Revolving door provides window onto Big Oil’s dirty secret

October 27, 2021

Fossil fuel companies are using their privileged access to EU lawmakers to lobby against the decarbonisation of transport.

Six oil companies and their lobby groups stand accused of dirty tactics designed to slow down, or even block, climate action and the move to a zero-emission transport fleet in the EU. Shell, BP, Repsol and Eni are among the companies caught red handed in 72 revolving door cases.

No one should be surprised that oil and gas majors are hiring former lawmakers and public servants with the express intention of influencing the political process in favour of their own, fossil fuel interests. These are businesses that have used every dirty trick in the book to prop up their profits. But we should be alarmed that the systemic capture of our political system by vested interests is a major obstacle to tackling the climate crisis.

Over the coming months, Transport & Environment will be taking a deeper look at Big Oil’s ‘dirty’ tactics to continue business as usual, publicly declaring their green credentials while working to pump out more polluting oil to fuel our cars. We will also expose how they greenwash and promote false solutions, in order to carve out a space for themselves in a decarbonised future. This first article, which is based on research compiled by Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe and Food & Water Action Europe, takes a closer look at the revolving door phenomenon.

Revolving doors are when public servants and elected representatives start working for fossil fuel companies, or when fossil fuel company operatives move to the public sphere. The problem here is that if a former oil company director starts working for a political party or as a public servant at an EU-level,  how can we trust that Big Oil is not influencing the outcomes of their political decisions? Revolving door rules are inadequate and regulators turn a blind eye to possible conflicts of interest whereby Big Oil benefits from the know-how and contacts book of insiders.

Lobbying is an important part of the democratic process. It allows lawmakers to hear the views of a broad range of constituencies, but when one industry uses its power and resources to gain undue influence, it can corrupt democratic processes and result in bad laws. Revolving door is one way of gaining undue influence for a specific set of interests that care more for their profits than for people and the planet.

The number of cases is shocking. Since 2015, the year of COP21, TotalEnergies had 15 revolving door cases, 31 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives and spent close to €13 million lobbying the EU.  ENI had 10  revolving door cases; 48 meetings with the EU Commission’s  representatives and spent close to €7 million lobbying the EU. Shell had 10 revolving door cases, 85 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives, and a budget of close to €28 million for lobbying the EU; and BP was linked to 5 revolving door cases, had 47 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives, and allocated close to €18 million for lobbying the EU.

In one revolving-door case, a long-serving diplomat was seconded from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Shell in 2012, as its Government Relations advisor. After this secondment, he was hired as a senior project advisor on Government relations and is now leading  advocacy for Shell’s hydrogen business and is a prominent member of Hydrogen Europe, Eurogas, IOGP and others. This makes you wonder how much this has influenced the Dutch Government’s approach to blue hydrogen and natural gas as alternative fuels for the transport sector.

In another case, a former Dutch minister who is now a Total board member, seemed sure of his company’s influence when he claimed at a webinar co-organised by oil and gas company Petronas: “There is no doubt the world is heading towards net zero 2050, and fossils will be part of that.”

For decades Big Oil has lobbied against effective climate action at national, EU, and international levels, blocking or derailing policies aimed at reducing emissions and moving towards a decarbonised transport sector. Through their dirty lobbying tactics, which includes privileged access, huge lobby spending, and revolving doors,  Big Oil has maintained its power and can influence key political decisions at an EU and national levels, especially linked to the transport sector and action on climate change.

Big Oil has merely pledged ‘net zero’ climate plans,  to conveniently continue  business-as-usual, and  promote false solutions which involve a variety of risky technologies and deeply flawed schemes, from biofuels and natural gas, to hydrogen with carbon capture and storage (CCS), so-called blue hydrogen. This smokescreen allows for continued emissions, and, deployed at scale, will have significant negative social and environmental impacts. As late as last week, a report showed that Total knew – for 50 years –  that their core business would cause catastrophic climate change. They covered up the truth, funded misinformation, and lied to their shareholders and the public.

It derails climate action where it’s most needed, to replace dirty fuels for our cars, trucks, planes, and ships, and to move to a zero emissions transport fleet.  The sad truth is that the majority of political institutions embrace the false solutions promoted by Big Oil. This needs to change. We need a functioning firewall between public officials and those companies responsible for driving climate change.

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