Photo via Go Green Travel
Talk about a conflict of interests. A report from the Sacramento Bee reveals that California lawmakers--the very ones in charge of enforcing the state's ambitious initiative to fight climate change--routinely take trips focused on climate change that are funded by oil and utility companies. Worst of all, they do it shielded from public view, by using loopholes in the law and shady nonprofits supported by utility giants and big oil.
A Quest to Fight Climate Change Funded By Big Oil
This is wrong on so many levels--and it's so far beyond the typical green-leaders-flying-around-the-world-in-CO2-spewing-jets hypocrisy argument it's hard to comprehend. The Bee sums up the situation as follows:
State officials who lead California's war on global warming often travel abroad on trips supported by the major greenhouse gas polluters they regulate, a Bee investigation has found. Industry lobbyists and executives routinely join them.The report goes on to highlight the fact that over the last three years, 24 state officials have traveled more than 700,000 miles to 17 different countries, spewed 275,000 pounds of CO2, and traveled with numerous lobbyists and business execs from the oil and utilities industries. The trips have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars--every cent of which was paid for by energy companies who stand to lose big if strict regulations against carbon emissions are enacted.
How can this be?, one might ask--aren't there laws against such practices? Technically, there are: politicians aren't allowed to accept more than $420 a year in gifts. However, if a nonprofit is funding an excursion that's "reasonably related" to government business, then the sky's the limit. Which is why this happens with money from oil and utility companies:
it is routed through nonprofit groups, which can spend whatever they want on state travel without disclosing precisely who is paying for it.Hello, loophole. The Bee dug up a correspondence between one of the primary nonprofit organizations that's funded by energy companies, California on the Environment and the Economy, and a state official. It reads as follows:
"Dear Mr. Larson, I am writing to invite you to participate in an International Study Travel Project to South America…." one letter to former California Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Stephen Larson begins, emphasizing the destination in bold font. Sent by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, it continues: "As a 501(C)3 non-profit, CFEE is able to host your airfare, hotel and ground transportation in full compliance with California Fair Political Practices Commission rules."Sort of makes your stomach churn, doesn't it?
On the Climate Agenda: Ethics Violation?
So, a quick recap--oil and utility companies funnel money into phony nonprofits in order to fly state lawmakers around the world. And whyever would they do such a thing? Influence, of course.
travel documents indicate that a who's who of climate change oversight in state government – from Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, to Susan Kennedy, chief of staff for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – mingled abroad with top executives from Chevron, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric, Shell Oil, British Petroleum and others.Isn't that nice, now--they're all flying around the world to help fight climate change together. What a team! Of course, it's unclear what exactly is being discussed and how, but it's pretty obvious that the execs are racking up some serious influence over the course of these trips.
Now, many of the trips themselves aren't unethical--some are climate conferences attended by world leaders--but the company and elbow-rubbing that must take place could very well be. And the fact that all of this is done behind closed doors, out of the public eye, is especially disconcerting. If state officials who claim to be in the business of curbing carbon emissions want to accept trips paid for by the biggest emitters out there, the public deserves transparency.
More on California and Climate Change:
California Bill Requires Climate Change be Taught in School
Climate Change Expected to Drastically Alter California