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If you were asked to name the most dangerous climate denier serving in American politics today, who would you choose?
President Donald Trump would be a reasonable answer. It was Trump, after all, who announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement; who put fossil fuel lobbyists at the top of all America’s environmental regulatory agencies; and who has initiated the rollback of more than 80 environmental regulations.
Trump is indeed making the climate crisis worse. But that doesn’t define how the president has spent his decades-long career. Trump has not dedicated his entire political life to transforming the country’s political system in a way that systematically benefits carbon-intensive industries and ensures effective climate legislation is perpetually gridlocked.
Trump simply hasn’t done that. But Mitch McConnell has.
“The real McConnell legacy”
In many ways, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is indistinguishable from most of his Republican colleagues on climate change. He now reluctantly accepts that warming is human-caused, but denies that it is an urgent problem. He opposes regulations that would limit carbon dioxide emissions. And he supports policies that would increase greenhouse gases, and thus actively worsen the climate crisis.
But those things don’t capture why McConnell holds so much blame for climate inaction in the United States, said Bill McKibben, a noted environmentalist who has spent the last 30 years advocating for climate action at the federal level.
“The real McConnell legacy is two-fold,” he said. “There's never been the slightest chance of meaningful climate legislation reaching the Senate floor for a vote while he's held power, and he's packed the federal judiciary with judges — beginning with the fraudulent holdup of Merrick Garland — that means the chance for the judicial branch dealing with this crisis are slimmer than they should be.”
In addition to taking two of the three branches of government out of the climate fight, McConnell has also given fossil fuel interests disproportionate power over U.S. elections.
And when climate legislation has gained traction despite the obstacles McConnell put in its way, McConnell has stepped in to deliver the death blow.
Giving electoral power to fossil fuel corporations
More than any other American political figure, McConnell has helped ensure the unlimited flow of dark money in politics. “His crusade against campaign finance reform culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling eliminating limits on corporate spending on elections, which Mr. McConnell followed up by blocking legislation to disclose the identity of large donors,” McConnell biographer Alec MacGallis wrote in a 2018 New York Times op-ed.
The groups that have spent the most dark money since the Citizens United ruling have been fossil fuel industry-backed conservative groups that, among other things, promote climate science disinformation and advocate against climate regulations.
Those groups have created a political culture where it’s near-impossible to be elected as a Republican and also support climate action. That’s why the Republican Party has never done anything meaningful to fight climate change.
Ensuring an anti-climate Supreme Court
McConnell has also used his power to ensure anti-climate interests have a sympathetic ear before the nation’s highest court.
McConnell famously and unprecedentedly blocked a Senate vote on Merrick Garland, who environmentalists saw as a fairly pro-climate pick.
McConnell then used the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch, whose record indicated “that he would seek to overturn well-established Supreme Court precedents and prevent the federal government from enforcing bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act," the environmental law firm Earthjustice said.
A year later, McConnell used the nuclear option again to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, who is known for challenging long-held precedent that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
McConnell has called these lifetime appointments to the highest court in the nation “the most important thing we’ve done in the country.”
Targeting climate policy and regulations directly
Along with advancing structural changes to the American political system that benefit fossil fuel interests, McConnell has also aggressively targeted climate legislation and regulation directly.
In 2015, according to the New York Times, McConnell launched “an aggressive campaign to block President Obama’s climate change agenda in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell’s official reach and authority.”
Since Mr. McConnell is limited in how he can use his role in the Senate to block regulations, he has taken the unusual step of reaching out to governors with a legal blueprint for them to follow to stop the rules in their states. Mr. McConnell’s Senate staff, led by his longtime senior energy adviser, Neil Chatterjee, is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the state plans are tangled up in legal delays.
When bipartisan attempts at climate legislation have emerged, McConnell has done everything in his power to make sure they fail. In 2009, for example, McConnell engaged in ridiculous delay tactics to prevent the passage of a bipartisan Senate climate bill.
And when a climate bill passes the House, McConnell just doesn’t take it up in the Senate. Indeed, “McConnell has touted his ability to block House-passed legislation, calling himself the ‘Grim Reaper’ for progressive policy ideas,” the Hill reported. Those ideas include recently House-passed legislation to re-enter the Paris agreement.
The last chance
McConnell is up for reelection in 2020, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If McConnell wins and maintains his position as Senate Majority Leader, it means there will be no significant legislative action on climate change for the foreseeable future. He will also continue to be a position to pack the courts with judges hostile to regulations on carbon-intensive industries.
The next decade the world’s last chance to stop catastrophic climate change. If McConnell remains in power, the chances of success are vanishingly small.
But fossil fuel companies aren’t the only ones supporting McConnell’s re-election campaign. McConnell is also drawing support from eco-conscious corporations who tell their customers they are committed to addressing climate change.
The race is on
Next year, McConnell is up for reelection. He faces Democratic Amy McGrath — perhaps his toughest ever opponent. McGrath is having early success at fundraising, pulling in $10.7 million in the first three months of her Senate candidacy. But McConnell has been raising money for this race since 2014 and has $9 million in cash, while McGrath has $6.7 million.
Still, it's clear McGrath will have the resources she needs to mount a vigorous campaign.
McConnell is a powerful force in Washington but an unpopular figure at home in Kentucky. A Morning Consult poll shows he has a 37% approval rating, making him the most unpopular Senator in the country.
A poll conducted by the AARP in July showed a statistical dead heat, with McConnell leading McGrath by one point, 47% to 46%.
A McGrath victory would not only remove McConnell from office but could flip the balance of power in the Senate, ensuring the best chance of success for meaningful climate legislation. Republicans currently hold a three-seat majority, 53-47, with three Republican incumbents in significant danger—Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), and Susan Collins (ME).
Nevertheless, several large corporations that publicly profess a deep commitment to combating climate change are bankrolling McConnell's campaign. In so doing, they are helping the single biggest obstacle to climate action remain in power.
Microsoft donated $30,000 to keep Mitch McConnell in office
Microsoft says it considers global warming a "crisis" and called for "clear action" to "mitigate the worst impacts."
The dialogue at this year’s United Nation’s Climate Summit has a refreshing air of sober reality. The urgency of the climate crisis has by now fully been absorbed …
This means that the time of raised ambitions and grand announcements without clear action plans is also past.
Microsoft has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell's re-election campaign and $20,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell's leadership PAC.
Facebook donated $20,000 to keep Mitch McConnell in office
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said inaction on climate change "puts our children's future at risk." He called for collective action to address climate change "before it's too late."
Facebook has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell's reelection campaign and $10,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell's leadership PAC.
CVS donated $30,000 to keep Mitch McConnell in office
CVS rightly notes that "climate change is affecting global health" and says the company can "play a meaningful role in helping to reverse its devastating effects."
Climate change is affecting global health, and we believe we can play a meaningful role in helping to reverse its devastating effects. We are committed to doing our part, not only because it’s our role as a leader in health care, but because doing so also makes us a more innovative organization, and inspires confidence from our investors, colleagues, partners and customers.
CVS has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell's reelection campaign and $20,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell's leadership PAC.
Johnson & Johnson donated $20,000 to keep Mitch McConnell in office
Johnson & Johnson calls climate change a threat to "human health" and claims the company supports "responsible climate and energy policy."
As a healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson understands that climate health can affect human health. In fact, we’re seeing climate change impact health in new ways by changing infectious disease patterns and increasing the risk of drought and food insecurity. We have taken sustained, long-term action to address our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and we are encouraging our supply chain to do the same. We also support responsible climate and energy policy around the world.
Johnson & Johnson has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell's reelection campaign and $10,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell's leadership PAC.
Pfizer donated $25,000 to keep Mitch McConnell in office
Pfizer says it is a "science-based" leader on climate issues that works "with policymakers to encourage the reduction of [greenhouse gas] emissions."
As a science-based health care company, Pfizer has long recognized the risks posed by global climate change, such as more severe weather events and potential adverse impacts on human health, and has, as a precautionary step, taken significant voluntary action to reduce its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions… It is Pfizer’s policy to… Work with policymakers to encourage reduction of GHG emissions.
Pfizer has also donated the $10,000 maximum to McConnell's reelection campaign and $15,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell's leadership PAC.
Silence from the companies
HEATED and Popular Information reached out to all the eco-conscious corporations listed to find out how their donations are consistent with their pledges to support climate action.
We haven’t yet heard anything back, but will update you if we do.
Thanks for reading!