February 25, 2024

Dozens of US charities, including ones prioritizing climate action, are employing lobbying firms who also work for fossil fuel companies, new data shows.

Pew Charitable Trusts work on environmental issues while sharing a lobbying firm with Chevron. New Venture Fund’s priorities include a “range of conservation, climate, and energy issues”, yet it employed lobbying firms representing oil and gas companies in six states since the beginning of 2022. And Ballmer Giving funds climate and Indigenous rights programs, yet represents a company building fossil fuel infrastructure on tribal land.

The data comes from a new report from F Minus, a lobbying watchdog and database project launched earlier this year.

“These foundations are helping lobbyists to greenwash their image,” said James Browning, executive director of F Minus.

Browning, a former lobbyist for Common Cause, identified 86 US foundations that shared lobbying firms with fossil fuel companies since the start of 2022, 19 of which list environmental issues as major grant-making priorities.

For Pew Charitable Trusts, for instance, a major focus is preserving marine environments from plastic and fossil fuel pollution. It acknowledges that oil and gas production are a threat to ocean health, and in 2020, it released a report with recommendations for reducing plastic pollution

But in 2022 and 2023, Pew employed a Colorado lobbying firm, Politicalworks, that also represents Chevron, which is one of the worlds’s biggest carbon emitters and whose subsidiary Chevron Phillips Chemical Company is one of the world’s top plastic producers. The company has a record of oil spills, and in August, it joined the state of Louisiana in suing the Biden administration for limiting oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Politicalworks might be Exhibit A in when it comes to American lobbying firms playing both sides of the climate crisis,” the report says.

Last year, Browning notes, the firm lobbied for Pew in support of a bill to create safe road crossings for wildlife amid climate-fueled habitat degradation. But it also opposed legislation to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of the Colorado Competitive Council, which the report refers to as a “fossil fuel front group”.

When reached for comment, Felisa Neuringer Klubes, communications director for Pew Charitable Trusts, said: “When the facts lead to policy recommendations, we occasionally work with consultants to disseminate our research and seek common ground with policymakers of both parties.” Politicalworks is just one of the Colorado organizations the group worked with to support wildlife migration corridors, she said.

In another example, the fiscal sponsorship non-profit New Venture Fund (NVF) spent over $183m on grants for environmental programs from 2017 to 2021, including for marine and terrestrial conservation, renewable energy buildout, sustainable agriculture and environmental justice abroad. But it also employed fossil fuel lobbying firms in six states since the start of 2022.

“All of those environmental issues it’s working on, whether it’s habitat restoration or renewable energy, are antithetical to the goals of the fossil fuel industry,” said Browning.

In one particularly “egregious” example, he found that though New Venture Fund provides resources to Earth Island Institute, which advocates for communities living near oilwells in California, it used a lobbying firm that also helped the Berry Corporation, an oil drilling company, fight a bill requiring the plugging of abandoned oilwells.

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An Earth Island spokesperson said the report does not “give enough detail about how things transpired” for them to offer a comment about New Venture Fund’s relationship with the lobbyist, but said “we encourage anyone operating in the climate space to adopt a conflict of interest policy that bars working with fossil fuel lobbyists.”

Lee Bodner, president of New Venture Fund, noted that his organization works on a “diverse array” of issues, including the climate crisis, education, health and criminal justice. Each project’s leader is “empowered to direct their own resources and strategies”, he said, but noted that none of the lobbyists named in the report work on NVF environmental projects.

“However, NVF does not have a formal policy barring projects from using the lobbyists they see fit to advance a cause, because it’s impossible to make progress in our democratic system if you only engage with people you agree with on 100% of the issues,” he said.

But using such lobbying firms still gives fossil fuel companies “social license” to continue polluting, despite scientific consensus that the world must phase out coal, oil, and gas to avert climate catastrophe, said Browning.

The report also calls attention to Ballmer Giving, which funds climate and Indigenous rights programs, but shares a Washington state lobbying firm with a company that has come under fire from Native activists for building a liquefied natural gas terminal on land controlled by the Puyallup people. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Foundation, which funds environmental justice organizations, employs a lobbying firm which also represents an arm of the Koch Industries network.

F Minus is now calling on foundations to “cut ties” with all lobbying firms that represent fossil fuels.

“Foundations need to vet their lobbyists and make sure they aren’t promoting fossil fuels or causing the climate problems that their own grantees are trying to solve,” Browning said.

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