Pittsburgh in ‘extreme embrace’ with fossil fuel lobbyists, research finds | US news

Dozens of governmental, educational, cultural and environmental organizations across the city of Pittsburgh have hired lobbying firms who work with planet-heating fossil fuel companies, new research shows.

The Pennsylvania city has almost entirely divested its pension funds from fossil fuels and plans to dramatically cut its planet-heating pollution. Yet in 2023, it employed lobbyists who also worked for ExxonMobil and seven other fossil fuel companies.

Both the school district of Pittsburgh and the Port of Pittsburgh Commission this year hired a lobbying firm which also works for 16 fossil fuel firms, including one tied to the Koch brothers.

And Pittsburgh cultural institutions such as the research-focused Carnegie Institute, the Frick Art and Historical Center, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Symphony have also employed fossil fuel lobbyists, as have the conservation group Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Pittsburgh Foundation, which funds climate advocacy.

All told, Pittsburgh has engaged in a more “extreme embrace” of fossil fuel lobbyists than any other large US city, according to the new research from F Minus, a database of state-level lobbying disclosures released this year, and LittleSis, a research database project created by the non-profit corporate and government accountability watchdog Public Accountability Initiative.

“For these lobbying firms, representing prestigious clients in the arts, education and philanthropy does wonders for their image,” said James Browning, executive director of F Minus. “Instead of being the villains on climate, suddenly they’re heroes for children, for local conservation efforts, and for all kinds of good causes even though they’re also working for fossil fuel companies.”

Earlier this year F Minus published a database that showed that 1,500 lobbyists across the US work on behalf of fossil fuel companies while also representing hundreds of cities, universities, technology companies and environmental groups.

Fossil fuel ties run deep in Pittsburgh. Coal once formed the backbone of the region’s economy, and the city’s oil and gas sector is powerful, too.

Health issues linked to fossil fuel exposure are widespread. Allegheny county residents are among the top 1% nationwide for cancer risk, and the region has notoriously high rates of asthma and heart issues. And this month, researchers found that over the past decade, Pennsylvania oil and gas producers used millions of pounds of potentially dangerous chemicals across thousands of wells.

The area also faces climate-related threats, including increasingly frequent and severe heatwaves and floods. Employing fossil fuel lobbyists, F Minus and LittleSis write, is “radically at odds” with taking on the climate emergency.

“The city and environmental non-profits should not be doing business with fossil fuel lobbyists,” said Alyson Shaw, a research analyst with LittleSis.

The report calls for all Pittsburgh institutions to cut ties with lobbyists who have ties to fossil fuel interests, especially those with influence and power.

“Institutions like the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Carnegie Institute, the city, they have clout and money,” asked Browning. “If they don’t leave, who will?”

Even institutions informing the public about the risks of fossil fuels in the city have employed lobbyists that work with the industry, the new report notes.

For instance, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which works to protect endangered ecosystems and researches their climate vulnerability, last year shared a lobbying firm, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, with 16 fossil fuel companies, including an arm of the Koch Industries network.

Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s senior director of communications, Carmen Bray, said she did not believe these relationships presented a conflict of interest.

“Our primary interests in working with lobbyists continues to be securing state funding for conservation and building the necessary relationships to raise awareness about conservation projects, needs and threats, which include climate change, to our region’s natural communities and native species,” she said. “So, having strong relationships and regular communications with lawmakers is a critical strategy to achieve climate change awareness, support and funding.”

This year, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s lobbyist ended its contract with Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney and began one with a new firm. Yet the group’s new lobbying firm also represents EQT, Kinder Morgan, Anadarko Petroleum and two other fossil fuel companies, the report says.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, whose environmental program raises the alarm about the unequal effects of fossil fuel pollution on poor communities of color, and which says it aims to “strengthen community resilience and adaptation in response to a changing climate”, in 2023 also employed Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney.

And this year, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that children living near shale gas activities in south-west Pennsylvania had a higher risk of developing lymphoma. The University of Pittsburgh in 2023 employed Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, as well as Allegheny Strategy Partners, which in 2023 represented the leading US coal producer and exporter Consol Energy, the metallurgical coal mining company Rosebud Mining and three other fossil fuel companies.

“The data is clear: our institutions, educational pillars and beacons of culture continue to engage with lobbyists intertwined with the fossil fuel industry,” said Jasmine Banks, executive director of UnKoch My Campus, a national organization focused on disrupting corporate influence, especially tied to the fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch, on US college campuses.

By cutting ties with lobbyists tied to the fossil fuel industry, said Banks, institutions can stake out a “path towards a sustainable future” for Pittsburgh, and show that path is “unclouded by conflicting interests”. Pittsburgh in ‘extreme embrace’ with fossil fuel lobbyists, research finds | US news

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