Private Equity Executives Hide Behind Philanthropy as Their Firms Ravage the Earth

The new report’s co-author says it’s a “serious problem” that executives can invest in fossil fuels and then “greenwash their reputations.”
Private Equity Executives Hide Behind Philanthropy as Their Firms Ravage the Earth
on
The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction
The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction. The Blackstone Group, the world's largest private equity firm, has nearly a 7 percent stake in the company that owns the pipeline. Credit: Lars Plougmann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams. Originally published on Common Dreams.

A report published Tuesday by a pair of nonprofits shines a light on the “Wall Street heavyweights” at private equity firms who “burnish their reputations through hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropy, even as their investments help drive climate catastrophe.”

“The private equity industry largely evades public scrutiny, despite investing billions in fossil fuel investments.”

The new analysis from LittleSis and Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) — entitled Private Equity’s Dirty Dozen: 12 Firms Dripping in Oil and the Wealthy Executives Who Run Them — highlights that as asset managers and big banks face rising scrutiny for their climate-wrecking conduct, “private equity firms and the billionaires and multi-millionaires who lead them have largely escaped scrutiny.”

“This needs to change,” the document declares. “Private equity firms are fueling the climate crisis and environmental injustice with investments in fracked gas, oil pipelines, coal plants, and offshore drilling. These damaging investments mirror private equity’s other destructive impacts in other areas of the economy like in retail, restaurants, healthcare, and incarceration.”

Meanwhile, executives at these firms “are some of the most influential people in the world,” the analysis continues. “They are chummy with powerful elected officials, to whom they donate piles of money. They hold prestigious trusteeships at elite universities and cultural institutions. Buildings are named after them. They own professional sports franchises.”

“Between their yachts, mansions, and private jets, these private equity executives live some of the lushest lives of anyone on the planet,” the report adds. “But in many cases, they sustain their wealth and status by steering their firms’ investments into — among other dubious things — dirty energy.”

LittleSis and PESP targeted:

  • Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group;
  • David M. Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group;
  • Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR);
  • Daniel R. Revers of ArcLight Capital Partners;
  • Marc Rowan and Leon Black of Apollo Global Management;
  • Antony “Tony” Ressler of Ares Management;
  • Adebayo Ogunlesi of Global Infrastructure Partners;
  • Richard “Ric” Kayne of Kayne Anderson;
  • Bruce Karsh and Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital;
  • Chip Kaye and Timothy Geithner of Warburg Pincus;
  • David M. Leuschen of Riverstone Holdings; and
  • David B. Miller of EnCap Investments.

While some of the firms didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Guardian — which was granted exclusive access to the report — others pushed back, with spokespeople for Blackstone and KKR pointing to each firm’s investments in the global energy transition.

Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, “has one of the most substantial portfolios of fossil fuel assets across its various funds,” the report says, specifically noting its nearly 7 percent stake in the company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has provoked years of Indigenous-led protests met with brutal crackdowns by law enforcement and private security.

Dubbed “Wall Street’s top political donor,” Schwarzman “is a top ally, donor, and fundraiser” for former President Donald Trump, the analysis says, pointing out that the Blackstone executive reportedly “even defended Trump’s election denialism at a CEO meeting shortly after the 2020 election.”

Schwarzman — the firm’s chairman, CEO, and co-founder — has also “doled out hundreds of millions to get prestigious buildings named after him” and “is a current or past member of some of the most powerful business, policy, and think tank boards,” the report notes.

Report co-author and LittleSis research director Derek Seidman said in a statement that “it’s a serious problem when superrich private equity executives who invest billions in harmful fossil fuels can greenwash their reputations through acquiring coveted board seats at prestigious universities and cultural institutions.”

“This helps these Wall Street billionaires hide the fact that they’re among the world’s biggest oil and gas barons,” Seidman said.

For each executive, the groups put together graphics that illustrate their ties to powerful institutions and people as well as their firm’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. Schwarzman’s chart reveals connections to prestigious universities along with controversial fossil fuel projects.

SCHWARZMAN
A screenshot from the report illustrates Blackstone Group CEO, chairman, and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman’s connections to fossil fuels.

The other profiles continue in a similar fashion. The Carlyle Group section states that “no other private equity buyout firm—not Blackstone, not KKR—is currently as bullish on oil and gas as Carlyle,” and “few private equity tycoons have bought as much influence—and are as waist-deep in dirty fossil fuels—as billionaire David Rubenstein,” its co-founder.

In addition to holding positions at various other institutions, KKR co-founder and co-chairman Kravis is a “director of the Palm Beach Civic Association alongside other hedge fund billionaires, and the city’s main performing arts center bears the Kravis family name,” the report says. “He owns a beachside mansion alongside a slew of other Wall Street billionaires like Stephen Schwarzman (Blackstone), Carl Icahn (Icahn Enterprises), Ken Griffin (Citadel), and Nelson Peltz (Trian).”

“Private equity threatens to undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis and advance environmental justice.”

“KKR owns dozens of energy companies, with over 80% of its energy holdings in the extraction, transportation, or burning of climate-destroying fossil fuels,” according to the document. “Moreover, from racist and colonial pipelines to toxic oilfield development, KKR is behind some of the dirtiest and most controversial oil and gas projects around.”

Along with pouring money into activities that heat the planet, “Kravis and KKR have no qualms about pillaging companies or investing in unethical products in order to turn a profit,” the analysis adds, noting that “the firm helped oversee the notorious raid of Toys ‘R’ Us that devastated the company’s workers.”

Responding to the report, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs — tied its findings to criticism of the private equity industry’s broader practices.

“By plowing money into dirty coal plants, offshore drilling, and deforestation, private equity threatens to undermine our hard work to tackle the climate crisis and advance environmental justice,” she told The Guardian. “It’s just another page from private equity’s standard playbook: boost short-term profits at the expense of the long-term well-being of communities.”

Reiterating that “the private equity industry largely evades public scrutiny, despite investing billions in fossil fuel investments that have spewed greenhouse gases from pipelines, fracking operations, and power plants across the globe,” report co-author and PESP research director Alyssa Giachino advocated for a swift shift across the industry.

“Private equity should move away from fossil fuels,” she said. “It’s necessary to help mitigate climate change and it’s necessary for environmental justice.”

Private Equity Executives Hide Behind Philanthropy as Their Firms Ravage the Earth

Related Posts

on

Green groups warn that industry ‘greenwash’ risks diverting politicians from less-polluting alternatives.

Green groups warn that industry ‘greenwash’ risks diverting politicians from less-polluting alternatives.
on

A pair of protests in the nation’s capital upped pressure on the President and Congress to stop enabling fossil fuel expansion in several arenas.

A pair of protests in the nation’s capital upped pressure on the President and Congress to stop enabling fossil fuel expansion in several arenas.
Analysis
on

DeSmog takes you through the green credentials of each and every cabinet minister.

DeSmog takes you through the green credentials of each and every cabinet minister.
Analysis
on

With a right-wing coalition projected to win this weekend’s snap election, incumbent energy companies face scant pressure over climate change.

With a right-wing coalition projected to win this weekend’s snap election, incumbent energy companies face scant pressure over climate change.
Series: Gas Lock-in