Later today, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on an unprecedented $2 trillion bipartisan stimulus package designed to prop up a creaking American economy, which has been brought to a juddering halt by the coronavirus crisis.
The bailout agreement was agreed to in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday after many late nights of work. After it was reached, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters: “This is a very important bipartisan piece of legislation that is going to be very important to help American workers, American business and people across America. We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) also spoke after the breakthrough was announced. McConnell said: “At last, we have a deal. After days of intense discussions, the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a historic relief package for this pandemic. In effect, this is a wartime level of investment for our nation.”
In a letter to colleagues on Wednesday, Schumer outlined how the Democrats had been working hard over the last three days to revise a Republican draft. One of the significant wins was that they had “eliminated a $3 billion bailout for Big Oil.”
One way the Trump Administration and Republicans had been hoping to prop up the oil industry was by using federal money to buy oil without apparent buyers due to the massive global surplus, which has left storage facilities perilously low on capacity.
But despite Schumer’s bold pledge that the oil industry will get no bailouts, it seems that the Republicans have left a few sneaky back doors open for dirty energy companies to be paid. Earther reported yesterday that parts of the “bill could still allow fossil fuel companies to secure massive payouts,” and indeed, the bailout contains some massive gifts to Corporate America — and it’s safe to assume to oil and gas industry will be near the front of the line to get this government money.
It was well known that the Trump Administration was looking to help bail out America’s shale industry, because officials were said to be “alarmed at the prospect that numerous shale companies, many of them deep in debt, could be driven out of business if the downturn in oil prices turns into a prolonged crisis for the industry.”
CNBC reported Thursday that the Department of Energy is “still hoping for some kind of deal” for the oil and gas companies, despite the lack of direct aid specified in the most recent stimulus bill. A spokesperson said: “Small- to medium-size American energy companies and their employees should be provided the same relief being provided to other parts of our economy, and the Secretary calls on Congress to work with the Administration to fund the President’s request as soon as possible.”
And this might well happen. As Dharna Noor reports in Earther: “Buried in the 900-page bill is a provision that would establish a $4.5 trillion corporate bailout fund, which will be overseen by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin with very little oversight. Sure, a five-member oversight panel with appointees by House and Senate leaders will report to Congress every 30 days, but crucially, it won’t have the power to veto Mnuchin’s decisions.”
“There’s not really anything stopping the oil industry from getting massive payouts,” Collin Rees, a Senior Campaigner with OCI, told Earther. “The guardrails are pretty weak.”
Rees added: “The fox has been left entirely in charge of the henhouse. And there’s virtually no mechanism to stop the fossil fuel industry from elbowing its way to the front of the line.”
Given the magnitude of the climate crisis and its strong potential to continue to throw the world into deadly crises, others agree that the bailout should not be going to Big Oil. Food & Water Action Policy Director, Mitch Jones, said: “Oil and gas companies should be blocked from any loan programs that are designed to assist companies hard-hit by this crisis.”
“These dirty energy corporations amassed staggering amounts of debt for the past decade; it is not the responsibility of the government to bail out CEOs for their disastrous business decisions. Our first priority should be rescuing workers and their families, not corporations,” continued Jones.
Disappointingly, the bailout has also done next to nothing to usher in what many environmentalists have been calling for — a Green New Deal.
Earlier this week, leading policy experts, civil society groups (including Oil Change U.S.), and academics signed onto what they called a “Green Stimulus” plan that called for “at least $2 trillion that creates millions of family-sustaining green jobs, lifts standards of living, accelerates a just transition off fossil fuels, ensures a controlling stake for the public in all private sector bailout plans, and helps make our society and economy stronger and more resilient in the face of pandemic, recession, and climate emergency in the years ahead.”
They argued that, “This is a pivotal moment to put tens of millions of Americans back to work, building a healthy, clean, and just future.”
But Trump and the Republicans — always beholden to the oil industry — were never going to sign onto something so sensible.
As Trump said in his usual nonsensical and illiterate way: “All of a sudden, they start throwing all of the little green new deal stuff in, right? In the board rooms, what they look like, and we want green energy, we want all this stuff, let’s stop drilling oil,” said Trump.
He continued: “They had things in there that were terrible. Windmills all over the place and all sorts of credits for windmills to kill the birds and ruin the real estate, right? A lot of problems. I mean, a lot of problems. And I said I’m not signing this deal.”
Moreover yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued what was reported by The Hill as “a sweeping suspension” of its enforcement of environmental laws due to the coronavirus outbreak, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards for “the foreseeable future.”
Once again, Trump and the Republicans have failed the American people. The current crisis could have been a perfect opportunity to usher in a radical green renewal to help people and the economy heal and to really kickstart a just transition away from dirty fuels. Instead, U.S. leaders have failed America in its hour of need in this most recent stimulus bill. One can only hope for more success in future stimulus bills, which will surely be needed as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.