On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats -- signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).
It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the "Father of Deregulation," Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process -- sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers -- is in the best economic interests of the United States.
A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.
Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.
Exhibit A: Human Geography of Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United
Energy issues are almost always questions of infrastructure, geography, and geopolitics. So, too, is the case of LNG exports, with this letter serving as Exhibit A of the new human geography of campaign finance in the post-Citizens United world.
The expression always seems to ring true: everything is bigger in Texas.
This letter is no different, as 19 of the 110 signatories represent congressional districts in The Lone Star State, 12 Republicans and seven Democrats. Texas is home to both the Eagle Ford Shale basin and the Barnett Shale basin, as well as prospective LNG export terminals in Sabine Pass (co-owned by ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum), Freeport (partially owned by ConocoPhillips) and Corpus Christi (owned by LNG export giant, Cheniere).
The "Texas 19" alone raked in $2.5 million from Big Oil and electric utilities.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX8), a recipient of $166,000 from Big Oil and another $23,000 from the electric utilities industry, oversees a congressional district in part based in Houston, the corporate epicenter for the oil and gas industry and home to the innovative leader in the sphere of LNG exports, Cheniere Energy. ExxonMobil and Chesapeake Energy, the number one and two producers of unconventional gas in the U.S., each gave Brady $10,000 before his 2012 electoral victory. Anadarko, Marathon and Valero also followed suit with $10,000 contributions and ConocoPhillips chipped in an extra $7,500.
Brady's Texas colleague Joe Barton (R-TX6), whose congressional district in large part overlaps the Barnett Shale basin, took $162,150 from Big Oil and another $124,950 from the electric utilities industry. He received $13,000 from utilities giant Exelon Corporation, $12,500 from ExxonMobil, $10,000 from Koch Industries, $7,000 from Chevron and $5,000 from Chesapeake Energy. Koch Industries' Koch Pipeline runs from the Eagle Ford Shale basin to Corpus Christi.
The Dirty, Dirty South
Southern politics are dirty -- both literally and figuratively speaking.
Look no further than to Rep. Charles Boustany's (R-LA3) campaign coffers -- which took in $240,300 from Big Oil and $44,500 from the electric utilities industry -- for prima facie evidence of this. Boustany raised $10,000 from Chesapeake Energy, $11,000 from GE, $12,000 from AGL Resources and $12,500 from Dore Energy. Dore was the anonymous $1 million donor to Republican Rick Santorum's presidential primary run in early 2012.
Georgia is another key spoke in the wheel of the gas industry's plan to export its U.S. shale gas prize, with the Elba Island LNG export terminal located on the coast of the Peach State in Savannah, Ga. Yesterday, the owner of the LNG terminal, El Paso Pipeline Partners (itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, a corporation founded by a former Enron executive, Richard Kinder), signed a joint venture agreement with Shell Oil Company, which now owns 49 percent of the entity as a result of the deal.
Three Georgia representatives put their names on the letter.
Dancing the Marcellus Swing
No exposé of the influence of Big Oil would be complete without looking into the famed Marcellus Shale, a geological basin predominantly located in New York and Pennsylvnia, which also touches parts of Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Twenty-nine politicians representing districts in these states signed onto the letter in support of expedited LNG exports. This cadre of 26 Republicans and three Democrats was showered with $2,457,872 in contributions from Big Oil and the electric utilities industry prior to the 2012 election, with $1,319,181 of it coming from the oil and gas industry and the other $1,138,691 of it coming from the electric utilities industry.
A case in point is Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY23), whose congressional district is situated in the heart of what could be the future epicenter of fracking in upstate New York. Reed received $109,021 from the oil and gas industry and another $46,741 from the electric utilities industry. On top of $10,500 from Chesapeake Energy, Reed accepted another $10,000 in campaign contributions from National Fuel Gas Corporation, $9,500 from utilities heavyweight Exelon Corporation, and $7,800 from ConocoPhillips.
Maryland Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD1) -- who received $10,000 each from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries prior to his 2012 electoral victory -- also signed onto the letter. His congressional district sits on the Atlantic coast in Maryland, where Dominion Resources is planning to export shale gas obtained from the Marcellus Shale at its Lusby, Md., Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal.
The Western Frontier
The oil, gas and electric utilities industries' clout can also be seen out west, with 18 congressional members from western states signing onto the letter.
Six of them represent California, a state that could soon see a fracking boom in the Monterey Shale basin, which is predicted to "trigger a 21st century 'gold rush,'" according to a recent report by Energy and Environment News. These six California representatives alone accepted $246,242 in campaign contributions from the oil, gas and electric utilities industries during the 2011-12 electoral season.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO4) received $192,800 in campaign finance from the oil and gas industry and another $68,500 from the electric utilities industry prior to the 2012 election. $10,000 from each of these corporations entered Gardner's war chest: FirstEnergy, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Chesapeake Energy.
In the northwest, co-signer Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR2) received $79,400 from Big Oil and $133,320 from the electric utilities sector, with $12,500 of it coming from Koch Industries, $10,000 of it coming from Valero and another $9,000 from electric utilities company Exelon, all according to OpenSecrets.org.
There is a ferocious battle over the future of natural gas pipelines and two LNG export terminals in Oregon: Oregon LNG and Jordan Cove LNG. It's clear from following the money trail and reading this letter which side of the battle Rep. Walden represents.
The Wild, Wild Midwest and the Heartland
Most political observers think of the Midwest and the Heartland region as the home of big agribusiness, not Big Oil.
In the age of the domestic unconventional oil and gas boom, it's now the home of both. Ten representatives from the region signed onto the letter and 21 if Ohio (lumped in earlier with the Marcellus Shale) is included in the fold. When the Heartland region is included, the number jumps up to 31.
Upton's 2012 electoral campaign season was bankrolled to the tune of $210,800 by Big Oil, with an accompanying $279,500 from the electric utilities industry. On top of the $24,600 and $20,000 he obtained from electric utilities giants Entergy and DTE Energy, respectively, OpenSecrets.org shows that $17,500 also flowed his way from Chesapeake Energy, $11,500 from Chevron, and $10,000 each from GE, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Marathon Petroleum.
No discussion on the corrupting influence of money in politics is complete without mentioning Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KA4), recipient of an astounding $299,800 from the oil and gas industry and another $47,000 from the electric utilities industry prior to his 2012 electoral victory. $110,000 of that money came from Koch Industries alone, perhaps unsurprising given the fact that Pompeo's congressional district extends into the Wichita, Kan., corporate headquarters of the industrial giant now infamous for its bankrolling of the climate change denial machine.
Another $10,000 to Pompeo came from Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett's lucrative holding company that owns Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF), a key freight rail mover of oil, gas, pipe, frac sand, and other extractive industry equipment, while ExxonMobil also gave a generous donation of $8,500.
Congress for Sale on LNG Exports
It's one thing to say it, quite another to depict it, but the inescapable conclusion is that Congress is for sale on the issue of LNG exports, bought off by Big Oil and the electric utilities industry.
They're "representatives," sure. But who do they represent?