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One city is incredibly entangled in lobbyists' 'extreme embrace': 'Instead of being the villains ... suddenly they're heroes'

"For these lobbying firms, representing prestigious clients in the arts, education and philanthropy does wonders for their image."

“For these lobbying firms, representing prestigious clients in the arts, education and philanthropy does wonders for their image.”

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A recent study showed that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the United States city most engaged in an "extreme embrace" of dirty energy lobbyists. Everything in Pittsburgh, from its cultural institutions to its schools to the transportation sector, employs lobbying firms that are simultaneously working to destroy our planet in service of corporate profits.

What is happening?

People are increasingly coming to understand that in order to ensure the health and safety of our planet for generations to come, we must stop relying on heavily polluting dirty energy sources like gas and oil and turn instead to clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar. 

One group that disagrees with that, however, is the dirty energy industry, which wants our society to remain reliant on its products so that its executives and shareholders can continue to make as much money as possible. 

To that end, the industry employs lobbyists whose job it is to undermine efforts to transition to green energy, prevent legislation that will hold polluters accountable, and obfuscate the truth about the safety of oil and gas.

According to research from F Minus, a database of state-level lobbying disclosures, and LittleSis, a research database project created by the nonprofit corporate and government accountability watchdog Public Accountability Initiative, Pittsburgh is more overrun with these lobbyists than any other U.S. city. 

Lobbyists who represent ExxonMobil and many other dirty energy companies are also employed by the school district of Pittsburgh, the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, the Carnegie Institute, the Frick Art and Historical Center, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Even the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a conservation group, and the Pittsburgh Foundation, which funds climate advocacy, employ these lobbyists. This may seem like a conflict of interests, and it is, but it is the exact conflict of interests that dirty energy companies and their lobbyists aim for, as it gives them the opportunity to undermine the clean energy movement from the inside.

Why is this concerning?

"For these lobbying firms, representing prestigious clients in the arts, education and philanthropy does wonders for their image," James Browning, executive director of F Minus, told the Guardian. "Instead of being the villains on climate, suddenly they're heroes for children, for local conservation efforts, and for all kinds of good causes even though they're also working for fossil fuel companies."

What is being done about it?

There is a very easy solution to the problem of organizations that should, in theory, care about our planet employing lobbyists for companies that do immense environmental harm: Those organizations should simply stop employing those lobbyists.

Organizations like F Minus and LittleSis are calling on Pittsburgh's institutions, as well as those in all cities, to cut ties with the dirty energy industry.

"The data is clear: our institutions, educational pillars and beacons of culture continue to engage with lobbyists intertwined with the fossil fuel industry," Jasmine Banks, executive director of UnKoch My Campus, told the Guardian. In order to forge a "path towards a sustainable future," she said, our institutions must be "unclouded by conflicting interests."

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