continuing a campaign of outright climate denial.

In April, as congressional Republicans advanced legislation that would clear the way for new oil and gas infrastructure, Valero contributed $250,000 each to the House and Senate GOP super PACs. The company also reported spending $60,000 lobbying the House and Senate on “issues related to infrastructure permitting,” among other topics.

While the push for “permitting reform” stalled, the deal reached by the Joe Biden administration and congressional Republicans in May to raise the federal debt limit included a provision expediting the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline — which opponents say will cause emissions equivalent to twenty-six new coal-fired power plants ​​— and shielding the project from further legal challenges.

Valero reported lobbying on permitting issues in the debt ceiling deal, as did Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, whose billionaire chairman Kelcy Warren gave $5,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund in March. Energy Transfer also donated $2 million to the fund last year.

While neither Valero nor Energy Transfer are among the consortium of companies involved with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, both companies have faced their own recent permitting woes. In 2021, legal challenges and intense public opposition halted a planned pipeline that would have transported crude oil from Valero’s Memphis, Teneessee, refinery to Mississippi for export — but local activists fear the company is looking for a way to revive the project. And Energy Transfer, the company behind the fiercely contested Dakota Access Pipeline, is currently at odds with the Biden administration over the denial of a permit for a planned liquefied natural gas export terminal in Louisiana.

More fossil fuel money flowed to the GOP fundraising arms in June, which set its own temperature records before July became Earth’s hottest recorded month. OTA Holdings, a subsidiary of the Louisiana oil and gas company Enterprise Products Partners, donated half a million dollars to the Congressional Leadership Fund that month.

Soon after, House Republicans began inserting numerous provisions into annual spending bills that would effectively bar the federal government from combating or even researching climate change, including measures requiring offshore oil and gas leasing and blocking the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed climate disclosure rule.

That strategy could force a showdown with Senate Democrats when members return from an August recess. Congress has until October 1 to pass the annual spending bills and avoid a government shutdown. Both Valero and Energy Transfer reported lobbying directly on an energy and water development appropriations bill that would cut the budget for the Energy Department’s renewables office and block the implementation of some energy efficiency standards.