Famine in countries like South Sudan. Image: United Nations – REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

August 26, 2020

By Brianna Cunliffe, PEN chief investigative reporter 

Bankruptcy, devaluations and defeats in court have been plaguing the fossil fuel industry, one after the other, from BP’s massive devaluations to the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Recently, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette claimed that these interferences with pipeline construction are a national security issue. But many elected officials who are veterans of foreign wars are pushing back, insisting that his rhetoric of security appears to be only one of convenience. Security is hardly the priority, they argue, when American pursuit of oil interest puts citizens’ lives at risk, or when worsening disasters driven by the climate crisis rock our coastlines year after year. 

“Energy Secretary Brouillette’s remarks were disingenuous. The reality is that during the Obama administration America ended its dependency on forgein oil sources,” said former Illinois State Rep. Linda ChapaVia, Army veteran. “The oil and gas industry is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gasses that have created the climate emergency. We don’t need more pipelines scarring the American landscape, putting the lives and livelihoods of communities living next to them at risk. We need an energy policy that puts the American people’s health first. Climate change is the security threat the Secretary needs to address.”

As carbon emissions contribute to extreme weather spiraling out of control, the world is rocked by the consequences.  Super storms, heatwaves, flooding and droughts force migrations for millions of people around the globe yearly, driving chaos and strife worldwide. 

“We often think of the migrants flooding into Europe fleeing conflicts, sometimes war. But we fail to understand how the violence starts. Too often climate change is the flash point. It’s true of Central and South America as well,” said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA Leadership Council Co-Chair. “The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been mired in conflict for decades largely due to oil. In other countries it’s water rights. In the military we call climate change a threat multiplier because it is the spark that often leads to violent turbulence that has been smoldering under the surface.”

For Chad, an African nation sandwiched against the Sahara, where nomadic people depend upon the environment for life, the climate crisis has combined with COVID-19 and ongoing sectarian violence to create a dire situation, in which, as Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim pointed out in a statement to the United Nations, people are killing one another for water.  

Likewise, much of the Middle East is on course to become uninhabitable in the near future, largely due to the factors fanned into disaster by the threat multiplier of the climate crisis. 


“We spend a great deal of time and resources patrolling the Arabian Gulf,  protecting oil tankers. It’s a necessary task because the world is too dependent on this single source of energy”, said Alex Cornell du Houx, a former Maine state lawmaker, Marine combat veteran, and President of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “When droughts worsen, farmers in the region are forced to find other ways to feed their families. They are often forced into terrorist organizations. I have experienced this firsthand in Iraq when my HUMVEE was hit by a roadside bomb planted by a former farmer. America needs to enact and implement a Climate Emergency Plan that will help defuse the threat multipliers caused by climate change.”

Sea level rise threatens thousands of military bases overseas and countless communities domestically. And now, even the finances of the big oil companies responsible for the climate crisis and the instability it wreaks across the globe are not secure.  Exxon, once one of the most profitable companies in the world, just dropped off the Dow Jones Industrial Average — testimony to the consequences of remaining stuck in the past. 

With drillers going bankrupt, major infrastructure projects being overturned in courtrooms, and corporations grappling with assets in free-fall, the fossil fuel industry is facing its demise. After reporting huge losses, BP will slash its oil production by 40 percent, abandon new exploratory projects, and increase its investment in renewables tenfold in the coming decade. Experts are calling it a watershed moment not just for this fossil fuel giant, but for the entire global energy economy. Even in the US, shielded by a friendly administration, Exxon, after experiencing its worst quarterly loss in modern history, has acknowledged that it may have to write off a fifth of its world reserves, as extraction becomes too costly, unpopular, and ultimately fruitless. 

California’s biggest oil driller declared bankruptcyFour major pipelines have gotten the axe thanks to ceaseless public pressure. Over 100 economists have called for an end to the carbon economy. Elected Officials to Protect America believes the  picture could not be clearer: A world that once relied on dirty, exploitative, extractive fuels is now solely threatened by them, and must turn its eyes forward.  But rather than recognizing the turning tide and taking action to shield Americans from the fallout, officials say, the Trump administration and courts aligned with his ideology have broken down long-standing regulations, eliminated major limits on emissions, and given the oil industry massive bailouts. 

“They’ve cleared the way for doomed investments in an energy status quo that is dying, despite a clear mandate from citizens to look to the future — all in the name of national security,” said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Leadership Council member, Army veteran. “Pensioners in New York state have already lost over $25 billion thanks to Comptroller DiNapoli’s delay in divesting from volatile fossil fuel firms. Indirectly, New York’s continued investments in these oil and gas companies puts America’s armed forces at risk. I stand proudly with the 97 sponsors from the Assembly and Senate calling on New York to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (A.1536-A/S.2126-B).” 

An energy transition is not only in the interest of the people, Elected Officials to Protect America insists, but also a clear mandate from them. The New York Times has analyzed recent trends in public opinion, revealing a rising urgency in calls for bold action, with 55 percent of those asked favoring investments of trillions of dollars in new infrastructure. The call for net-zero emissions has practically entered the mainstream of US Politics. It seems that Americans are ready to embrace the future. So elected officials who are veterans are asking: why is the Trump administration stuck in the past? They insist these  pointless, relentless attempts to rescue fossil fuel corporations are even more egregious when that funding could be going to Americans who sorely need it during the worsening pandemic.

The Trump administration is throwing its weight around to unravel years of progress on protecting public health. A new federal rule allows environmental assessments for pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure to be reviewed and approved at breakneck speed. This eliminates failsafes and barriers to irresponsible and reckless development like the leaking Dakota Access Pipeline and oil fields on fault lines. Elected officials like Mayor Colvin of Fayetteville, NC, are saying that this perpetuates a status quo of utter disregard for vulnerable communities in the path of big oil’s ambition, and will allow the insidious environmental racism threatening American health and prosperity to continue unchecked. 

Analysis of the market makes it painfully clear that these multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects are money-pits, with costs growing increasingly unrecoverable. What activists see as the fundamentally unjust, hugely disruptive, and ecologically irresponsible nature of their construction have already mobilized global communities against them, from Appalachia to Standing Rock. Why press on, if their own bottom line is in danger?

Even the oil companies themselves and their investors are acknowledging the trend line of the future. BP’s stocks surged after it announced its massive cuts to extraction and investments in green energy. 

“Over 100 economists published their letter  in the Guardian asking governments to end our fossil fuel-dependent economy. The Energy Secretary needs to listen to science and experts. Safeguarding our nation from the economic, health, and security threats caused by the climate crisis is an opportunity to lead the world and stimulate our economy. It is imperative that we take action,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, a former Maine state lawmaker, Marine combat veteran, and President of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “America needs a National Climate Emergency Plan.”

As if the moral imperatives to abandon fossil fuels were not enough, the fiscal imperative is becoming painfully clear. California’s biggest oil driller faces $5 billion dollars in debt and increasing pressure from regulators as its precarious financial status threatens its ability to comply with environmental standards. At the eleventh hour, California Resource Corp. (CRC) was forced to file for bankruptcy  because it could not meet its creditors deadline. Shares have plunged 92 percent in the past 12 months for CRC, one of the region’s largest employers. For the communities they operate in and their 50,000 creditors, this move was a serious wake-up call.

“Every day, America’s reliance on oil endangers its citizens and the world community, by contributing to the destabilization of already volatile nations in the Middle East, North Africa and other resource-stressed regions, and by exposing the world to the hazards of worsening extreme weather, wildfire and drought. To think that impeding pipelines in America is a security threat is not only outrageous, it denies the truth of what the true national security threats are,” said New Mexico State Representative Debbie Sariñana, Air Force veteran, EOPA Leadership Council Co-Chair. 

Just in mid-August, a pipeline spill spewed ten thousand gallons of drilling mud into the drinking water of a Pennsylvania town. From the immediate devastation of spills and explosions to the crippling wider effects of increased carbon emissions, Elected Officials are fighting to protect the public health and economic future of communities across the country threatened by the failing fossil fuel industry, and demanding sweeping change now.