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Fossil Free Penn members tabled on Locust Walk on Oct. 2, handing out pamphlets with the names of the 21 industry lobbyists employed by the University. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Penn's employment of lobbyists who also work for fossil fuel companies have drawn criticism from student organizers involved with Fossil Free Penn.

In a press release from Oct. 1, FFP organizers wrote that over 20 lobbyists are employed by both the University and fossil fuel companies. Students wrote that the employment of these lobbyists “show the depth of Penn’s ties to fossil fuels.” On Monday, FFP organizers tabled on Locust Walk to spread information on the topic to the Penn community. 

FFP organizers used F Minus, a database launched in July of this year that calls for divestment from fossil fuel lobbyists. According to the website, the database of state-level lobbyists for upstream and midstream oil, gas, and coal interests aims to demonstrate the extent to which these lobbyists also represent “people, schools, communities, and businesses being harmed by the climate crisis."

According to FFP's press release, the University spent $460,000 on lobbyists in 2022, all of which was focused in the “education” sector. 

“Hiring lobbyists who also lobby for the fossil fuel industry is a conflict of interest and overtly contributing towards environmental destruction,” the release said. “These actions are financially irresponsible and contradictory of the social and environmental commitments the University of Pennsylvania has made.”

A University spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

On Oct. 2, FFP members set up a table on Locust Walk to hand out pamphlets with the names of the 21 lobbyists employed by the University and make friendship bracelets. College senior and FFP member Katie Francis helped run the table. 

“Today was just all about making art, having fun as a community, and raising awareness about what's going on,” Francis said.

College junior and FFP member Eug Xu said that the tabling was an opportunity to highlight the new finding from the F minus report.

“The action today was that we wanted to bring more awareness to the issue,” Xu said. “None of us knew this about the lobbyists until the report came out from F minus, and not very many people have done institutional digging.”

FFP's press release also referenced a July article published in the The Guardian, which utilizes the F Minus database. The article calls the lobbyists who work for both fossil fuel companies and universities and green groups “double agents," pointing to the nearly 1,500 lobbyists in the US who work simultaneously on behalf of fossil fuel companies and for “hundreds of liberal-run cities, universities, technology companies and environmental groups that say they are tackling the climate crisis.” 

According to the press release, FFP also highlight that Penn's Board of Trustees hired Mehlman Consulting, a lobbyist firm whose other clients include American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel, and Petrochemical Manufacturers, in August — adding that this was a "clear conflict of interest." 

Xu encouraged other students to look at the database to find out more about other institutions and their lobbyists.

“I would encourage anyone who's part of an educational institution or an institution that you would think conflicts with the goals of the fossil fuel industry to take a look at that database,” Xu said.