A small army of “double-agent” lobbyists — more than 1,500 — are profiting off both sides of climate clashes in the U.S. by representing “fossil fuel” interests alongside institutions that work to reduce the impacts of heat-trapping pollution, the Guardian reported.
According to a database released in July by the group F Minus, state-level lobbyists hired by oil, gas, and coal companies often also represent a range of environmental groups, schools, cultural institutions, local governments, and companies that combat climate impacts.
Other strangely shared bedfellows include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) using the same lobbyist as ExxonMobil; liberal-leaning Chicago sharing a lobbyist with BP; and climate-pledged Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft working with oil and gas lobbyists.
“It’s incredible that this has gone under the radar for so long, as these lobbyists help the fossil fuel industry wield extraordinary power,” James Browning, executive director of F Minus, told the Guardian.
Why is it concerning that lobbyists play both sides?
The Guardian noted that some institutions don’t see a problem with fossil fuel–linked firms because lobbyists often have many clients, and sometimes this can help facilitate discussion. There aren’t rules against representing drastically different positions, though there are laws that prohibit arguing both sides of specific legislation.
A spokesperson for the EDF indicated to the Guardian that using a big-oil lobbyist might sometimes “actually help us find productive alignment in unexpected places.”
Critics have pointed out concerns about that argument. They could legitimize fuel interests by using the same representatives, pay disproportionate attention to deeper-pocketed fuel clients, and risk unwanted information sharing.
“[W]hen you hire these insider lobbyists, you are basically working with double agents,” Brown University professor Timmons Roberts told the Guardian. “They are guns for hire. The information you share with them is probably going to the opposition.”
What’s being done about double-agent lobbyists?
Although the database appeared only recently, some hope it can bring change.
“It’s not a good look to be funding lobbyists for fossil fuels, especially with public money,” Meghan Sahli-Wells, former mayor of Culver City, California, told the Guardian. “I hope that many people just don’t know they share lobbyists with fossil-fuel companies and that this database will bring transparency. … You shouldn’t be funding the person who is poisoning you.”
Roberts agrees. “It would make a big difference if all of these institutions cut all ties with fossil fuel lobbyists,” he told the Guardian. “It would be taking one more step to removing the social license from an industry that’s making the planet uninhabitable.”
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