“You will like me so much,” President Donald Trump said to attendees at an energy industry conference last year. His claim has rung true thus far, as his administration has made several moves to benefit the industry and consequently reduced its spending on lobbying this year.
The oil and gas industry has spent over $36 million lobbying Congress so far this year, a massive figure that speaks to the fossil fuel industry’s weight in Washington. Among the top spenders so far have been ExxonMobil, Chevron and Koch Industries, which have spent well over $3 million dollars apiece.
While the industry’s spending on lobbying may be excessive, this year’s spending is actually on track to be the lowest in over a decade. Since 2008, oil lobby spending has topped $130 million every year, reaching a record high in 2009 of $174.8 million. With less than half of 2017 to go, the industry’s spending is not likely to breach $100 million, well below the average of the last several years.
Though the shift in spending may be shocking to some, it is likely a sign that the fossil fuel industry has been more than satisfied with the Trump administration’s stance on foreign and domestic energy issues, which has thus translated into less spending.
In addition, a Republican majority in both Houses is likely perceived as favorable by the industry due to that party’s tendency to back environmental deregulation. Oil lobby spending seems poised to return to spending levels not seen since the George W. Bush administration, which suggests that this is the case.
Like the Bush administration, the Trump administration shares plenty of deep ties to the oil and gas industry. Most notable is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former chief executive officer of ExxonMobil. Tillerson’s foreign policy decisions have, in some noteworthy cases, been heavily influenced by his time as one of the industry’s most powerful CEOs. Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt – heads of the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency, respectively – are also known for their close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was formerly the CEO of an oil and gas consulting firm.
Drain the swamp? Trump now has Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Big Oil interests, Foreign banks (Wilbur Ross)–all in his administration.
— Gwendolyn Mccarty (@Gwenjonc) July 21, 2017
In addition, Trump himself has ties to the oil and gas industry. Though he has divested since becoming president, Trump had between $500,000 and $1 million invested in Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, as well as $500,000 invested in Phillips 66, another major player in the U.S. domestic oil industry. As Bloomberg noted last December, big oil has gone from butting heads with the federal government “to running the show.”
However, it is worth mentioning that the Obama administration was not the nightmare for the fossil fuel industry that it was made out to be.
While Obama did not bow to every whim of the oil industry, he oversaw the approval of numerous oil pipelines as president, several of which directly crossed the indigenous lands of Native Americans. Obama – though disliked by the oil industry – was a godsend for natural gas companies, helping to expand the controversial practice of fracking throughout the country and even around the world.
Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was instrumental in exporting fracking abroad such as in turning Poland into a “laboratory for testing whether the U.S.’ success in developing shale gas can be repeated in a different country.”
Trump’s promise to be a dream come true for the oil industry should come as no surprise. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently touted the need to develop the domestic fossil fuel industry along with the need to end “unnecessary” government regulations that hamper production. Last September, Trump told attendees of the Shale Insight Conference “you will like me so much,” promising a “moratorium on new regulations not compelled by Congress or public safety.” He also promised that government approvals for new fossil fuel projects would “happen quickly. You’ll be amazed how quickly.”
The Trump administration has already done plenty to appease the oil and gas industry with less than a year in office. Between gutting environmental regulations, approving controversial pipelines and withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, many of the biggest items on the industry’s wish list have already come to fruition. It’s hard to imagine why the oil and gas industry would increase spending when they already have the president’s ear.
Feature photo | Flanked by former Exxon executive, now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting., June 12, 2017. Andrew Harnik | AP