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The power of money is on oil industry’s side

There’s nothing quite like money for getting otherwise sane people to do and say outlandish things.

Case in point: Last week, I attended an Oil and Gas Community Advocates Training Program hosted here in Durango by our very own Chamber of Commerce.

(Brief aside: Dear Chamber: Curious if you’ve mailed out a save-the-date card for your Renewable Energy Community Advocates Training Program yet. I’ll need plenty of time to pick out my outfit, so please don’t delay.)

An otherwise highly intelligent man from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce commenced to describe environmental “activists” as motivated by money. In his words, their organizations are large with big budgets and professional staff. They need to “feed the beast,” hence the constant attack on virtuous, job-multiplying, national-security protecting oil and gas companies.

If you didn’t catch the absurd part of that sentiment, let me clarify.

If we’re going to ascribe financial motivations to one party or the other in an increasingly contentious national debate over the role of polluting fossil fuels, let’s talk numbers.

$315,800,000. That number represents the 2012 expenditures of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Environmental Defense Fund and the League of Conservation Voters.

Wow. What a big number.

$118,100,000,000. That number represents the 2012 profits of the top five oil and gas companies: ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips.

What’s a lot bigger than “wow”? That number is terrifying.

Before we get to the terror – just how much bigger is $118 billion than $315 million?

In 2012, the oil and gas industry took home as profit $225,000 every minute.

Every single minute.

In less than one day of operation, the profits of just five oil and gas companies surpass the entire operating budgets of the five heavy hitting enviros listed above.

If there’s a beast to be fed, it sure isn’t dining vegan. Heck, comparing budgets, I’d describe the enviro community mascot as a geriatric, incontinent Chihuahua named Sparkles.

On to the terror.

How does the oil and gas industry use its quarter-of-a-million per minute profits?

In 2012, the industry spent $140.5 million on lobbyists and poured another $73.7 million into political contributions (90 percent to Republicans if you were wondering).

Just what do you think those lobbyists and politicians are doing with all that money? Working to strengthen protections for oil and gas field workers and protect the often fragile environments in which they drill?

While folks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may say yes to that rhetorical question with a straight face, anyone not born yesterday knows the game. With more than $100 billion in profits on the table, oil and gas fights for more oil and gas at any cost. Why at any cost? Because they’re the one industry that can surely afford to pay it.

The environmental and social justice advocates I know – like members of San Juan Citizens Alliance – work to protect the health of their communities and the natural environments that sustain them. To ascribe a financial motivation to this work, work that is far from lucrative, is dishonest at worst, laughable at best.

danolson@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

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