Tlaib, Levin don’t want immunity for fossil fuel industry during COVID-19*

    Susan J. Demas

    A group of U.S. House members, including two Michigan legislators, have urged top House brass to not limit accountability of the fossil fuel industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In a May 4 letter, lawmakers asked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to “categorically oppose” any attempts to give legal immunity to oil, gas and coal companies in future rounds of COVID-19 relief legislation.

    Among the co-signers are U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.). 

    “The struggle to beat the coronavirus should not be corrupted or abused for the purposes of providing legal immunity to the oil, gas and coal industries, major polluters who have destabilized our climate and imperiled our environment, our economy and our future,” lawmakers wrote in the letter.

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    The push for fossil fuel industries to be included in stimulus funding is getting traction with Republican members of Congress, who on Thursday sent a letter to President Trump and accused Wall Street banks of giving in to environmentalists’ concerns and denying the industries funding.

    But other lawmakers are concerned that efforts to handle the global COVID-19 crisis are hindered by fossil fuel companies lobbying for legal immunity or debt relief in aid packages. 

    For example, legislation introduced last week by U.S. Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) aims to prevent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. The Resources for Workforce Investments, not Drilling Act (ReWIND Act) would prohibit that money from being used to pay off any pre-existing debt fossil fuel corporations might have.

    In the May 4 letter, lawmakers also wrote that oil and gas companies are contributing to another worldwide problem: the climate crisis.

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    “Fossil fuel companies have known for more than 50 years that their industrial emissions were causing cataclysmic environmental consequences,” they wrote. “Instead of alerting the public, they launched a decades-long campaign of denial, deceit and disinformation that succeeded in forestalling meaningful government action to avert climate change.”

    Lawmakers also wrote that their focus should be on assisting the nation’s recovery efforts from the COVID-19 public health crisis, not on bailing out fossil fuel corporations.

    “Shielding carbon polluters from proper accountability is an irrelevant and dangerous distraction from the task at hand,” lawmakers wrote. “It has no place in federal legislation — we think never, but especially not now.”

    Correction: Tlaib signed the letter. The previous headline was incorrect.

    C.J. Moore
    C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She studies environment journalism and film at Michigan State University.