CLIMATE:

Energy companies opened wallets wide to sway House bill

Electric utilities boosted lobbying in the second quarter of 2009, narrowing the gap with oil and gas companies that had dominated spending on persuasion by a wide margin earlier this year.

An early analysis of a portion of lobbying disclosures shows utilities racked up at least $12 million in expenses, while companies that produce oil and natural gas spent at least $13.9 million.

The difference between the two is far smaller than in the first quarter. In January through March, electric utilities spent $35.1 million, while oil and gas doled out $44.5 million.

The spending reveals how heavily certain industries worked to influence House climate legislation, analysts said (Greenwire, June 26). Utilities, especially those that use coal, succeeded in winning help in that bill. With the debate now shifted to the Senate, analysts expect heavy persuasion efforts to continue.

"The coal industry is going to have to step up to keep what they got," said Kenneth Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "The oil industry's going to have to step up to get what they didn't get. The environmentalists are going to be lobbying to tighten the standards."

The numbers reflect partial totals for lobbying spending in April, May and June. E&E, which tracks lobbying by 10 energy and climate sectors, asked the Center for Responsive Politics to analyze second-quarter spending data that had been made public by the Senate as of yesterday. About 60 percent of the total was ready, with complete numbers expected to be computed next week.

The nonpartisan research center chooses the industry categories and assigns groups to each category. Within many sectors, there are companies with disparate if not conflicting interests. Companies that produce primarily natural gas, for example, have different legislative priorities than do oil producers.

Because the numbers are partial totals, they do not reveal whether sectors spent more this year than in 2008.

Electric utilities in 2008 spent $159.7 million on lobbying expenditures. Their first-quarter total of $35 million showed the industry on track to spend less this year. But at the time, analysts said spending could rise in the second quarter as House lawmakers headed toward a vote on climate legislation that would profoundly change energy laws.

"Several large electric utilities are the big winners in this climate bill," said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a watchdog group. "Clearly, there is a reason why they spend this money on lobbying."

"There is typically a correlation," Slocum added. "The more you spend, the better chance you get at influencing the legislative process."

The House bill sponsored by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts would set up a program to cap carbon emissions and require industries to buy pollution permits. The legislation would give away 85 percent of those permits in the early years, and electric utilities would get 35 percent of those free allowances.

Utility lobbying efforts were aimed at preventing sharply higher electricity bills, said Jim Owen, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities.

"A lot of these issues are incredibly complicated," Owen said. "Part of what we're trying to do, we're trying to be part of that conversation with Congress, [seeking] what we regard as sound energy policy."

Based on the preliminary numbers, American Electric Power Co. Inc. -- a utility serving Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia -- spent the most in the sector. The company, which uses large amounts of coal to make power, spent at least $2.9 million on lobbying.

Oil and gas still tops spending

The oil and gas industry's top spending in the second quarter comes after first-quarter numbers showed the sector on pace to shatter previous spending totals. The industry in the first three months of the year spent $44.5 million on lobbying, compared with $30.1 million in the same period a year earlier. If the pace set by this year's first quarter continued, it would result in a $178 million lobbying total for the year.

Oil and gas in 2008 spent $130 million, a record at that time.

"We have a new administration and a new Congress that have new climate-related initiatives that would have some impact on the long-term viability of our industry," said Robert Dodge, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for about 400 small and large companies. "With issues like this that would have an impact on our industry, we need to be out there doing our job."

As they lobby in the Senate, oil and gas companies are focused on climate policies, tax incentives and the ability to drill offshore and on federal land, excluding national parks and protected areas.

Oil companies, analysts said, have reason to spend on lobbying. The industry did not fare well in the House bill. Oil refiners would get just 2 percent of those free emission allowances for two years. Some economists believe that could push up fuel prices.

"They look to be sort of the losers from the House bill," said Steven Hayward, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Dodge said the industry is taking a long-term view, one that includes working to persuade voters that climate policies in the House could push up transportation costs and the prices of food and other goods that are trucked.

"We're very early in the legislative process for this Congress. We've got months to go," Dodge said. At this point, he added, "it's kind of hard to judge whether you've been successful or not."

Chevron Corp. topped spending in the sector, according to the early projections. The company spent at least $6 million on lobbying.

"The company is engaging the Administration and U.S. Congress to provide perspectives on complex energy issues affecting the U.S. and world," Chevron said in a statement. "We lobby on a range of interests for the company, including international issues that fall outside of a narrow energy policy focus."

Spending less for other sectors

Other sectors with a stake in climate legislation spent far less than oil and gas or electric utilities, the preliminary numbers show.

Agricultural services and products spent $5.7 million; chemical companies and related manufacturers, $4.8 million; natural gas transmission and distribution companies, $4.3 million; alternative-energy producers, $4 million; forestry and forest products, $2 million; environmental interests, $1.6 million; mining companies and groups, $1.5 million; and coal mining -- which is also included in the mining total -- about $523,000.

Those numbers are expected to be potentially much greater when all the reports are tallied.

"This is the big enchilada in the environment and energy industries for a while," Hayward said. The policy changes, he said, "are even bigger than some of the [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt New Deal things."

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