New Effort Turns Up Heat on American Petroleum Institute (API) and its Member Companies, Executives, and Allies: Polluters.Exposed

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a new accountability effort released internal government emails showing the oil and gas industry helped orchestrate a scheme to use public schools as a Trojan horse to attack the Biden administration’s climate policies. Not only is the effort being carried out by groups closely tied to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the attacks also repeatedly parrot API messaging and rely on API data.

The documents were obtained by Accountable.US as part of  POLLUTERS EXPOSED, a new joint initiative launching today with the Climate Power Education Fund that seeks to hold the American Petroleum Institute (API), its member companies, executives, and allies accountable for decades of spreading misinformation as they pollute our communities and planet. The effort will include hard-hitting research, rapid response communications, and targeted digital and television advertising.

“Oil and gas executives love to talk about working with the Biden administration to address climate change, but these documents show behind closed doors they are actively working to undermine that very effort,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US. “Polluters Exposed will shine a light on Big Oil and show the American people how industry lines its pockets by spreading misinformation and corrupting policymakers.”

“They have zero shame. API and their allies should stop using our teachers and schools to halt progress on climate action.  Our children will pay the price for these lies,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power Education Fund. “The days of the American Petroleum Institute and its allies lying with impunity are over. Americans deserve the truth and we are going to give it to them.”

Top education officials in five states signed onto a self-described “unusual” letter to President Biden alleging his climate policies would end oil production on public lands and put school funding in danger. State Superintendents Jillian Balow (Wyoming), Kirsten Baesler (North Dakota), Elsie Arntzen (Montana), Michael Johnson (Alaska), and Sydnee Dickson (Utah) later published their letter as a newspaper op-ed.

Internal emails obtained through open records requests show the letter/op-ed was orchestrated by at least one state-based oil and gas industry association:

  • API Said Biden Leasing Hurts Schools: After Biden signed the temporary pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land, API’s CEO referred to the policy as a “ban” on a “lifeline to economies, governments, and schools.” Soon after, API claimed in a Facebook post that the pause put school funding “on the line.”
  • API-Linked Group Privately Pushed Superintendent: North Dakota Petroleum Council, a group that evolved from API and is supported by API members, sent Superintendent Baesler statistics showing “ND Losing $600 Million In Tax Revenue And $750 Million In Personal Income” over the next four years.
  • Superintendents Used API Data: The figures supplied to the Superintendent (and nearly ALL of the figures appearing in the letter/op-ed) come directly from an API report written before Biden was even elected.
  • API-Linked Group Thanked Superintendent: After the Superintendent op-ed was published, North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness emailed North Dakota’s Baesler writing, “Thank you, this is fantastic.” Ness received a 2019 API Achievement Award.

After President Biden signed the temporary pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land, API CEO Mark Sommers referred to the policy as a “ban” on a “lifeline to economies, governments, and schools.” Soon after, API claimed in a Facebook post that the pause put school funding “on the line.” The language was quickly adopted by others, including the Superintendents who authored the letter and op-ed critical of Biden’s leasing pause. 

Figures used throughout the Superintendent letter and op-ed rely on a pre-election study from API based on a hypothetical ban on oil and gas production on public lands — but there is no such ban. President Biden instituted a temporary pause on new public lands oil and gas leasing to make sure taxpayers were receiving a fair deal from industry. The Superintendents’ op-ed incorrectly states that Biden has taken steps to “ban oil and gas leases on federal land.”

Contrary to claims from industry and the Superintendents, the fact is new oil permitting and production — which accounts for the vast majority of state oil revenue — continues. The Biden administration’s leasing pause does not affect new permits, which the Bureau of Land Management continues to issue.

The vast majority of money schools receive from public lands comes from royalties on the production of oil and gas, which are not impacted by the new leasing pause. Even without new leases, industry is sitting on an enormous backlog of unused, existing lease that can be developed at any time, including unused leases covering nearly 14 million acres of public land.

Big Oil’s feigned worry about school budgets is hypocritical. Just last year, the industry supported the previous administration’s effort to slash royalty rates, costing states and schools untold millions during the height of a pandemic when they needed it most.

For all of the details and documentation, read the full report from POLLUTERS EXPOSED.

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