Does BP mean 'Burning the Planet'?

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BP - the oil giant that is expensively rebranding itself as a green company - is financing the election campaigns of most of the US congressmen with the worst environmental records, an investigation by the
Independent on Sunday reveals.

BP - the oil giant that is expensively rebranding itself as a green company - is financing the election campaigns of most of the US congressmen with the worst environmental records, an investigation by the Independent on Sunday reveals.

It has contributed money over the past four years to two-thirds of the senators and members of the House of Representatives who have voted against every key green measure that has come before them, and failed to help most of the legislators who have supported them.

The revelation will gravely embarrass the BP chairman, Sir John Browne - who has become something of a green hero over the past three years - and add fuel to the flames of a growing controversy about the rebranding exercise, perhaps the most ambitious ever undertaken by a British company. The new image will cost the company $100m (£69m) a year, not far short of what it will be spending on solar power, the most striking of the new initiatives that it is advertising.

Gone is the shield that the company has used as its symbol since the 1930s. In its place is the so-called Helios mark, "a vibrant sunburst of green, white and yellow" named after "the sun god of ancient Greece". But opponents denounce the new emblem, which will gradually be introduced at the company's 28,000 service stations worldwide over the next four years, as a symbol of hypocrisy and hype.

Even its critics admit that BP has a far better environmental record than almost any other big oil company and is now undertaking a range of pioneering green initiatives. But they point out that it is still increasing oil exploration and production, and is heavily involved in exploiting two of the world's most sensitive fields, in the Arctic and in the Atlantic west of the Shetlands. Greenpeace says that its new slogan, Beyond Petroleum, should instead be Burning the Planet.

The Independent on Sunday's revelations are being made despite obstruction from BP, which refused to supply a list of the contributions it makes to US politicians, although they have to be made public by law. "Why should I want to do that?" said Yusuf Ibrahim, BP's spokesman in America, when asked to provide the information early last week. Why indeed? The details, obtained instead from the Federal Election Commission - and compared with voting records compiled by the League of Conservation Voters - show that the company's contributions conflict sharply with its squeaky-green image.

Over the last four years, it contributed to the election campaigns of 22 of the 36 senators and 37 of the 55 representatives who achieved a zero per cent rating from the league last year for voting against all the environmental legislation that it monitored. By contrast, the company has supported only two of the 38 representatives and two of the 11 senators who scored a 100 per cent rating by voting in favour of all the measures in 1999.

Further analysis shows that three-quarters of the congressmen whose campaigns have received the most money from BP over the last four years have ratings of less than 11 per cent, and that most of them were scored at zero. Among them are Senator Frank Murkowski, the Chairman of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has received $7000 despite having had a zero per cent record every year since 1994, and Representative Don Young, Chairman of the House Committee on Resources, who has had over $11,000, though he has scored less than 10 per cent in every year over the same period. Both Congressmen are from Alaska and are pressing for legislation to open up the state's protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - known as America's Serengeti for the richness of its wildlife - to drilling by oil companies, including BP. The company has contributed similar sums to Senator Trent Lott, the republican leader in the Senate, and Senator Don Nickles, the chairman of its Energy Research, Development, Production and Regulation Subcommittee. Lott has zero scores for six consecutive years and Nickles for three, and both voted for opening up the wildlife refuge.

Analysis of voting on other specific issues reveals a similar pattern: BP has contributed to the campaigns of 33 of the senators who voted against increasing funding for renewable energy, and only 11 of those who voted for it; it has helped 34 of those who blocked reforms to the way oil companies receive royalties, and only nine of those who supported the environmentalists' position.

Perhaps most strikingly, the company has helped to finance the campaigns of 34 of the 65 senators who successfully introduced a motion in 1997 to reject any international agree- ment to combat global warming, though Sir John Browne and BP have led industry attempts to persuade politicians to tackle the the problem.

BP's spokesman in America refused even to hear the results of the Independent on Sunday's investigation. "I have nothing to say about that," Mr Ibrahim interjected. "We are financing according to American law and we are happy with what we are doing."

The revelations - and BP's response to them - will undermine the rebranding exercise and genuine green initiatives that are being taken by the company. Last month Sir John announced that BP would double its investment in solar power to $500m over the next three years and aimed to make this a $1bn business by 2007. It already has almost 20 per cent of the global market.

It is fitting 200 of its service stations with solar panels and will equip all its new ones with them. It has promised to cut its own emissions of the pollution that causes global warming by 10 per cent by 2010 and aims to sell cleaner petrol in more than 40 cities around the world by the end of this year.

Three years ago Sir John accepted the dangers of global warming and made his company the first to break ranks with the oil industry's united front against cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. In April he joined leading environmentalists in giving one of this year's Reith lectures. "The enlightened company," he said, "increasingly recognises that there are good commercial reasons for being ahead of the pack when it comes to issues to do with the environment."

But Greenpeace points out that Sir John also announced that he expected BP's oil production to increase by 4 to 5 per cent per year, and gas production by twice as much. And capital expenditure on fossil fuel exploration and production will rise to $8bn a year, double what was spent in 1999.

BP is the only company taking oil from one of the world's most controversial areas, the Atlantic Frontier, 100 miles west of the Shetlands. It is also planning to become the first company to extract oil in the even more sensitive Arctic Ocean, off the northern coast of Alaska, as well as backing efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Rob Gueterbock, Greenpeace's climate and energy campaigner, says: "BP's rebranding is a triumph of style over substance. At best it is misleading its shareholders and customers; at worst it is engaged in blatant hypocrisy."

BP responds: "The world still wants petroleum and we still aim to provide it. But we are looking at the future, to a world that wants cleaner fuels and solar power. 'Beyond Petroleum' describes not where we are now but where we are looking to be."

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