Unacceptable: Universities and Environmental Groups Paying and Working with Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

The idea that “we don’t do that anymore”, or “that doesn’t happen anymore”, is one of the most destructive tropes in the popular discussion of history. In recent years, the rise of fascism and open white supremacy has disabused most people of the idea that those problems are “behind us”, but I sometimes worry that that’s only for those particular issues. This is an issue with almost everything that has been deemed part of a barbaric past that we’ve outgrown. I remember talking to someone around a decade ago, who agreed that labor unions were necessary back in the early 1900s, but they made their point, got us our rights, and now they exist to help themselves, rather than the workers, and we don’t need them anymore. I heard similar things about feminism as a movement, as well. At every step of the way, every movement for change is constantly denounced as unnecessary, but the second change is achieved, that movement is necessary in retrospect, but has now completed its task, and is now unnecessary. A truly depressing number of people seem to accept this reasoning on a truly depressing number of topics.

And so, when it comes to climate change, I worry. It’s hard for me to tell, sitting here inside my skull, whether it is now common knowledge that fossil fuel companies knew about climate change, and lied to prevent anything from being done. I think most people know about that. Honestly, I think most people who oppose climate action are aware of the reporting on oil company lies, they just don’t care. What worries me is that some people may think that all that corruption and lobbying and shady dealing stopped when it became public knowledge that they had been doing it.

You know, “Oh, you caught me. Shucks, well I guess I can’t do that anymore!” and then the movie ends, the good guys win, and we move on to the next problem.

I think most people who’re likely to read this blog (or any other blog on this network) are fully aware that all that bad stuff has continued unabated, or even escalated. I don’t know how representative that is of the general population, but I hope that I’m being too cynical when I worry about this. Regardless, that worry is why I want to highlight this recent reporting, which exposes how hundreds of lobbyists have been ostensibly working for universities and environmental groups, while on the fossil fuel payroll:

More than 1,500 lobbyists in the US are working on behalf of fossil-fuel companies while at the same time representing hundreds of liberal-run cities, universities, technology companies and environmental groups that say they are tackling the climate crisis, the Guardian can reveal.

Lobbyists for oil, gas and coal interests are also employed by a vast sweep of institutions, ranging from the city governments of Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia; tech giants such as Apple and Google; more than 150 universities; some of the country’s leading environmental groups – and even ski resorts seeing their snow melted by global heating.

The breadth of fossil-fuel lobbyists’ work for other clients is captured in a new database of their lobbying interests which was published online on Wednesday.
It shows the reach of state-level fossil-fuel lobbyists into almost every aspect of American life, spanning local governments, large corporations, cultural institutions such as museums and film festivals, and advocacy groups, grouping together clients with starkly contradictory aims.

For instance, State Farm, the insurance company that announced in May it would halt new homeowner policies in California due to the “catastrophic” risk of wildfires worsened by the climate crisis, employs lobbyists that also advocate for fossil fuel interests to lawmakers in 18 states.

Meanwhile, Baltimore, which is suing big oil firms for their role in causing climate-related damages, has shared a lobbyist with ExxonMobil, one of the named defendants in the case. Syracuse University, a pioneer in the fossil fuel divestment movement, has a lobbyist with 14 separate oil and gas clients.
“It’s incredible that this has gone under the radar for so long, as these lobbyists help the fossil fuel industry wield extraordinary power,” said James Browning, a former Common Cause lobbyist who put together the database for a new venture called F Minus. “Many of these cities and counties face severe costs from climate change and yet elected officials are selling their residents out. It’s extraordinary.

“The worst thing about hiring these lobbyists is that it legitimizes the fossil fuel industry,” Browning added. “They can cloak their radical agenda in respectability when their lobbyists also have clients in the arts, or city government, or with conservation groups. It normalizes something that is very dangerous.”


The fossil fuel industry, and anyone working to further their interests, should be treated as pariahs. They should be unwelcome everywhere they go. I’m not talking about coal miners, oil rig workers, and all those, I’m talking about the people working to prevent any kind of political or legal change that would give us a fighting chance at avoiding extinction.

I know corruption has become so normalized in the US that many people seem unable to see it, but this is beyond ridiculous. In addition to the fossil fuel lobbyists, any environmental group that hires these people knowingly should also be shunned, and made to understand exactly why it’s happening. I don’t care what side-stepping justifications the people involved offer for what they’re doing. This isn’t a game, and we don’t have time to indulge their bullshit. It’s well past time to pick a side.


  1. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Just a reminder that the foremost climate scientist in the world, Mark Jacobson, has his university program paid for by Precourt. I am unsure, but I think your sourcing of this person is the very first time that I posted to your blog, calling you out on citing Mark Jacobson because of his many cases of academic fraud and for being funded by the fossil fuel lobby. I remember that you stuck your head in the ground and refused to admit any error. Maybe finally now I’ll be getting that “Ok, you’re right, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have cited Mark Jacobson”, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Again, most of the Green energy groups are probably funded by fossil fuel money because they recognize the inordinate utility that they – and you – do for them by attacking nuclear power. The net result is what you see wherever Green energy policies are tried, such as Germany where they expand coal mining and build new coal power plants. This is one example of many. When Green energy aligned politicians come to power, they shut down nuclear power and they expand use of fossil fuels.

    You, Abe Drayton, are part of the problem for continually falling for their lies and repeating the same misinformation about nuclear power, including safety and cost, and misinformation about the feasibility of non-nuclear renewables to replace fossil fuels worldwide.

  2. says

    Thanks Michael!

    Yes, Gerrard. This corruption is not particularly new. And yes, we know you think I’m evil, though I’m unclear on why you still read this blog, especially since you apparently memory-holed the time when I absolutely did give you credit for pointing out the problems with Jacobson, and said that after looking into it, I stopped citing him.

    Two years ago.

  3. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I see. My memory fails me.

    Evil? No. Inadvertently working for the enemy? Yes. The term on wikipedia is “useful idiot”. The best of intentions pave the road to hell.

  4. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Also, I guess a kind of hate-reading? And you do post good stuff usually.

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