Alaska News Brief May 2020 : The "discrimination" of oil companies is not a thing
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Alaska News Brief May 2020

No, the “discrimination” of oil companies is not a thing

You might have heard the good news that five of the six biggest banks in the country have ruled out funding new drilling in the Arctic. This started with Goldman Sachs in December and the others followed, even after the pandemic started. Banks understand economics.

They know that Big Oil’s exploitation of sacred and public lands is bad for business and bad for the planet.

The “discrimination” of the oil sector is not a thing

Not only does the carbon pollution produced by the fossil fuel industry endanger all people in this changing climate, but the oil companies’ balance sheets also have big liabilities. These include the time it will take to reach production in the Arctic and asset retirement obligations–decommissioning wells, pipelines, compressors, etc.–that make up as much as 50 percent of a company’s debt and remain largely unknown since the companies report them with no accounting standards. [1] You may not have heard so much  about these debt issues–I’ve just started to get to speed on them myself. 

But you’ve probably heard about the three dozen Republicans, including the entire Alaska delegation, who signed a letter to President Trump denouncing the banks’ refusal to fund Arctic oil extraction as “discrimination.” [2]

There is a lot to be outraged about right now, but this is sheer shameless gall! It is not a micro-aggression, it is a macro-aggression. Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, and all marginalized people have been oppressed and prevented from access to opportunity, power and wealth for hundreds of years in the name of “progress.” Yet, billion-dollar companies are “victims” and “discriminated against” by the so-called “free market” they so revere? The hubris of this irony cannot be overstated. 

And Senator Dan Sullivan, a former lawyer, should know better than to hijack “discrimination” in this way. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette went even further by calling the banks’ actions “redlining,” the racist practice of denying lending and insurance to people of color, which is now illegal. [3]

The powerful weaponize words to prop up the powerful

I would have hoped that the Alaska delegation would have reached for their better angels during these difficult and challenging times, as many did during passage of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first of its kind in a U.S. territory or state.

I’m calling a spade and spade, though, and fighting against the weaponization of language in this way. We know the fossil fuel industry has donated heavily to politicians and spent billions on massive lobbying efforts to drive the dominant political agenda. Just like the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry has known for decades that its carbon pollution would have grave climate consequences leading to death and suffering, and yet it continues to deny and evade it. The oil and gas sector has hoarded wealth and power while devastating communities around the world and driving us into a climate crisis that leaves people without food, water, homes, health or safety. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration continues to gut environmental protections to benefit oil and gas companies by giving them subsidies and the go-ahead to pollute, evade enforcement, and continue pushing the world off a climate cliff. [4]

No, a few banks refusing to fund massive oil companies to drill another hole in sacred Arctic lands is not the same as hundreds of years of violence, theft, oppression and systemic discrimination endured by Indigenous, Black, Brown, Asian and Jewish Americans.

These banks have chosen not to fund Arctic drilling because that’s what the economics dictate. Crony capitalism be damned.

Vicki Clark, executive director


  1. Tracking the Trillion Dollar Retirement of Oil; True Costs
  2. Republicans urge Trump to bar banks from shunning fossil fuel loans
  3. Green group calls for Energy secretary resignation after he accuses banks of ‘redlining’ oil and gas industry
  4. The Trump Administration Is Reversing 100
    Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List.

Photo by Kent Fredrickson.

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