(My) US Senator warns Pope Francis: “the oil industry is duplicitous”

In a heartfelt letter to the Holy Father, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urges caution for an upcoming Vatican meeting with fossil fuel industry representatives.

This Monday at a breakfast gathering of New England clean-water industry representatives, my US Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, chatted with me about the upcoming Vatican meeting that will include members of the fossil-fuel industry. When he mentioned that he’d be writing to caution the Holy Father, I asked for a copy of his letter, which his staff graciously shared with me today and which I’ve provided below.

In my capacity as an engineer at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the senator and I have had excellent conversations about climate change and adapting water-pollution control infrastructure to a warming world. He’s also been involved in interfaith eco-efforts—and has been complimentary about my writings and the great efforts of Pope Francis.

There are, of course, issues of profound disagreement between the Democratic senator and the Catholic Church—most especially on abortion, a rampant reality that ends human lives. On issues of ecology, public works, and climate change (among others), the senator is spot on. It’s unfortunate that the Church’s integrated approach to these issues (human life and ecology, etc.) is not shared by many in the political realm—on the left and right. And so we must hope and pray and continue to dialogue with those who do not see the interconnectedness of creation—of life and the natural world.

This is exactly the sort of dialogue called for by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, an honest dialogue that Senator Whitehouse has taken part in with his letter to the Bishop of Rome.

Your Holiness:

Thank you for your inspiring moral leadership on climate change, and for the Papal encyclical Laudato Si’, which has brought hope to people around the world.

As you meet next week at the Vatican with oil industry executives to discuss climate change, I wish to bring to your attention the discrepancy, among those oil companies who do substantial business in the United States, between their public-facing statements and their political and lobbying activity as regards the United States Congress.

Many of the oil companies with which you will be meeting are fond of saying, in essence, “we know climate change is real; we know our product causes it; and we support a price on carbon as a solution.” As the primary author of the United States Senate’s carbon-pricing legislation, I can assure you of the absence of any support from the large oil companies. If they supported my bill or one like it, or were even engaged to amend or improve such a bill, I would likely know.

As the primary author of the United States Senate’s carbon-pricing legislation, I can assure you of the absence of any support from the large oil companies. If they supported my bill or one like it, or were even engaged to amend or improve such a bill, I would likely know.

More regrettably, through groups that front for the fossil fuel industry in Congress, these companies maintain a powerful political opposition to any meaningful climate legislation. Groups like the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others have been employed as adversaries of meaningful climate legislation, in some cases with little apparent support for their opposition from the majority of the companies that make up their membership.

These industry advocacy groups often obscure the sources of their funding, but the likeliest explanation is fossil fuel industry money buying their hostility to climate action. The International Monetary Fund puts the annual subsidy for the fossil fuel industry, in the United States alone, at $700 billion per year, so obstruction of climate legislation (such as a price on carbon) is a highly remunerative activity for this industry.

In this, they join an array of front groups supported by a network of secretive, ultra-rich industrialists, many of whom are massive players in the fossil fuel industry and who have as their primary mission obstructing climate legislation in order to protect their fossil fuel business interests. This network runs both lobbying and political operations to block climate action from behind this screen of front groups.

I wish I could tell you that all was sunshine and daffodils in the United States Congress. I wish I could tell you that, with the whole world watching and so much on the line for those who live closest to the Earth, American democracy was operating in a healthy way to solve this problem. But on this matter, it is painfully evident that the oil industry is duplicitous in its public-facing statements as it remorselessly schemes through proxies and agents to obstruct in the United States Congress the very progress it claims to seek.

The inaction you see in Congress is their result. I wish I could deliver you happier news.

I close with profound thanks again for your moral leadership to protect our common home.


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI

Photo: Flickr/Tedx Providence

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.