Why It Matters if Candidates Like Hillary Clinton Take Fossil Fuel Money

by Kelly Mitchell

April 1, 2016

Getting Hillary Clinton and other candidates to reject fossil fuel donations isn’t just about cleaning up campaign finance — it’s about protecting our climate by keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of Secretary Clinton losing her patience when confronted about campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Eva, the Greenpeace activist on the rope line, was one of tens of thousands of Americans who have called on Secretary Clinton and all candidates for office to reject fossil fuel money.

That call is only growing louder by the moment, and we’re fast approaching a welcome tipping point where fossil fuel money becomes toxic in this election.

That tipping point can’t come soon enough, because our government is deeply entangled with the fossil fuel industry. Starting next week, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold public hearings in Alaska, DC, and the Gulf of Mexico to hear public feedback on a new draft five-year offshore oil and gas program that would open up future leasing options in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

In these hearings, BOEM is asking the public which pieces of the ocean the federal government should sell to oil companies. The more important question is: should the government be selling the ocean at all?

Even at face value, these are preposterous questions. Oil companies are already pretty good at ruining our oceans, before we even get to the issue of climate change. On that, the science couldn’t be clearer: to avoid the worst effects of runaway climate change, we need to stop drilling, fracking and mining and keep the vast majority our fossil fuels in the ground. Despite these risks, fossil fuel companies are still looking for more places to exploit — and more politicians that will let them do it.

The BOEM hearings that start next week in Alaska are part of the Department of Interior’s longstanding federal fossil fuel program, which auctions off millions of acres of public lands and waters to fossil fuel companies like Shell, Exxon and others. And until some incredible activists from across the country started rising up to object, the Obama administration was more or less content to give these companies basically whatever they wanted.

In return, the federal government and states receive royalty payments. Current royalty rates represent a significant subsidy, as they are irresponsibly low and cheat taxpayers at the expense of fossil fuel company profits. But even if royalty payments were massive and fair, the whole transaction is a short sighted Hurricane Sandy alone cost the US $65 billion in damages, and that was just the tip of the iceberg for what disasters await in a rapidly warming world. Ongoing leasing is hardly sound fiscal policy. And yet government officials have been willing to cut deals and breaks for the fossil fuel industry in the hopes of more royalty payments, when they could get on with the work of building a diversified economy that lifts all boats.

In short it’s all a little too gross, and a little too entangled. The U.S. government shouldn’t be in the fossil fuel business. We know it and people in communities across the United States aren’t standing for it anymore.

Which brings us back to Secretary Clinton. We need to sever the ties between those who wield power and those who would risk our collective future for a few dollars. The US government shouldn’t sell fossil fuels, it shouldn’t build a dependency on fossil fuel royalty dollars. And similarly, our candidates for office should neither do fossil fuel company bidding nor depend on fossil fuel dollars to secure their seat. The whole apparatus needs to become unwound.

Secretary Clinton has already stated she’d take aggressive climate action against the fossil fuel industry. Now, she should make it clear their money doesn’t influence her by pledging to reject all fossil fuel funding.

And, right now all of us can stand up for clean government and a safer climate by telling the Obama administration to stop all new offshore oil leasing and keep fossil fuels in the ground. We have the power and momentum, the current president and possibly the next president are listening so let’s make it count.

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.