Rockefeller Heirs Launch Campaign to Curb Oil and Gas Growth

Two great-great-grandchildren of the Standard Oil founder are joining the fight against new oil and gas development.

Standard Oil Co. sign, Odell, Ill., Sept. 2020.
Standard Oil Co. sign, Odell, Ill., Sept. 2020.

Two great-great-grandchildren of Standard Oil Co. founder John D. Rockefeller Sr. are pouring millions of dollars into an effort aimed at supporting people on the front lines fighting new oil and gas development.

Rebecca Rockefeller Lambert and Peter Gill Case have created the “Equation Campaign” and pledged a combined $30 million of their personal wealth to the effort. Another $5 million was pledged by other sources so far, with an ultimate goal of raising $100 million.

The name of the effort comes from the idea that reducing demand for fossil fuels is only half of the “equation” when it comes to addressing global warming; the other side of the equation is cutting off the supply.

The idea behind the campaign is simple: Protest movements work.

“The industry has said that the number-one challenge to building new pipelines is local opposition,” Lambert said. “These groups have amazing results, but they are seriously under-resourced.”

The campaign will fund all aspects of blocking new development, including lawsuits, protest activities, public relations, social-media campaigns, and legal support when people are arrested or blocked from exercising their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly.

In addition to trying to cut off the flow of a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions, a key goal is to support the local and Indigenous people who often suffer the most from oil and gas development in their backyard.

Lambert said the groups they are funding have “an incredible moral authority,” which gives them power, and the Equation Campaign is designed to help them unleash the potential of that power.

Other donors to the Equation Campaign include the Open Society Foundations, the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, and the David Rockefeller Fund. The Equation Campaign is housed at the Rockefeller Family Fund, which is also the campaign’s fiscal sponsor.

One of the campaign’s grantees is the Center for Protest Law and Litigation, which among other causes supports protestors fighting the replacement and expansion of the aging “Line 3” oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the group’s director and co-founder, says local authorities are often aligned with corporate interests.

In the case of Line 3, the Canadian company Enbridge established a fund to reimburse local Minnesota sheriffs’ departments for time spent ostensibly on public safety at protest sites, says Verheyden-Hilliard. In reality, she says, the fund provides a financial incentive for local law-enforcement officers to harass peaceful protestors.

The situation affected Verheyden-Hilliard in a very personal way. She says that while driving to a recent protest with actress and activist Jane Fonda following in a car behind her, she was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal far enough in advance of the intersection where she made the turn. The stop was pure harassment, Verheyden-Hilliard says. The sheriff’s deputy let her go after examining her driver’s license, but he then followed her for 15 miles through winding country roads, she says.

A spokesperson for Enbridge said that as part of the permitting process, the state of Minnesota required Enbridge to fund a public-safety escrow account, overseen by an independent manager, to reimburse counties for public safety needs related to the Line 3 project.

Verheyden-Hilliard said a $160,000 grant from the Equation Campaign was crucial in helping to get her organization up and running last year, and a $340,000 two-year grant is on the way.

One of the great things about the fund, she says, is that it responds quickly when problems flair up at protest sites.

“The Equation Campaign is uniquely positioned to identify emergent needs and act quickly,” says Verheyden-Hilliard. “Time and momentum matter. Getting funds to a movement at a time when it will make the most difference is extraordinarily important.”

The Equation Campaign also helps grantees connect with other donors, says Verheyden-Hilliard. It connected the Center for Protest Law and Litigation with the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, which is providing an additional $500,000 over three years.

Katie Redford, executive director of the Equation Campaign, says the campaign, launched in January of 2020, also has provided support to groups fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Grants are often unrestricted, she says, to help the groups it supports remain nimble.

Lambert and Case said they decided to focus on oil and gas development because other donors, including some in the Rockefeller constellation of philanthropies, are already working to reduce the use of coal. Also, just as coal appears to be on the wane, drilling for other fossil fuels has started accelerating.

“At the time we were thinking about this, oil and gas production were ramping up at a terrifying speed,” Lambert said. “Not many groups were focused on stopping that expansion.”

Lambert and Case also offered a more personal reason for the choice of how to spend some of their inheritance.

“I feel a particular moral drive to utilize the funds that came from oil and gas extractions to find a way to put the genie back in the bottle,” says Case.

Lambert added, “This is oil money that came from the earth, and we’re investing it back in the earth.”

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Dan Parks is a senior editor at the Chronicle.

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