Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, appointed this week to a special House committee to fight climate change, collected $118,000 from political action committees with connections to the energy industry during the most recent election cycle – far more than any of his colleagues on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday appointed nine Democrats to the committee, which “will spearhead Democrats’ work to develop innovative, effective solutions to prevent and reverse the climate crisis,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It will generate the energy and action required to permanently reduce pollution so that we can honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.”
According to Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., Luján received $74,500 from electric utilities, $23,000 from oil and gas interests, and $6,000 from mining. Another $13,500 came from “miscellaneous energy,” including $5,000 from Bechtel Group, which until last year helped manage Los Alamos National Laboratory. Another $1,000 came from CH2M Hill, a Colorado-based global engineering company.
Of the electric utilities, the biggest contributors were the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and PG&E Corp., each of which gave $10,000. PNM gave $7,500.
The Huffington Post on Thursday reported that the nine Democrats appointed to the committee received a combined $198,000 from PACs associated with the fossil fuel industry, so contributions made to Luján represented more than half that total.
“That’s $200,000 of potential conflict of interest on an issue of grave concern,” David Turnbull, a spokesman for a coalition of groups that oversee the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, told the Post. “If you’re going to be talking about the critical issue of climate change, you need to rid yourself of the influence of the fossil fuel industry.”
Contacted by the Journal, Luján provided a statement defending his record.
“My values and voting record are clear,” he said. “I’ve been battling climate change and advocating for the generation of renewable resources and energy efficiency since my time as the Chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, before I was a Member of Congress. I respect and recognize New Mexico’s long history as an energy state, that is why, throughout my career, I have fought to ensure that New Mexico is a leader in our clean energy future.”
Luján’s office also pointed out that he has earned a 100 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters for his voting record on environmental issues in the past two years. He has a lifetime score of 96 percent since he went to Washington, D.C., in 2009.
By contrast, the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., had a score of 86 percent in 2017, the most recent year for which scores were available, and a lifetime score of 93 percent, though the LCV notes that she missed several votes in 2017 while she was back home in Florida dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Irma.
The committee was created after Democrats won control of the House in the midterm elections. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California will choose five Republicans to serve on the committee.