BP Successfully Lobby To Weaken Environmental Laws In The U.S.

New legislation was introduced earlier this month which will allow future infrastructure projects to bypass scrutiny from federal agencies in the U.S. The legislation will mean that the environmental implications of major projects such as the construction of power plants, will no longer require an environmental impact assessment.

This week, a letter from BP to the Council of Environmental Quality was discovered by Greenpeace’s Investigation Unit which revealed BP’s lobbying power in the government’s decision to ease environmental scrutiny on large infrastructure projects. The letter included a request to exclude the wider climate impacts of gas and oil projects from being assessed as part of the process of approving major infrastructure projects and argued that doing so would “directly benefit BP’s operations in the U.S.” BP also called for air quality reviews, undertaken by a third-party, to be scrapped in favour of a review carried out by the company itself. 

The move to weaken environmental laws has drawn widespread criticism, with a Greenpeace campaigner saying that the move was “despicable, but not surprising.” This sentiment was echoed by U.S. Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, who stated that “It’s clear that the fossil fuel industry calls the shots for Donald Trump… Now we learn that Big Oil asked the administration to exclude the consideration of climate and other cumulative effects in environmental reviews. That’s shameful, but it’s no surprise.” BP, in their efforts to elicit legislative change, worked alongside API, a trade body for oil and gas producers, who argued that emissions from fossil fuel products “should not be considered part of ‘indirect’ effects” under future environmental checks.

Both API and BP have been forced to defend their actions and a BP spokesperson released a statement that stated that “Neither BP nor API advocated to exclude all indirect [greenhouse gas] impacts from NEPA analysis. In fact, BP believes the NEPA analysis should include all direct and many indirect impacts.” However, this response has also garnered considerable criticism with Jan Hasselman an attorney of the U.S. group Earthjustice, stating that both API and BP – through preventing an assessment of the indirect impacts of large-scale projects, are “trying to prevent the disclosure of relevant facts and that’s not legal.” 

This latest move which seeks to further weaken environmental laws in the U.S. demonstrates the power of the oil industry in managing to bring about legislative change. It is particularly worrying to see how wedded this environmentally unfriendly industry is to the government. Given the apparent lobbying power of the oil industry and the willingness of Donald Trump and the Republican Party to pander to the wills of the industry, further weakening of laws that seek to protect the environment seems inevitable.

Set against the backdrop of climate change skepticism which is rife within the Republican Party as well as other incumbent governments around the world, despondency is understandable. At a time where there is finally a consensus amongst scientists around the world on climate change, it is disheartening to see not only in action but also conscious efforts to roll back environmental protections from numerous governments around the world. Those who continue to deny the existence of climate change must continue to have their beliefs refuted. In a lobbying context, more collective action is needed amongst environmental groups in order to try and fight the immense lobbying power of the oil industry.

The latest move to weaken environmental protections in the U.S. reinforces the importance of lobbying in America’s political system and highlights the need for more collective action amongst environmental lobby groups in order to challenge the supremacy of the oil industry.

Luke Entwistle