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Society & Culture - Science & Technology

Report: Fossil Fuel Industries - The Goliath of Climate-Related Lobbying Efforts, Spent Billions

July 19, 2018

Fossil Fuels

The fossil fuel, utilities and transportation sectors are known for speaking as little as possible on the subject of climate change impact– however, they sure will put their money where their mouth is when it comes to lobbying for climate change legislation. For the first time, a Drexel University researcher analyzed lobbying data, finding that these sectors out-lobbied environmental organizations and alternative energy corporations, both proponents of emissions regulation. 

A new study by Drexel environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle, PhDshows that between 2000 and 2016, lobbyists spent more than two billion dollars on influencing relevant legislation in the US Congress. As the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of climate lobbying data, Brulle’s research confirms the spending of environmental groups and the renewable energy sector was eclipsed by the spending of the electrical utilities, fossil fuel, and transportation sectors.

The study also showed that the amount spent on climate change lobbying varied depending on the timing of proposed legislation and congressional hearings. Only about $50 million (about 2 percent of total climate lobbying expenditures) was spent between 2000 and 2006. But expenditures increased significantly in the following years, peaking in 2009 at $362 million – 9 percent of the total spent on lobbying for that year. 

Why did lobbying efforts peak in 2009?

Fig. 3 US national climate change lobbying expenditures distribution of spending by sector, 2000 to 2016

“The Waxman-Markey Bill, formally known as the ‘American Clean Energy and Security Act,’ barely made it past the House in June 2009, by a vote of 219-212” said Brulle. “It’s clear that when the greatest threat presents itself– like when Congress and the Executive branch are aligned and favorable to and recognize climate change as a major issue, these corporations that engage in the supply and use of fusel fuels work the hardest to upend legislative efforts by increasing their lobby spending ten-fold.

Brulle says that this has important implications for the outcome and nature of future climate legislation, which is largely determined by intra-sector and inter-industry competition. He found that the activities of environmental organizations and non-profit organizations often constitute one-time, short-term mobilization efforts. This is a shortcoming, given the vast expenditures and continuous presence of professional lobbyists. 

“Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye. There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials,” explains Brulle. He adds, “Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication. This process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process. 

Fig. 4 US national climate change lobbying expenditures distribution of spending by sector by year 2000–2016

Brulle analyzed data from mandatory lobbying reports made available on the website Open Secrets. In his study, he calculated that the two billion dollars spent between 2000 and 2016 on climate-related issues actually only amounted to 3.9 percent of the $53.5 billion spent over the same period on lobbying on other issues in the US.

“Legislative outcomes fuel change, and to not address the lobbying imbalance or ignore this factor is shortsighted. A more efficacious strategy will consider this lopsided representation in lobbying as well as focused efforts, mobilization of citizens and rallying public opinion.”

 The full paper is published in Springer’s journal Climatic Change and is available here.


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