While Sen. Brian Schatz aims to lead the charge in fighting climate change as chairman of a special panel dedicated to the issue, his top staffer’s spouse has substantial holdings in fossil fuel companies that produce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The Hawaii Democrat’s chief of staff, Eric Einhorn, lists stock owned by his spouse valued between $168,000 and $445,000 in his financial disclosure across four oil and gas companies: ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66 and Enterprise Products Partners LP. All of the securities are owned by Einhorn’s spouse and listed under the assets component of Einhorn’s filing with the Senate.
Schatz, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, describes himself on Twitter as a “climate hawk.” The senator does not have stock in any fossil fuel companies, according to his disclosure forms. He does have several mutual funds and retirement plans, but it is not clear to what extent, if any, those funds have equities in fossil fuel companies.
Schatz’s Senate website characterizes him as a leader in promoting the growth of a strong domestic clean energy economy and reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“Senator Schatz has been committed to a clean energy future since the beginning of his public life and continues his leadership on clean energy and climate issues in the U. S. Senate,” the website says.
The chief of staff position is usually one of the most integral positions in a congressional office, but that can depend on the individual office structure.
Einhorn’s spouse has between $115,000 and $300,000 of stock in ConocoPhillips, a company that explores for, produces, transports and markets crude oil, bitumen, natural gas, LNG and natural gas liquids globally. The spouse has between $50,000 and $100,000 in Phillips 66 stock, between $2,000 and $30,000 in ExxonMobil equity and between $1,000 and $15,000 in Enterprise Products Partners LP securities; the three companies are all players in the oil and gas industry.
Schatz’s office and Einhorn did not respond to repeated requests for comment over more than a week.
Separately, Einhorn did not respond to a request asking for insight into his spouse’s job and the nature of the oil and gas holdings. For this reason, it is unclear if the equity is managed as part of a mutual fund or outside trust or whether it is a requirement of the spouse’s employment.
Some climate activist groups advocate for complete divestment of fossil fuel companies, equating such an investment with investing in climate change.
“Real climate leadership means cutting ties with fossil fuel companies and holding them accountable. Period,” said Lindsay Meiman, a senior U.S. communications specialist from 350.org, a group that advocates for clean energy and stopping new fossil fuel projects.
Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Initiative, said oil and gas companies are contributing to climate change.
“Every step of the way — from extraction, to transmission, to burning — oil and gas operations pollute our clean air and water, threaten our communities’ health, and worsen the climate crisis,” Martin said in an email. “Companies like Exxon have long been aware of the damage their products are doing to our climate, and yet they continue to push for new infrastructure that would lock in production of dirty fossil fuels for generations to come.”
The Sierra Club advocates divestment of fossil fuel stocks and other investments that they say contribute to global warming, such as pipeline infrastructure that transports crude oil.
Schatz described Exxon’s history on climate as “sordid” to E&E News in 2017 when the company’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, was up for Senate confirmation to become secretary of State.
The oil and natural gas industry is a “significant source of emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide,” according to the EPA.
Additionally, it is the largest industrial source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog), and exposure to ozone is linked to many adverse health effects, including aggravated asthma and premature death, the EPA’s website states.
“In addition to helping form ozone, VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include air toxics such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane …” according to the EPA. “Air toxics are pollutants known, or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.”
Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, an organization focused on promoting environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder engagement, said it would be difficult for investors in fossil fuel companies to use their holding to move a company away from high-carbon projects and toward clean energy initiatives. These companies have billions in stock, so it would require a great deal of money to do so, according to Fugere.
Oil and gas company initiatives
The oil and gas companies listed among Einhorn’s spouse’s holdings said they are working to address issues related to climate change.
“Addressing climate-related issues is a high priority. We recognize that human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate,” Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said in an emailed statement. “While uncertainties remain, we continue to manage GHG emissions in our operations and to integrate climate change-related activities and goals into our business planning.”
Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said the company is working toward a lower carbon future.
“Climate change is a global issue that requires long-term commitment, action by every segment of society, technology development and free-market solutions,” Nuss said in an email. “Phillips 66 recognizes the climate challenge and is making investments that advance a lower carbon future.”
Rick Rainey, a spokesman for Enterprise Products Partners LP, said in an email, “Our sustainability objectives are designed to generate attractive economic returns for our investors, while minimizing environmental and social impacts.”
ExxonMobil did not comment.