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May 8, 2020

Coronavirus Funds Should Go to People, Not Polluters

Data for Progress: May 08, 2020

By Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán


During a global pandemic, the Trump Administration is prioritizing the profits of polluters over the health of the American people. Money designated to help families, workers and small businesses survive the coronavirus public health crisis is instead being diverted to giant oil corporations.


This cannot stand. 


That’s why Senator Jeff Merkley and I introduced the Resources for Workforce Investments, not Drilling Act (ReWIND Act) earlier this week. It would prevent the Trump Administration from bailing out the fossil fuel industry with CARES Act funds meant for coronavirus relief. We were joined by my House co-leads on the bill: Representatives Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), and Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), along with 27 House and eight Senate cosponsors.


Over the past month, the Trump Administration has sought to aid the fossil fuel industry by halting enforcement of environmental lawswaiving royalty payments for public oil and gas leasesand storing private oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This is a transfer of billions of dollars in value of natural resource and clean air benefits from the public to industry.


The recent plummet of oil prices to record lows is only the most recent economic blow to the financially-stressed oil and gas industry. Many companies took risky loans to fuel their reckless expansion in recent years. This left them in rocky financial standing and should have made them ineligible for CARES Act relief funds, as this money is intended only for debts incurred by the coronavirus pandemic.


Ever the opportunists, big oil and gas seems to have gotten the ear of President Trump himself. Like clockwork, POTUS declared, “We will never let the great U.S. Oil and Gas Industry down”, and instructed the secretary of the Treasury to make taxpayer funds available.


Falling over themselves to comply with the fossil fuel industry’s request, the Federal Reserve quickly rolled out new eligibility rules for its Main Street Lending Program. It is essentially a corporate wish list allowing the fossil fuel industry to rescue its junk bonds. Restrictions on borrowing for heavily-indebted companies were eased, and the eligibility criteria was expanded to include companies with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue.


Let’s be clear: these changes are not meant to help the hardworking, blue-collar employees of big oil and gas corporations.


To see where their true priorities lie, look no further than the guidelines for the $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees administered by Treasury and the Federal Reserve.  They threw away CARES Act requirements that companies receiving assistance use those funds to keep workers on their payrolls or limit executive compensation.


Taking advantage of this crisis is just pure, financial opportunism to benefit fossil fuel corporate shareholders and executives.


The ReWIND Act prevents the Trump Administration from using CARES Act funds to bailout fossil fuel corporations. It also blocks several executive actions President Trump has taken or may attempt to take to benefit the fossil fuel industry at the expense of Americans’ health and welfare.


The federal government should support small businesses and families that are hurting, not prop up giant corporations. We have a responsibility to help those most impacted by this crisis, not those with the easiest access to the president.


As the president tries to force jobs back into the deteriorating fossil fuel industry, he is completely missing an opportunity to work with Congress to build a stronger and more sustainable economy for the future.


As I wrote last month, the job creation potential is so much greater in the green economy. The energy efficiency industry alone supports 2.38 million jobs, more than the oil has and coal industries combined. Clean energy jobs such as in the solar and wind industry can give our country more jobs with less pollution. Even by cleaning up the more than one million orphaned oil and gas wells that are leaking methane and other toxic pollutants, former oil industry workers can find guaranteed work for many years.


As the economy opens up, these kinds of efforts to rebuild communities and invest in the industries of the future can supercharge our recovery. We should take advantage of this unique opportunity and set America on the path to sustained prosperity, cleaner air and water, and a safe climate.


Polling from Data for Progress also shows that assisting clean energy companies, not the fossil fuel industry is popular.

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The ReWIND Act is a critical first step. It blocks the Trump Administration’s actions to bring us down the wrong path to recovery. We must pair its protections with an investment in a sustainable economy scaled to the jobs and climate crises we face.


We must rewind, undo the wrongs, and move forward into a better future.