Do new Democratic climate committee members get more from big oil or environmental interests?

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New proposed Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tasked with drafting legislation on climate change and environmental policies, received more money in total from oil and gas-related PACs than environmental PACs during the 2018 election cycle.

In total, the eight members received $61,000 from PACs of oil and gas companies and a combined $35,308 from environmentally-focused PACs, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Most of the oil industry PAC contributions go to Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), who took $40,500 and represents an oil-centric district. He took $1,000 from environmental PACs.

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. When including individual contributions of those affiliated with the two industries, the new group of members received $84,291 from the oil and gas industry and $120,200 from environmental interests. Veasey was the only member who had oil and gas among the top 10 industry donors.

The new group of committee members includes two members of the growing group of candidates that pledged to reject money from fossil fuel interests — Reps. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.)

Soto took no money from the oil and gas industry. Barragan’s top contributor was the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the biggest environmental outside group this cycle, but she did take money from Pacific Gas and Electric Company ($4,000) and General Electric ($2,000).

Most of the new committee members — all incumbents — were not top beneficiaries of the largest environmental action groups but did receive some money. Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) is the leader in this area, taking $53,165 from the industry and $12,275 from environmental PACs while taking no money from oil and gas PACs.

LCV Vice President for Government Affairs Sara Chieffo said the environmental group is excited about the new Democratic additions, citing that all of them had a roughly 90 percent or higher score from LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard.

“The Energy & Commerce Committee is ready to hit the ground running and already planning its first two hearings on the urgent need to fight the climate crisis,” Chieffo said. “The contrast between this new majority and last year’s polluter-driven committee leadership could not be more stark.”

Still, committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) drew controversy from climate activists when he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he disagreed with the idea of banning contributions from the fossil fuel industry to members of the committee.

“Where do you draw the line?” Pallone said. “Does that mean that somebody who works for the utility can’t contribute to me?”

Pallone, formerly the committee’s ranking member under GOP leadership, was chosen as chairman in December. He took $30,900 from the oil and gas industry and $1,000 from an environmental group.

The numbers come with caveats. There are significantly more oil-related companies than environmental groups, and they dole out much more cash. Oil and gas PACs gave nearly $14 million in 2018, compared to just $1.4 million for environmental PACs. However, it’s also worth mentioning that the oil and gas industry doesn’t give much to Democrats (13 percent of the industry’s contributions in 2018), whereas environmental groups very much do (96 percent).

The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee chose its eight new members on Wednesday, but the picks still require caucus approval, Bloomberg reported. Most of the committee’s members are safe incumbents, members who tend to receive a majority of their funds from PACs and very little cash from individual donors who are focused on contested races.

Pallone, for example, received $1.88 million from PACs and just $30,802 from small individual contributions. New committee member Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) got more than 65 percent of her campaign money from PACs, totaling $655,297.

The powerful committee oversees a large number of agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pallone has promised the committee will look into the Green New Deal, a sweeping economic and climate reform platform accepted by a growing number of Democrats, though he said some of its ideas might not be feasible.

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