New Report Shows Cancer Organization Shares Lobbyists with Fossil Fuel Companies

An American Cancer Society advocacy group’s links to firms that promote carcinogen producers called “shameful” and undermining to public health.
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The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, shares lobbyists with 21 fossil fuel companies across 10 states. Credit: Pavel Trebukov (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

One of the U.S.’s leading anticancer groups has hired a network of lobbyists that also works on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society, shares lobbyists with 21 fossil fuel companies across 10 states. Those shared relationships are impeding action on climate change and contributing to increased health harms to the public, undercutting the health organization’s own mission, according to the report by F Minus, a nonprofit group that tracks fossil fuel lobbying.

“It’s astonishing how dependent and even, I think, addicted the American Cancer Society is to these fossil fuel lobbyists,” James Browning, executive director of F Minus, told DeSmog. Browning himself used to be a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society in Maryland, and has urged the group to cut ties with its fossil fuel clients.

In Florida, ACS CAN hired Heffley & Associates, a Tallahassee-based firm that also lobbies on behalf of Chevron and Tampa Electric Company (TECO). For TECO, Heffley campaigned in favor of H.B. 275, a bill that imposes criminal penalties for trespassing at “critical infrastructure” and imposes harsh punishment on public protests. Similar bills have proliferated in state capitals in recent years, which critics view as attempts to stifle protests and weaken opposition to oil and gas projects. As DeSmog has previously reported, anti-protest laws are often introduced and supported by policymakers who receive funding from the fossil fuel industry.

In Ohio, ACS CAN hired Byers, Minton & Associates, a Columbus-based lobbying firm, for its anticancer work. But this company also lobbies on behalf of Invenergy, an operator of six gas-fired power plants in the United States.

In Pennsylvania, ACS CAN also hired the Bravo Group, a lobbying firm based in Harrisburg. The Bravo Group, in turn, campaigns for several energy outfits in the region, including Caithness Moxie Freedom, NRG Energy, as well as Southwestern Energy, a large fracking company with operations in the Marcellus Shale that Chesapeake Energy is in the process of acquiring.

The Bravo Group, Byers, Minton & Associates, and Heffley & Associates did not respond to requests for comment from DeSmog.

‘Tangled Relationships’

Even though ACS CAN’s lobbyists separate their anticancer work from the agenda of their fossil fuel clients, the tangled relationships undermine the mission of the public health organization in several ways, Browning said.

“There’s just overwhelming evidence that the very people that the American Cancer Society is trying to help through its anti-tobacco work are facing severe harm as a result of the activities of ACS’s own lobbyists.”

James Browning, executive director, F Minus

At the core of ACS CAN’s public policy work is promoting anti-tobacco legislation. But its lobbyists that work for oil and gas companies also help shape policy that paves the way for the fossil fuel industry’s expansion, which ends up putting more people at risk from carcinogens. 

“These companies’ projects are exposing people to carcinogens at every stage of the gas life cycle,” Browning said. “There’s just overwhelming evidence that the very people that the American Cancer Society is trying to help through its anti-tobacco work are facing severe harm as a result of the activities of ACS’s own lobbyists.”

He pointed to additional examples in Florida and Ohio, where ACS CAN shares lobbyists with the gas industry. Both states have passed laws prohibiting local governments from enacting bans on gas stoves or gas hookups in buildings. That comes amid mounting peer-reviewed research that suggests gas stoves are exposing people to cancer-causing carcinogens such as benzene.

“The ACS lobbyists also work for gas interests in two states that have just locked a lot of their local governments into continuing to use gas, which we now know has a danger equaling or exceeding that of secondhand smoke when leaking in someone’s home,” Browning said. “I mean, there you have it, right?”

Tobacco Industry Tactics

The oil and gas industry has a long history of adopting the same tactics as the tobacco industry, including using the very same lobbyists, PR firms, and think tanks. And the gas industry’s promotion of “preemption laws” that prevent restrictions on gas stoves has echoes in the tobacco industry’s strategy of backing laws preempting local anti-tobacco policies. 

Browning said that nonprofits working on policy in state capitols often face “tremendous pressure” to pass their own narrowly focused bills aimed at achieving a “short-term win.” This may mean they turn to lobbyists who they believe are effective at getting the job done, even if those lobbyists are undermining the broader mission by working separately with other clients working at cross purposes.

But he noted that fossil fuel lobbyists should carry the same stigma as tobacco lobbyists, and should be shunned by public health organizations.  

“In ten years, this current situation will look just as unconscionable and dangerous as a tobacco lobbyist representing doctors does to us today,” Browning said. “I understand they’re locked into these relationships, but I think they’re well past the tipping point on this issue.”

The American Cancer Society is fully aware that the climate crisis both exacerbates exposure to cancer risk and can inhibit access to care. A 2020 article in CA, the ACS’s own flagship peer-reviewed journal, called for action on climate change because of its connection with cancer. 

“All stakeholders concerned with the prevention and treatment of cancer have much at stake with climate change and a heavy dependence on fossil fuels,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, providers involved in cancer care delivery have compelling reasons to be actively involved in the development of climate policies.” 

They added that fossil fuel dependence pushes the goal of eradicating cancer “further from reach.”

“It’s shocking and shameful that the American Cancer Society is hiring firms that promote the producers of carcinogens,” Sandra Steingraber, a scientist and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, a group of health professionals that has compiled extensive peer-reviewed research on the health harms from fracking, told DeSmog in an email. 

“This conflict of interest extends beyond hypocrisy.”

Sandra Steingraber, co-founder, Concerned Health Professionals of New York

“This conflict of interest extends beyond hypocrisy,” she added. “The health expertise that comes from working with an organization like ACS can be exploited directly by fossil fuel companies using the same lobbyists.”

Steingraber herself was diagnosed with bladder cancer at the age of 20. She noted that the public messaging from ACS and other cancer organizations overwhelmingly focuses on individual behavior, such as smoking, when discussing cancer. They rarely, if ever, talk about environmental exposures from toxic industries, she told DeSmog.  

“As a longtime cancer patient, who has clocked many hours in medical waiting rooms, I collect ACS pamphlets on bladder cancer,” she said. 

“Rarely do the words ‘environment’ or ‘carcinogen’ appear anywhere in them. Their cancer prevention tips always include smoking cessation but never ‘organize your community to fight toxic industries,’” she said, adding that the F Minus report detailing ACS CAN’s ties to fossil fuel lobbyists “helps me understand why.”

Not only does working with fossil fuel lobbyists undermine the public health mission, but Browning argues that ACS CAN’s links to those firms also prevents action on climate change by lending credibility to lobbyists in state capitols working on behalf of polluters.  

ACS Is Nonpartisan

He said that ACS CAN’s work is “genuinely nonpartisan,” because everybody is impacted by cancer in some way. “That actually gives the ACS a lot of power and they have actual relationships with Republicans,” Browning said. “I think now it’s time to turn around and use that credibility to do something on climate and protect people from the threat of carcinogens through the climate crisis.”

When contacted by DeSmog, ACS CAN did not respond to requests for comment.

Beyond ACS CAN, there are other health-focused groups that are also hiring fossil fuel lobbyists. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shares the same lobbyist as Talen Energy, a company that owns coal and gas-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, according to F Minus. 

The Nemours Foundation, which funds research programs for childhood cancer and also operates a system of pediatric primary care clinics and hospitals, shares a lobbying firm in Pennsylvania — One+ Strategies — with EQT Corp., the largest gas producer in the country. 

“Like many major organizations, we seek out the best partners with the expertise and dedication to help us further our mission to restore and improve the health of children,” Jennifer Reardon, a spokesperson for Nemours Children’s Health, said in a statement to DeSmog. “While we cannot comment on One+Strategies portfolio of clients, our work with the firm has been solely focused on healthcare and improving children’s health.” One+ Strategies did not respond to requests for comment from DeSmog.

A 2023 study from the University of Pittsburgh found that children in southwest Pennsylvania who live within one mile of a gas well were five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma, a relatively rare form of cancer, compared with children who did not live close to a gas well.

“You have the institutions whose whole mission is helping children with cancer, and then their own lobbyists are on the vanguard of pushing fracking in Pennsylvania,” Browning said. “I mean, it’s just a betrayal of the children they say they’re trying to help.”

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Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist covering the oil and gas industry, climate change and international politics. He has been featured in Oilprice.com, The Fuse, YaleE360 and NACLA.

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