Washington D.C. lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs announced last week that Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), the powerful Queens Democrat who was ousted by Democratic challenger Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), had joined the firm. Crowley is not allowed to formally lobby Congress for 11 more months under House ethics rules, but as an influential and connected D.C. figure there are still plenty of ways he can further the agendas of Squire Patton Boggs’ clients in the meantime.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, an influential D.C think tank, announced yesterday that Crowley will lead its new initiative on infrastructure funding with former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). The initiative “will focus on developing potential long-term solutions to fully fund America’s critical infrastructure programs, up to and including ending the federal government’s reliance on the gas tax,” according to a press release. As Crowley and Shuster work on proposals including ending the gas tax, they will be boosting the policy goals of a company that is both a client of Squire Patton Boggs and a donor to the Bipartisan Policy Center: Royal Dutch Shell.
Earlier this year, Shell Oil Company, a subsidiary of Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell, signed a letter praising a bill from former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) that would eliminate the federal gas tax and replace it with a tax on greenhouse gas emissions. According to an E&E News report from August 2018, Shell lobbied members of Congress in 2018, including the office of Rep. Curbelo, in support of taxing greenhouse gases.
In 2018, Shell paid Squire Patton Boggs subsidiary the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group $320,000 to lobby Congress and other government agencies on “issues related to carbon pricing proposals” and “general issues related to transportation and infrastructure development.” Shell has retained the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group since 2008, two years before the lobbying shop was acquired by Squire Patton Boggs. Shell has paid the Breaux-Lott Leadership Group and Squire Patton Boggs more than $3.7 million in lobbying fees since 2008.
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The Breaux-Lott Leadership Group was founded by former senator John Breaux (D-La.) and former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.)—the latter of whom, in addition to lobbying for Shell and others, is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a co-chair of its Energy Project
Shell is listed as a donor to the Bipartisan Policy Center in its 2017 annual report, the most recent available, along with other fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Koch Industries.
“The ability of corporations to launder their cynical political influence operations through think tanks is a significant and growing problem,” Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, told Sludge. “Think tanks should be required to disclose all financial connections to corporations which actively lobby, and between their paid employees, or fellows, and lobbying shops.”
Shuster received $729,072 in campaign contributions from PACs and individuals affiliated with the oil and gas industry over his congressional career. Last year, Shuster proposed an infrastructure funding plan that included repealing the federal gas tax in 2028.
The federal gas tax is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, but some states and federal lawmakers have been pushing to increase it to help fund infrastructure projects. The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year, and by increasing the amount consumers pay at the pump, it discourages driving and fuel consumption to some extent, limiting Shell’s sales of gasoline and other products at their approximately 14,000 Shell-branded gas stations across the country.
Oil and gas companies like Shell have come under pressure from consumers, shareholders, and policymakers to take action to address their role in causing climate change. In recent years, Royal Dutch Shell has increasingly embraced natural gas as an energy source, becoming the second largest natural gas producer in the world in 2016, after it acquired BG Group. Natural gas produces less carbon than other fossil fuels when burned—up to 50% less than coal and about 20-30% less than oil—so in the event that the federal gas tax is eliminated, Shell is still poised to have a competitive advantage in an energy market that taxes carbon.