As the crisis of rolling blackouts in Texas unfolds this week, some of the state’s loudest Republican politicians are falsely dragging “frozen wind turbines” as the cause. But behind every wind energy smear by a Texas politician is a dizzying amount of money contributed by the fossil fuel industry.
Earther looked at whose money is behind the loudest anti-wind voices this week. We used OpenSecrets data as well as individual political donations logged with the Federal Election Commission website to look at donations for Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and Sen. John Cornyn–three of the Texas politicians sitting in Washington, D.C., who have been most outspoken in their criticism of wind energy’s supposed “role” in the blackouts.
All three have continued to scapegoat renewables throughout the week, and looking at their donors, it’s no surprise. Federal campaign finance data shows more than 30 companies in the oil and gas industry, from multinational names like Exxon and Chevron to local power players like Texas Transeastern and Wildhorse Energy, gave tens of thousands of dollars to Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw over the past year. That includes thousands from individuals employed by those companies as well as largesse from their corporate PACs.
Cornyn, who was reelected last fall, was a big recipient of industry money. Between 2019 and 2020, Cornyn raked in more than $50,000 from Marathon Petroleum’s PAC and $25,000 from natural gas infrastructure company Sempra Energy’s PAC, as well as $25,000 from utility giant NextEnergy and $40,000 from Koch Industries. He also did well with oil and gas power players individually: CEOs or other key executives of Western Refining, Hunt Oil Company, Chief Oil and Gas, Walter Oil and Gas, Magnolia Oil and Gas, Occidental Petroleum, Cox Oil, Hilcorp Ventures and Kinder Morgan all donated $50,000 or more each to PACs associated with Cornyn’s campaign in the last election cycle.
Crenshaw, who ran for reelection in the House, also made out handsomely from the industry last cycle. The oil and gas industry overall donated $453,247 to Crenshaw last year ($311,947 from individuals, $141,300 total from PACs). Oil and gas was his largest industry donor by PAC money, including $10,000 each from Energy Transfer, Valero Energy, Occidental Petroleum, and Marathon Petroleum.
Cruz wasn’t up for reelection last year, but the industry didn’t forget about him. He still bagged $14,000 from Chevron’s PAC and $10,000 from Exxon’s—a little spending money, we guess—as well as tens of thousands of dollars in individual contributions from employees of 30 oil and gas companies. All told, these three Texas Republicans alone snagged more than $1.1 million from the industry in the 2020 election cycle.
But it wasn’t just these three Texans in the nation’s capital doing dirty work for fossil fuels. On Tuesday, as millions in his state suffered through the cold and without power, Gov. Greg Abbott made an appearance on Sean Hannity where he ripped into renewables. The blackout “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Hannity. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis....It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”
And let’s not forget Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who just last week was busy preparing a bill that would blacklist businesses based on their friendliness to fossil fuels. For Texas’ two head honchos, we used individual contributions pulled from state-level data logged on the site Transparency USA, and found some real Easter eggs from the industry.
Abbott and Patrick’s PACs share a bunch of big individual fossil fuel donors. Syed Javaid Anwar, the CEO of Midland Energy, was Abbott’s top donor between 2019 and 2020, giving a total of $1,617,500 to his PAC. The CEO also gave generously to Patrick, kicking his PAC just under $250,000 over that same time period. Douglas Scharbauer, an heir to a West Texas oil, ranching, and race horse fortune, gave a total of $350,000 to the lieutenant governor’s PAC in 2019, while another oil heir, Ray Lee Hunt, also pitched in generously with donations of $500,000 to the PACs of Abbott and $250,000 to Patrick. (Hunt also gave more than $63,000 to Cornyn’s PAC.) Not to be outdone, Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, kicked $500,000 to Abbott’s PAC and $200,000 to Patrick’s in the same time period. Warren’s firm is behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, and he has said talking about the pipeline is “like talking about my son.”
What’s happening in Texas right now is a perfect storm of poor planning, crazy weather, and a widespread government failure to prepare the electric grid. Fossil fuels had a big part to play in how this disaster went down as natural gas and coal sources failed at multiple points, from energy sources themselves freezing to pipelines shutting down. The Texas grid’s terrible setup—a lack of integration with other states to ensure a consistent power supply, lagging weatherization updates, predatory pricing habits—can’t be tied to one source, but politicians like Crenshaw, Cruz, and Abbott are choosing to hammer down on renewables while blessing fossil fuels, similar to how they’ve reacted during California’s blackouts in recent years. While it’s impossible to say why, their donations tell a pretty damning story here—and research has shown donors make it rain on politicians who do their bidding.
The fossil fuel industry has also made it clear that it sees wind power in Texas as a threat to its business. A panel on Texas windpower convened at the wind industry’s key summit in 2019 addressed this issue directly. “People are spending millions of dollars to hobble the wind industry,” moderator Chris Tomlinson, a Houston Chronicle columnist, said at the panel, claiming that there are lobbyists in Austin who have been told to spend nearly half their time opposing the wind industry.
When such a large-scale screw up like this happens—when lives are lost and people suffer—we have to examine what those in control of the status quo have to lose, and what changes they are advocating. The fossil fuel industry is fighting to keep its control over a rapidly changing energy landscape, and part of their strategy is giving as much as possible to those in charge, particularly Republicans. Even though experts across the board agree that we need a clean energy grid that’s reliable and have even created a popular plan for how to get there, conservative politicians with loud platforms are blocking serious discussion, let alone action. The longer the industry keeps the political system captured and the more these people lie, the more likely it is we’ll see even more death and chaos ahead.
Dhruv Mehrotra contributed reporting to this piece.