A new Drexel study found that the fossil fuels, electrical utilities and transportation sectors spent more than $2 billion to influence Congress on climate change legislation.
The research, published July 19 in peer-reviewed journal Climate Change, shows that these greatly sectors outspent environmental groups and alternative energy corporations on climate change lobbying between 2000 and 2016.
Sociology and environmental science professor Robert Brulle analyzed climate lobbying data from legally required reports made available on website OpenSecrets.org — marking the first time a Drexel researcher has conducted a peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of lobbying data.
Brulle’s research also breaks down the various amounts lobbyists spent over the 16 years. From 2000 to 2006, about $50 million was spent on climate-related issues, which accounts for only two percent of the total spending. The expenditures increased in the following years, however, with lobbying efforts peaking at $362 million in 2009. But it declined sharply starting in 2011, and had dropped back to just over $50 million in 2016. Brulle noted from his study that the amount spent on climate change lobbying fluctuate depending on the timing of proposed legislation and congressional hearings.
“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,” Brulle told DrexelNow. “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 fossil fuels work the hardest to upend legislative efforts by increasing their lobby spending ten-fold.”
That these industry sectors outspend environmental groups has important implications for the fate and nature of future climate legislation — many of which are determined by intra-sector and inter-industry competition, according to Brulle. Given the vast expenditures and continuous presence of professional lobbyists, environmental and non-profit organizations are at a clear disadvantage with their one-time, short-term mobilization efforts.
“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,” Brulle told DrexelNow. “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.”
Brulle’s study also calculated that the $2 billion spent on climate change lobbying within those 16 years only accounted for a small percentage of the $53.5 billion spent in total on lobbying on other issues in the U.S.
Brulle hopes his research will inspire a “more efficacious strategy” over the “lopsided representation in lobbying.”
“Legislative outcomes fuel change, and to not address the lobbying imbalance or ignore this factor is short-sighted,” he said.