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Politics

Big Oil’s Big Spending on U.S. Elections

On campaign finance, offshore nuclear reactors, and research satellites.

Big Oil’s Big Spending on U.S. Elections
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a disaster declaration across 88 counties as flooding there continues • 48 people have died in China after record rainfall caused a landslide that swept away part of a highway • Louisville is forecast to see a brief dry spell during the Kentucky Derby, but rain ahead of the race could still leave the track muddy.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Oil and gas cash covering Trump’s legal fees

Individuals who’ve gotten wealthy from the oil and gas industry funneled more than $6.4 million into Donald Trump’s joint fundraising committee, the Trump 47 Committee, in the first three months of 2024, nearly equaling the $6.9 million the industry contributed during all of 2023, Heatmap’s Jeva Lange reported. Some of that money has gone toward covering the former president’s legal fees, via a political action committee that has mainly been used for legal spending and has paid 70 different lawyers and law firms. The committee has prioritized directing the funds toward the PAC ahead of the Republican National Committee (though these donations are still subject to the $5,000 annual individual contribution limit).

Fossil fuel interests “have made it super clear that they are willing to help pay Trump’s legal defense to help keep him out of jail,” Alex Witt, senior advisor on oil and gas for the strategic communications group Climate Power, told Lange.

2. Other Republican candidates rake in oil and gas funds

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is also pouring money into other federal campaigns, Capital & Main reported. The candidate who has received the most oil and gas money so far this election cycle is August Pfluger, a Republican from Texas, who represents the 11th congressional district in the central part of the state. Pfluger is not in a tight reelection race but has been a consistent ally of the industry, including by challenging the Biden administration’s suspension of new liquefied natural gas export licenses. So far this election cycle, oil and gas interests have contributed seven times more money to Republicans and conservatives than to Democrats and liberals, campaign finance data from Open Secrets shows. The renewable energy sector has contributed nearly twice as much to Democrats as to Republicans over the same period.

Capital & Main asked the American Petroleum Institute, a major political contributor, why it favored GOP candidates. Scott Lauermann, an API spokesperson, responded: “API supports leaders from both parties who align with our policy priorities and recognize the importance of the U.S. natural gas and oil in supporting millions of American jobs, meeting demand for affordable and reliable energy, and reducing emissions through cleaner fuels.”

Pfluger in the U.S. Capitol. Pfluger in the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

3. Treasury releases final EV tax credit eligibility

The Treasury Department and the Department of Energy finalized rules that determine which EVs are eligible for the $7,500 consumer tax credit and $4,000 used vehicle tax credit on Friday. More specifically, the rules govern what percentage of battery components and critical minerals have to be sourced from the U.S. or our trade allies, how to determine whether those components were made by a “foreign entity of concern,” and how manufacturers must document their sourcing to the government. The administration made only minor adjustments to the initial guidance released last year, such as a requirement to conduct more detailed critical mineral supply chain tracing beginning in 2027.

This is important news for automakers, who will have a more complete picture moving forward of the investments they’ll need to make in new supply chains and domestic manufacturing to ensure their vehicles qualify. For consumers, though, it won’t change much. The administration isn’t anticipating any immediate changes in the number of eligible vehicles, and buyers will still be able to claim the tax credit as a rebate off the listing price at the dealership, a program that started at the beginning of this year.

4. U.S. concerned about Chinese offshore nuclear

China is taking steps toward putting floating nuclear reactors in the South China Sea, the Washington Postreported. Chinese state media has said that the reactors would power military facilities there, according to U.S. officials, and though the reactors are likely still several years away from being built, the plan is ringing alarm bells. “Our concern is that the closer they get to deploying floating nuclear power plants, the faster they’ll use them for purposes contrary to the national security of the United States and broader security in the region,” an unnamed senior State Department official told the Post.

Many countries are working on floating reactor designs, but most such projects are still in development. International standards have not been established for the reactors’ construction or safe operation.

5. U.S. oil and gas heavyweight accused of OPEC collusion

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday approved oil giant Exxon Mobil’s acquisition of Permian Basin extraction company Pioneer Natural Resources — but only if the latter company’s founder and CEO, Scott Sheffield, refrained from taking a seat on the board. In doing so, the FTC accused Sheffield of colluding with OPEC, the organization that sets output levels for many of the world’s biggest oil producers. The goal of his cooperation, the agency said, was to “reduce output of oil and gas, which would result in Americans paying higher prices at the pump, to inflate profits for his company.” Pioneer issued a statement saying it was surprised by the FTC’s claim and disagreed with its contention, but that it would not take any steps to prevent the merger from closing.

THE KICKER

The first of two NASA satellites that will study the relationship between Earth’s poles and climate change could launch as soon as May 22, according to Space.com. Each roughly the size of a shoebox and equipped with a temperature sensor, the satellites that make up the PREFIRE mission — that’s Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment — will measure the amount of thermal energy that escapes via the poles.

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Nicole Pollack profile image

Nicole Pollack

Nicole Pollack is a freelance environmental journalist who writes about energy, agriculture, and climate change. She is based in Northeast Ohio.

Emily Pontecorvo profile image

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

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