The endangered greater sage grouse could be affected by oil and gas exploration in Utah.

Fossil Fuel Donations Are Killing Our Democracy, Endangered Species

Dirty money in politics is buying the rights to our natural heritage

Just six weeks into Donald Trump’s administration, the Republican-controlled Congress has not enacted campaign promises of tax reform or the repeal of Obamacare. Rather, it started the rapid dismantling of critical environmental protections — and invited corporate polluters to run the very agencies tasked with protecting our natural resources.

The fossil fuel industry is one of the largest and most Republican-leaning campaign funders in the United States. Oil and gas companies, electric utilities and mining interests contributed more than $80 million to Republicans during the 2016 election cycle and spent at least $250 million on lobbying efforts last year.

These campaign contributions have long produced rewards for the fossil fuel industry, with every $1 in election spending and lobbying yielding a massive $119 in taxpayer-funded subsidies from federal and state governments, according to an analysis by Oil Change International.

But what we’re seeing now is more radical and disturbing than any administration we have witnessed. The 115th Congress and the Trump administration are actively trying to break apart bedrock protections for clean air, land, water and endangered species — all to benefit their industry benefactors. They aren’t even trying to hide it.

Take, for example, Congress’ recent rollback of the Stream Protection Rule under the Congressional Review Act. Enacted by the Obama administration, the rule prevented coal companies from dumping waste generated through surface mining into streams and rivers. Now, with its repeal, water quality, public health and endangered species are threatened.

In Appalachia, mountaintop removal mining has already destroyed 2,000 miles of streams. In the semi-arid West, coal mining consumes scarce water resources that farmers and ranchers depend on. And in Alaska, vital salmon streams are often located close to coal deposits. Repealing the Stream Protection Rule further endangered all of these places.

Then there are the 14 bills already introduced in the first month of the 115th Congress that target imperiled wildlife at the behest of special interests.

One bill from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.), S. 375, would make it harder for citizens to ensure species are considered for protection in a timely fashion. The bill would effectively give Big Oil, Big Agriculture and other special interests a veto over ordinary citizens’ efforts to ensure species are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the timelines required by the Endangered Species Act.

This is more than just an attack on wildlife protections — it is an insidious assault on every American’s right to access the courts to hold our government agencies accountable.

Another bill, H.R. 527 from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would allow state governors to block any provisions in conservation plans to protect the greater sage grouse on federal lands if they don’t conform with generally weaker state conservation strategies.

Bishop has publicly stated he wants to “repeal the Endangered Species Act” and to transfer sage grouse management to his state — in no small part because the imperiled sage grouse lies in the way of oil and gas exploration on Utah state lands.

Perhaps the most extreme example of the influence of the oil and gas industry over the Trump administration is the confirmation of Rex Tillerson, former head of oil giant ExxonMobil, as secretary of state. Under Tillerson, our foreign policy is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil industry. Fossil fuel development will be pushed around the world, severely imperiling our climate future in the process.

And then there is Scott Pruitt, the new Environmental Protection Agency chief. During his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times to eliminate environmental protections. He sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance over the threatened protection of the lesser prairie chicken. Surprising no one, the oil and gas industry donated more than $300,000 to Pruitt’s attorney general campaigns.

It’s painfully clear that wealthy special interests are attacking a wide range of basic, sensible actions to protect our environment and wildlife — our natural heritage. That is no surprise given the level of corruption, greed and cronyism inherent in the Trump administration. But now more than ever, we must hold lawmakers accountable when they sacrifice environmental protections.

It’s time to act. We must call on Democrats in office to divest from oil and gas campaign contributions completely. We must call all of our representatives and raise our voices at their town halls. We must demand our Democratic lawmakers to propose sensible restrictions on money in politics and a democracy that works for the American public — not for industry interests.