What can nearly $80,000 buy these days? Judging from recent campaign filings, it can buy a handful of oil friendly bills in Congress.

During the first quarter of 2011, ExxonMobil contributed $79,000 to members of the two main House committees that are driving the assault on President Obama’s clean energy policies. About 97 percent of ExxonMobil’s money went to Republicans, according to POLITICO.

ExxonMobil isn’t the only polluter spreading money around. One year after the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, BP wrote out checks totaling $29,000 to the campaigns of House Republican leaders.

Energy companies are getting a good return on their investment. Last month, Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced three bills that would:

  • Mandate drilling off the entire coast of the United States, including the Arctic, and eliminate in perpetuity the ability of U.S. presidents to decide not to drill in these areas.
  • Accelerate offshore permitting, making the regulatory process even weaker than it was before the BP disaster.
  • Compel the Obama Administration to hold lease sales in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia and block the courts from challenging the Environmental Impact Statements made by the companies vying for the leases.

It’s hard to understand why oil companies need a helping hand right now. ExxonMobil made nearly $11 billion in the first quarter. And drilling in the federal Outer Continental Shelf has increased by more than a third in the past two years.

According to data from the nonpartisan Energy Information Agency, even if we dramatically expanded offshore drilling, we wouldn’t see an impact on gas prices until 2030, and even that it would be a matter of just five cents.

These Hastings bills are not about the public good. Nor are they about responding to what voters want. A new poll conducted from NRDC Action Fund found that only 29 percent of respondents would vote for a candidate calling for more offshore drilling instead of one who supported cleaner ways of dealing with America’s oil addiction.

No, these bills are about expanding profit margins for the oil industry.

And unfortunately, they aren’t the only polluters getting into the act. A new website created by a coalition of environmental groups (including our sister organization, the NRDC) makes it easy to find out which lawmakers are voting on behalf of the polluters who helped finance them.

Coal companies, for instance, are also using the legislative process on behalf of their own self interest. Last week, the largest coal-burning utility in the nation shopped around a bill that would exempt utilities from a host of pollution rules; some lawmakers supporting the bill even acknowledged the bill was drafted by the company.

Meanwhile, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee drove through a bill that would undermine the Clean Air Act and prevent the EPA from reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Polls show that Upton’s constituents didn’t support this bill; they know it is bad for their health. But then again, less than 10 percent of Upton’s donations actually come from his constituents, while he has collected tens of thousands of dollars from out-of-state polluters like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy Corps. So I wonder whose bidding he is doing here.

Injecting money into the political system gets results. Until Congress passes a law to prevent these kinds of dirty quid pro quos, our only defense against deep-pocketed polluters is the coal opposition of citizens.

ExxonMobil seems to be spreading as much money around as possible to get its way in Congress these days, and so far it has no reason to be disappointed with the results

Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Heather Taylor-Miesle is the Director of the NRDC Action Fund. With more than 13 years of experience in federal politics as a public interest lobbyist, political consultant and on Capitol Hill, she has expertise in federal energy, environmental health, and appropriations issues. Prior to becoming director of the NRDC Action Fund, Ms. Taylor-Miesle was the associate legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the world’s premier environmental organizations. Prior to her position at the NRDC, Ms. Taylor-Miesle worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to now Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) and then as a senior staff member for current Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis (D-CA). Follow Heather and NRDC's Action Fund on Facebook(www.facebook.com/nrdcactionfund).

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