On Wednesday morning, the House Natural Resources Committee held its first hearing on climate change in eight years. It was as unremarkable as you’d expect from a dry political proceeding. Except for one thing: Rob Bishop’s precisely five-minute-long rant about Patagonia.
For some background: Bishop spent the last four years serving as chairperson of the committee. When Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in January, Arizona’s Raul Grijalva replaced him, but Bishop still serves as the committee’s ranking member.
It’s worth recapping Bishop’s longstanding beef with the socially responsible outdoor clothing brand. Bishop’s home state of Utah is blessed with an extraordinary abundance of natural wonders and public lands. But the state’s conservative lawmakers are hellbent on paving all of that over in order to make way for maximal extraction of oil and gas. It’s a crusade the Salt Lake Tribune has described as “quixotic,” because that move would actually cost the state more money than it currently earns from its public lands. In fact, the oil and gas industries net Utah fewer jobs and less revenue than the outdoor recreation industry, which obviously relies on, well, the outdoors. It seems fairly obvious that political donations from oil and gas account for the disparity between the actions of Utah’s politicians and the interests of the state’s citizens.
All that came to a head in 2017 when Patagonia, along with a number of other gear companies, pulled out of the big Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City in protest of the state’s anti-public lands and anti-environment policies, prompting the show's eventual exodus to Denver. Around the same time, Patagonia was leading many advocacy efforts to protect the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments (both of which are in Utah) from the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink them. When the shrinkage went forward, Patagonia painted its website black and splattered the message “The President Stole Your Land,” across the Internet. In response, Bishop’s Natural Resources Committee took the unprecedented, and possibly illegal, step of launching a social media campaign carrying the message, “Patagonia Is Lying To You.”
Phew. Onto today. In the hearing, members of the Natural Resources Committee solicited the testimony of various experts. One of those was Hans Cole, Patagonia's director of Environmental Campaigns and Advocacy. I’ll embed his testimony below, but if you’ve devoted even five minutes of time to read about climate change at any point in the last couple of decades, you don’t really need to watch it. He basically says climate change is bad, his company is committed to switching to renewable energy sources in order to do its part, and he encourages the government to do the same. There’s nothing new or controversial here.
Unless you’re Rob Bishop, of course, who’s so offended by the suggestion that climate change could be human-caused that he refused to hold a single hearing on the subject during his years running the committee. In fact, he has his own theory on who’s really to blame: Patagonia. I’ll let you watch that for yourself below. Note how respectfully Bishop nails his five-minute time limit.
Following his testimony, the GOP’s House Natural Resources Committee twitter account, which is run by Bishop’s staff, continued the rant.
I reached out to Corley Kenna, Patagonia's director of Public Relations, and asked her to respond to Bishop's allegations. “Patagonia manufactures its products in the very best factories around the world that promote fair labor practices, safe working conditions and environmental responsibility," she says. "We take pride in quality products that are built responsibly and offer more Fair Trade Certified products than any other brand in the apparel industry.” The brand provides details of all its facilities and their environmental footprint here.
What about the use of petroleum products in its goods? "Patagonia has one of the most aggressive plans to reduce its reliance on virgin petroleum in the apparel industry,” says Kenna. “By 2025, we will use only renewable or recycled materials in our products and by next year, we will use only renewable electricity for our stores, regional and global offices, and headquarters. In 1993, we were the first company to divert plastic bottles from landfills and use them to make fleece.”
And carbon emissions? “We are committed to going carbon neutral across our entire business, including our supply chain, by 2025," says Kenna. "There is a lot of confusion and greenwashing around all these carbon terms—for Patagonia 'carbon neutral' means that we will reduce, capture or otherwise mitigate all of the carbon emissions we create, including the emissions from the factories that make our textiles and finished clothing.”
But perhaps the best response to all this comes from Jared Huffman, a representative from California. “While ranking member Bishop did a great job of bringing his comments in precisely within the time limit, I think he may have exceeded the limit of reasonable credibility with some of that anger and sanctimony directed at Patagonia,” he begins at the hearing. “It seems that all this anger and passion about doing business with China and other countries for clothing is reserved for companies that want to protect public lands and monuments and do something about climate change and be good corporate citizens.”
“I wish we had more even-handed sanctimony that applied to the Trump family,” Huffman says. “After all, these are the biggest hypocrites of all. They attend their MAGA rallies, they whip people into a nationalist fervor by railing against doing business with China, and then they turn around and do exactly that. I hope that we can not only honor time limits, but also honor evenhandedness in our sanctimony.”