Washington, D.C. –  More than 200 fossil fuel companies received between $116.4 million and $272 million in Paycheck Protection Plan loans while reporting that they retained zero employees with the COVID-19 emergency relief funds — further calling into question how the oil and gas industry has used relief loans meant to protect small businesses.

Overall, 4,800 fossil fuel companies received between $2.5 billion and $6 billion in Paycheck Protection Plan loans, according to data released by the Trump administration. More than 400 fossil fuel companies received at least $2 million in loans.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, President Trump has prioritized helping the fossil fuel industry; including, more than $2 billion in additional taxpayer-funded bailouts going to 40 big oil and gas companies through the CARES Act. This brings the total known oil and gas handouts to more than $8 billion since the pandemic started earlier this year.

“It’s clear where President Trump’s priorities lie, and it’s not with working Americans,” said Lori Lodes, Executive Director of Climate Power 2020. “The billions of dollars in taxpayer money handed out to fossil fuel companies during this pandemic, some of which reported zero employees retained, raises serious questions that the Trump administration must answer.”

The 212 oil and gas companies that reported retaining zero employees with the funds are a cause for concern as the small business loans were specifically designed to help businesses keep employees on the payroll as the economy downturned.

In the fossil fuel industry, some companies may be taking advantage of the program to make up for past financial mistakes. One of the largest PPP loans went to Independence Contract Drilling in Texas which received $10 million in stimulus money after spending the same amount on stock buybacks to enrich shareholders, even though they posted a loss in 2018.

Hallador Energy, which has deep ties to the Trump administration, received $10 million. Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was hired last year to lobby for the publicly traded firm in Indiana and the company’s former government relations director now works at the Energy Department.

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed as a lifeline to America’s small businesses struggling with severe economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This giveaway to the fossil fuel industry is standard practice for the Trump administration. While more than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment, more than 120,000 have died from COVID-19  and an estimated 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed, Donald Trump has given billions to oil and gas political allies.