A closer look at who’s lobbying on climate change

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Companies with the highest and lowest greenhouse gas emissions often spend the most on lobbying related to climate change, a new analysis shows.

The Harvest Business Review used Lobbying Disclosure Act data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics to see which firms actively lobby on climate change — and how much they spend. Its analysis aimed to reveal the degree to which heavy greenhouse gas emitters lobby Congress compared to their greener competitors.

Here’s part of the results:

Our results, published in August in the Academy of Management Discoveries, show that both brown and green firms are active in lobbying. We found a U-shaped relationship between greenhouse gases emissions and lobbying, which means that the highest and the lowest greenhouse gas emitters spent the most on lobbying related to climate change. Meanwhile, companies that had average levels of emissions spent the least on lobbying, perhaps due to having less to gain or lose from potential changes in laws.

More than 1,000 U.S.-based firms were included in the analysis, which focused on data from 2006 to 2009. The Harvest Business Review chose those years because they were marked by several relevant bills making their way through Congress, including the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Firms included in the analysis spent more than $1 billion combined lobbying on climate-related bills during that time period.

Pacific Gas and Electric — considered a green-energy company — spent the second most out of all firms on lobbying at an estimated $27 million in 2008. That same year, ExxonMobil spent an estimated $29 million on lobbying.

In a June Forbes opinion piece, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) derided corporate America’s lackluster lobbying efforts in support of climate change as “Washington’s dirty secret.”

Dozens of companies — such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo — take strong public positions related to recognizing and fighting climate change, he wrote, but do little behind the scenes in terms of actual lobbying to support government action. Additionally, seemingly progressive corporate stances on climate change are often negated by membership to special interest groups that outright denounce it.

“Combating climate change is absolutely critical to the future of our company, customers, consumers — and our world,” Whitehouse said during a December 2015 speech. “I believe all of us need to take action now.”

Whitehouse wrote in his Forbes column that the weak lobbying in support of climate change partly explains why such little progress has been made on a federal level.

According to one 2014 study that traced greenhouse gas emissions from 1751 to 2010, nearly two-thirds of historic carbon dioxide and methane emissions can be attributed to just 90 major international companies. The top 10 companies were Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BP, Gazprom, Shell, National Iranian Oil Company, Pemex, ConocoPhillips and Petroleos de Venezuela.


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