23 March 2019

Climate Lobby

Welcome back. In my last blog post, Endangered Species Act Endangered, I reviewed the unending efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act despite the American public’s broad support of the law.

Compared to the efforts to prevent action on climate change, there’s one big difference. Whereas both involve lobbying elected officials, campaign contributions and the like, stopping the adoption of climate change policy has included a massive campaign to sow doubt about the science behind climate change.

Definition of “Lobby.”
That campaign has had a major impact, but today, I’ll just focus on lobbying. A study by a researcher from Drexel University provided an eye-opening estimate of the money spent lobbying climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress for the years 2000 to 2016.

Lobbying Expenditure Data
The Drexel researcher obtained all data for his study through searches of the Open Secrets website of the Center for Responsive Politics. The 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act requires organizations that spend money on federal lobbying to submit quarterly reports, and that information has been available on the Open Secrets website since 1998.

Although there is no correspondence between a specific organization’s lobbying positions and its sector of the economy, the researcher grouped the different organizations insofar as possible by sector to provide a summary of overall climate lobbying expenditures.

It’s important to note that the lobbying reports provide a conservative estimate of expenditures to influence legislative outcomes. They do not include, for example, citizens’ lobbying efforts, contacts with political representatives spending less than 20% of their time on lobbying, or activities such as mobilization of outside groups, media contacts and public relations campaigns. Nor do they include campaign contributions.

Climate Lobbying Expenditures
The study found that, from 2000 to 2016, more than $2 billion was spent on climate lobbying (dollar amounts reported in 2016 values, adjusted for inflation). Although that was only about 4% of the total reported lobbying expenditure of $53.5 billion, the annual amount spent lobbying climate change issues ranged from less than 1% to more than 9% of the total lobbying expenditure. (It now constitutes about 3% of the total.)

U.S. climate lobbying expenditures from 2000 to 2016. Amounts shown by bars and left vertical axis, $0 to $500 million; percent of total lobbying expenditures shown by line graph and right vertical axis, 0% to 10% (from link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-018-2241-z).
Breaking down climate lobbying by sector showed the largest expenditures were by the electrical utilities, $554 million, 26.5% of total climate lobbying expenditures; the fossil fuel sector, $370 million, 17.7%; and the transportation sector, $252 million, 12.0%.

The renewable energy sector accounted for 3.8% ($79 million) and environmental organizations, 2.3% ($48 million), of the total climate lobbying expenditures, with neither exceeding 5% in any year.

U.S. climate lobbying expenditures by sector, 2000 to 2016 (from link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-018-2241-z).
Climate lobbying expenditures tended to be relatively low when control of government was divided between political parties or the party opposed to climate action was in control. When the party in favor of climate action was in control, climate lobbying expenditures increased given the likelihood that climate legislation would be enacted.

Wrap Up
As the researcher noted, climate lobbying is big business. Most of the $2 billion disbursed over the 16-year period studied came from sectors that would be highly impacted by climate legislation, and the timing of expenditures generally correlated with the potential for enacting climate legislation.

Spending by sectors engaged in the supply and use of fossil fuels dwarfed spending by environmental organizations and the renewable energy sector by a factor of 10.

And don’t forget. These are conservative estimates. Thanks for stopping by.

TIME article on the political history of climate change: time.com/4874888/climate-change-politics-history/
1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act (Public Law 104–65 109 Stat. 691): lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/lda.pdf
Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website: www.opensecrets.org/lobby/
Campaign contribution limits: www.opensecrets.org/overview/limits.php
Study of climate lobbying expenditures in Climate Change journal: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-018-2241-z
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718223101.htm
Background: 2015 book, The Business of America is Lobbying: www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190215514.001.0001/acprof-9780190215514

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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