With prices of oil futures contracts dropping deep into negative territory on Monday, environmental advocates are calling for the industry to be wound down to facilitate a transition away from fossil fuels.
But some Democrats in Congress had a very different response. “Tomorrow, I will file bipartisan, bicameral legislation to appropriate funds to make a Strategic Petroleum Reserve oil purchase, and I urge my colleagues to take it up immediately,” Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) announced on Monday.
Fletcher’s bill is not yet public, but she has previously said she would back legislation authorizing the federal government to purchase $3 billion worth of oil for the strategic reserve. Earlier this month, Fletcher signed onto a letter calling for the oil purchasing funds to be included in the next coronavirus relief package. In March, she was the only Democrat to sign a letter from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) calling on the Interior Department to provide temporary royalty relief for oil and gas companies.
Fletcher, a first-term representative, has influence as the chair of the Science Subcommittee on Energy, a position she was elected to in January, and her support for financing oil purchases makes the measure bipartisan, giving it an important boost during the current session of Congress which is divided between Democratic and Republican control. Having prominent Democratic support for these measures could cost Demoratic leadership important leverage in negotiations with Republicans.
So far in the 2019-20 election cycle, Fletcher has received $126,917 from the oil and gas industry, the second highest amount among all House Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During her 2018 race, Fletcher took $80,381 from the industry.
One of her top donors so far this cycle, with $13,649 contributed, is Plains All American Pipeline, a large oil and gas pipeline company that she defended as an attorney prior to joining Congress. The law firm where Fletcher was a partner, Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing, lists multiple clients in the oil and gas industry on its website, including Total, Halliburton, Cheron, and Andarko.
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Oil and gas PACs donating to Fletcher so far this cycle include those affiliated with Phillips 66 ($10,000), ConocoPhillips ($6,000), ExxonMobil ($5,000), Chevron ($4,000), and dozens more.
“Rep. Fletcher and the other Democrats going to bat for the oil industry show why our leaders won’t get serious about confronting Big Oil and acting on climate until we kick fossil fuel money out of our politics,” Collin Rees, a campaigner for Oil Change International, told Sludge. “Giving oil companies a massive subsidy by filling the SPR isn’t a solution for working people and impacted communities—it’s a handout directly to a tiny number of fossil fuel executives.”
On Tuesday, President Trump said on Twitter that an oil and gas bailout was underway. “We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down,” said Trump. “I have instructed the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury to formulate a plan which will make funds available so that these very important companies and jobs will be secured long into the future!”
Earlier this month, Fletcher said she would be co-sponsoring a bicameral, bipartisan effort to authorize $3 billion for strategic reserve oil purchases. According to reports, that bill (which does not appear to have been introduced) was going to be co-sponsored by eight Republicans in the Senate and a mix of Republicans and Democrats in the House. One of Fletcher’s partners on that measure was said to be Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the Democrat with the most oil and gas backing so far this cycle. Also joining Fletcher on the measure was supposed to be Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn (Okla.).
Fletcher is a member of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, as well as the Oil and Gas Caucus and the Natural Gas Caucus, of which she is a co-chair.
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Cook Political Report considers Fletcher to be in a competitive, “lean Democrat” race for re-election against Republican opponent Wesley Hunt. The district, Texas’ Seventh, which covers parts of Houston, is home to many workers in the oil and gas industry. Rees told Sludge that these workers should be the ones benefiting from relief funds, not the oil company executives.
“Fossil fuel workers should absolutely be supported by COVID relief efforts, but lining the pockets of fossil fuel executives with a bailout for Big Oil and hoping some benefit will trickle down to workers is fanciful,” said Rees. “Congress should be focused on getting direct relief to the frontline workers and vulnerable communities who need it most, not propping up an industry hellbent on drilling us all towards climate chaos.”
Fletcher’s office did not respond to Sludge’s questions for this article.
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