Tlaib: Using coronavirus aid to bail out fossil fuel industry is ‘irresponsible’ 

By: - June 3, 2020 2:05 pm

Coal is loaded onto a truck at a mine on August 26, 2019 near Cumberland, Kentucky. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

A Michigan lawmaker and several of her Democratic colleagues do not want fossil fuel companies to be bailed out in future COVID-19 relief legislation, arguing this would divert critical funding for citizens.

President Trump previously said large oil and gas companies — who have stared down negative price points as low as -$37 a barrel and are seeing low sales due to stay-home orders — should receive such bailouts. But Democrats have urged his administration and their congressional colleagues not to allocate COVID-19 relief dollars to energy corporations. 

Rashida Tlaib | Andrew Roth

In early May, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) signed off on a letter that asked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to refuse attempts at granting immunity to fossil fuel companies through future COVID-19 relief legislation. U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) also signed the letter.  

“For us, it’s a huge public health crisis,” Tlaib told the Advance. 

Tlaib also joined Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and more than 40 colleagues to send a bipartisan letter to Jerome Powell — chairman of the Federal Reserve Board — and wrote they would “fiercely resist” a federal expansion of the Main Street Lending Program to include oil, coal and gas companies. 

Trump-linked fuel firms already received millions from a chunk of CARES Act funding intended for small businesses, the Guardian reported. In another instance, a provision in the stimulus law allowed a bankrupting drilling company to claim a $9.7 million tax refund, then asked a bankruptcy judge to match that amount to distribute as bonuses to executives, per a Bloomberg investigation

That same provision allowed 37 companies with ties to the oil industry to claim tax benefits, which total about $1.9 billion so far. 

“The expansion of the program under the Trump administration, to me, creates an immediate risk to taxpayers,” Tlaib said.

Tlaib represents Detroit, which has experienced several environmental injustice issues. In early 2020, policymakers called US Ecology’s expansion of a hazardous waste plant in southeast Detroit an example of environmental racism. Expanding the plant — a storage ground for toxic waste — would encroach on a large, densely-populated part of the urban area.

And the Motor City — which already contains Michigan’s most-polluted ZIP code and already reports high rates of asthma and respiratory issues — has taken the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the state.

Tlaib looks at these factors and finds it concerning that Congress might give forms of immunity to fossil fuel companies. It should be noted that burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the “greenhouse effect” – warming that occurs as the atmosphere traps heat around Earth. It is a significant cause of climate change, according to NASA.

“I’m very concerned about provisions in the CARES Act … that it might be used to shore up large corporate polluters and contribute to climate change,” Tlaib said. “These funds should be used to help residents and our local communities, not the oil and gas companies.”

Tlaib likened the efforts of her Republican colleagues pushing for energy corporation funding to a running match. 

“It’s almost like a marathon,” the congresswoman said. “‘Let’s save the airlines, let’s save the big corporations.’”

Republicans were quick to make provisions for energy companies with the $2.2 trillion March stimulus package, Tlaib said. Yet she said she perceived a lack of urgency on their part when it came to providing relief to cities and states facing bankruptcy because of COVID-19’s economic toll.

“There’s no real debate or anything from their end, but boy, when we were like, ‘Hey, we gotta help cities and townships and states; they’re going to go bankrupt if we don’t help them because of this crisis,’ they were complaining all of a sudden that we’re spending too much,” Tlaib said.

She added future corporate bailouts would be reckless. 

“I think it’s irresponsible on our part to come and bail out oil and gas companies yet again, especially because of what we’ve seen in the past with their opposition to us at least addressing comments and public health issues in our communities,” Tlaib said. 

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans in Congress accused Wall Street lenders of discriminating against contenders in the energy sector based on their environmental impacts. In May, three dozen lawmakers sent a letter to the president in defense of lending to oil, gas and coal companies, saying they create jobs for the U.S. workforce.

“Given these long-term, ongoing federal benefits that these financial institutions reap from the federal government, we find it illogical and unacceptable that they openly discriminate against the American energy sector,” they wrote.

Tlaib does not believe taxpayers who have lost jobs and health care as a result of the pandemic want oil executives to benefit at the moment. 

“People across the country who have lost their jobs and healthcare and are crying out for direct relief,” she said. “They don’t want the Federal Reserve banks to bail out executives and invest in the climate chaos right now.”

Tlaib also has been active in other environmental and energy issues. Late last month, she joined lawmakers in questioning Marathon Petroleum’s support of the Trump administration’s revocation of California’s ability to set its own emissions standards under the Obama-era Clean Air Act and dampening emissions standards on vehicles.

“From what we’ve seen is these corporations hoard this money,” Tlaib said. “It has nothing to do with stimulating our local economy, nothing to do with making sure their workers are still employed.”

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.