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The Climate 202

Top companies are undermining their climate pledges with political donations, report says

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We have a newsy edition today featuring the energy implications of Russian aggression against Ukraine and the findings of an International Energy Agency report on methane emissions. But first:

Exclusive: Top companies are undermining their climate pledges with political donations, report says

Some of the nation's best-known corporations are undermining their promises to slash emissions by donating significant sums to elect Republican attorneys general, who have emerged as frequent courtroom foes of climate policies and regulations, according to a report shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The report by the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate political spending disclosures, looked at top companies that have set pledges to reduce planet-warming emissions, including household names such as Walmart, Amazon, AT&T, Uber and Citigroup.

It found that in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 election cycles, 75 of these companies gave more than $772,000 to 16 Republican attorneys general candidates, according to contributions reported to the Internal Revenue Service and secretary of state offices.

In addition, 58 of these companies each gave $100,000 or more to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which funnels money directly to candidates' campaigns.

Findings on specific companies include:

  • Walmart has set targets of reaching net-zero emissions across its global operations by 2040 and reducing supply chain emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030. But the retail company gave $180,325 to RAGA in the 2016 election cycle, $182,750 in the 2018 cycle and $270,100 in the 2020 cycle. Walmart also donated $12,500 in the 2020 cycle to the campaign of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (R), who joined a lawsuit to stop President Biden from revoking a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Amazon, which has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across its business by 2040, donated $150,000 to RAGA and $10,000 to Reyes in the 2020 election cycle. And in the 2019 cycle, the company gave $5,000 to the campaign of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), who led a recent lawsuit to block the Biden administration from using the social cost of carbon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
  • AT&T, which has a commitment to be carbon-neutral across its global operations by 2035, gave $105,350 to RAGA in the 2016 campaign cycle, $125,000 in the 2018 cycle and $250,000 in the 2020 cycle.

The findings demonstrate that "these corporations are really undercutting the emissions goals, pledges and policies that they've put in place," said Carlos Holguin, research director at the Center for Political Accountability.

Bruce Freed, president and co-founder of the center, said the report highlights a business risk for companies that have not aligned their political spending practices with their climate objectives.

Asked for comment on the findings, Amazon spokeswoman Tina Pelkey pointed to a recent blog post that details the company's support for policy action on climate change.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an email: “Historically we’ve supported organizations of both parties like the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Our political contributions do not mean we support every view of an elected official.”

Hargrove added that Walmart donated $125,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association in the 2016 election cycle, $125,000 in the 2018 cycle and $240,000 in the 2020 cycle.

Spokespeople for RAGA and AT&T did not respond to requests for comment.

Successful lawsuits

The report highlights two instances in which Republican attorneys general successfully sued to block major climate policies and regulations from taking effect.

  • In Louisiana v. Biden, 10 Republican-led states sued to prevent the Biden administration from raising the social cost of carbon, a key metric that assigns a dollar value to the harm caused by each additional ton of greenhouse gas pollution. On Feb. 11, a Louisiana federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that barred the Biden administration from using the metric in a range of consequential decisions. The Justice Department is appealing the decision.
  • In Wyoming v. Department of Interior, Republican-led states and industry groups sought to block Barack Obama's 2016 rule to reduce venting and flaring of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas operations on public and tribal lands. In 2020, a federal judge in Wyoming struck down most of the Obama-era rule, finding that the Bureau of Land Management had exceeded its authority and acted arbitrarily and capriciously.

"When companies give to RAGA, they may think it's just another third-party group, and they may not realize the consequences," said Freed of the Center for Political Accountability.

"But they have very serious consequences," he said, "and companies bear a great deal of responsibility for them."

Pressure points

Methane emissions from the energy sector are 70% higher than official figures, IEA says

Global methane emissions from oil, gas and coal are 70 percent higher than the official figures that governments have reported, according to a report released today by the International Energy Agency.

This year's edition of the report, dubbed the Global Methane Tracker, incorporates readings from a new breed of satellites devoted to finding and measuring greenhouse gas emissions. It also includes country-by-country emissions from coal mines for the first time. 

The report comes after a recent Washington Post investigation found a vast gap between the emissions that countries are reporting to the United Nations and the emissions they're sending into the atmosphere. 

In a statement, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said it was “alarming” to identify such “massive underreporting” of methane emissions. Birol called on countries to support enhanced monitoring efforts and stronger policy action to curb emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.

Although carbon dioxide is more abundant, methane is about 80 times more effective at trapping heat during its first decade in the atmosphere. That means curbing methane pollution in the near term could provide a relatively quick way to slow Earth's warming.

Biden announces new spending on sustainable mineral production

President Biden, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), and others on Tuesday announced new investments to expand the domestic supply chain for minerals used in the production of clean energy products such as electric vehicles and wind turbines, The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Amy B Wang report

The event included several announcements, including a $35 million award by the Defense Department to MP Materials to separate and process heavy rare earth elements at its facility in Mountain Pass, Calif. Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables also said it plans to break ground this spring on a facility in Imperial County, Calif., to test the viability of its sustainable lithium extraction process. 

Biden said environmental protections are “paramount” as the companies ramp up investments in mining these minerals so that residents of the nearby communities will not face the same environmental devastation that other mining towns have in the past.

International climate

Ukraine crisis is pushing Europe away from dependence on Russian energy

For years, Europe’s reliance on Russian energy has kept it from taking a harder line against the country. But the Kremlin’s current tensions with Ukraine are driving the European Union to split completely from Russian oil and gas, The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Steven Mufson report. 

The European Commission plans to announce a strategy on March 2 to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, calling for a 40 percent reduction in fossil fuel use by 2030, so that Europe is no longer reliant on Russia to keep houses warm and factories running. The strategy also requires European energy companies to fill their storage tanks with natural gas this summer so that the continent is already less dependent on Russian gas next winter. However, it could take years to finalize a complete break with Russian energy.

Agency alert

Interior Department to hold first offshore wind lease sale under Biden

The Interior Department is scheduled to hold the first offshore wind lease sale under the Biden administration starting today.

Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to auction off leases in the New York Bight, a nearly 800,000-acre area of the Atlantic Ocean south of Long Island, to 25 qualified bidders. The sale will help meet the president's goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore wind energy by 2030.

Biden administration suspends right of way for Alaska mining road

The Interior Department on Tuesday suspended the right of way for a controversial mining road in northwest Alaska, saying it found “significant deficiencies” in an environmental analysis completed under Donald Trump, The Post's Joshua Partlow reports.

Ambler Road would cut through wilderness and Indigenous territory to reach valuable deposits of zinc, copper, gold, cobalt and other metals. Alaska Native and environmental groups hailed the decision, while Alaska's congressional delegation condemned the move.

Extreme events

Risk of uncontrollable wildfires will rise and spread to new areas, U.N. warns

Extreme wildfires may increase by 14 percent globally by 2030, even with ambitious efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Program, Diana Leonard reports for The Post

The report asserts that there has been a “dramatic shift” in wildfire patterns worldwide because of global warming and changes in land use. Fires are burning longer and hotter in fire-prone regions and are spreading into territory that should be waterlogged or frozen, such as peatland and permafrost.

Climate solutions

Steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint

Individual climate action alone won’t save the planet, but such efforts can be meaningful. While The Washington Post has built a tracker to keep you up to date on Biden's environmental actions, the team also compiled a list of ways for people to start taking climate matters into their own hands. Here are a few: 

  • Create less food waste by keeping track of expiration dates.
  • Shop sustainably by buying less.
  • Trade in a gas-powered car for an electric vehicle.
  • Weatherize your home, mostly by sealing the cracks around windows and doors to make better use of energy.
  • Learn more about the link between climate change and racial equity.


Our colleague Michael Birnbaum found a steal on eBay:

Thanks for reading!