January 18, 2021

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Fossil Fuel Companies Are No Friend to Democracy

2 min read

As Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money revealed, Fred Koch built his family’s fossil fuel empire in part by furnishing the Nazis with an oil refinery that proved a “key component of the Nazi war machine,” which he praised. During the Spanish Civil War, Torkild Rieber, the head of Texaco—also now Chevron—was critical to the success of General Francisco Franco’s military revolt against that country’s elected government. Rieber provided not just the oil that fueled Nationalist fighter jets but also generous financial support and lines of credit. “He always thought it was much better to deal with autocrats than democracies,” a friend of Rieber’s, quoted by author Adam Hochschild, recounted. “He said with an autocrat you really only have to bribe him once. With democracies you have to keep doing it over and over.”

Fossil fuel companies, it’s fair to say, have had no trouble working with undemocratic regimes. It’s not that their executives are inherently fond of autocrats, though that’s certainly true for some. They just want a stable business climate. If suppressing democratic majorities offers a route toward that, then they’ll gladly abide. 

With Trump on his way out of office and a Democratic Congress and White House on their way in, the world’s biggest polluters have every incentive to come out against either Trump or more militant elements within the GOP. Furrowed brows look good right now, as companies prepare to deal with more Democrats over the next few years. When the moment passes, it’s hard to imagine they won’t continue showering Republicans and Democrats alike with campaign donations. The American Petroleum Institute—a trade lobby for the oil and gas industry, representing larger producers—is already charting this ambivalent course, telling Politico that it will not suspend campaign contributions but will nobly “include among its giving criteria whether a lawmaker decided to protest the results of a legitimate election.” Bold stuff. 

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