Senators’ Fossil Fuel Investments Drive Conflicts of Interest on Climate Change

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Members of the US Senate are heavily invested in the fossil fuel companies that fuel the current climate crisis, creating a conflict between those senators’ financial interests as investors and their responsibilities as elected representatives. According to a September 2019 Sludge Climate report by Donald Shaw, twenty-nine senators and their spouses hold between $3.5 million and $13.9 million worth of stock in 86 fossil fuel companies, including well-known giants like ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell and “a range of lesser known companies that specialize in pipeline operations, natural gas exports, and oilfield services.”

The Sludge report was based on the senators’ personal financial filings as of August 16, 2019. Fossil fuel combustion accounted for about 76% of the greenhouse gases emitted in 2017, according to a June 2019 report from the US Energy Information Administration.

Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, where coal mining is a major business, is the most invested member of the Senate. Sludge found that Manchin owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of non-public stock in a family coal business, Enersystems. His 2018 financial disclosure reported earning between $100,001 and $1 million in dividends and interest from Enersystems, in addition to $470,000 in “ordinary business income.”

Manchin is the senior Democrat on the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees legislation on energy resources and development, nuclear energy, federal coal, oil, and gas, other mineral leasing, among other issues. If Democrats take control of the Senate in 2020, Manchin is in line to chair the Committee of energy and natural resources if Democrats take control of the senate in 2020.

Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against the amendment to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling in 2007. Manchin also voted to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Senator Jerry Moran is the largest investor in ExxonMobil. Moran owns between $102,003 and $280,00 worth in ExxonMobil. He has stated that he does not believe that human activity has any effect on climate change.

ExxonMobil has known since 1977 that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but the company suppressed that information for decades and worked to sow confusion over the scientific evidence for climate change in order to pursue its business interests, as Shaw’s report documents in detail and Project Censored has previously reported.

Despite the significant conflicts of interest identified in Shaw’s report, this story appears to have gone underreported in the corporate press as of late October 2019.

Source: Donald Shaw, “Facing Climate Crisis, Senators Have Millions Invested in Fossil Fuel Companies,” Sludge Climate, September 24, 2019,

Student Researcher: Christopher Rodriguez (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)