Environmental organizations poured money into lobbying this summer, increasing their efforts to push transformational climate legislation through the Senate and into law.
Green-group lobbying expenditures for July through September ballooned 33 percent to $6.1 million, compared with $4.6 million in the same period a year earlier.
While that spending level is a fraction of what the oil and gas or electric utility sectors spent on lobbying in the third quarter, it signals increased confidence among environmental groups that climate legislation can be passed, analysts and observers said.
"For them, the big issue is getting a climate bill before Copenhagen," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program, referring to the December meeting of U.N. negotiators in Denmark. "They want some serious legislative action that they can use to build momentum going into Copenhagen. That is what their money is getting them, a sustained momentum push."
The third quarter saw the Environmental Defense Fund increase lobbying spending 185 percent from a year earlier. The Nature Conservancy upped its total 46 percent. The World Wildlife Fund launched a major campaign and spent $1 million versus the $45,000 paid in summer 2008.
As they beefed up spending, environmental groups competed against other sectors to get the attention of lawmakers. The oil and gas industry, alternative energy sector and natural gas industry also increased lobbying efforts during the third quarter, which largely bridged the period between House passage of a climate bill and the unveiling of the version in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"There are billions of dollars at stake" if Congress changes climate and energy policies, Slocum said. "What may seem like to the average person a large lobbying expense is really a small investment for a company's bottom line."
E&E examined spending for 10 industries that lobby on climate and energy legislation. Others in the top 10 are electric utilities, chemical and related manufacturing, agricultural services and products, mining, coal mining, and forestry and forest products. The industry data were compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, which uses reports filed with the House and determines the industry categories.
All told, the 10 industries spent a total of $124.2 million on lobbying in July, August and September, compared with $139.8 million in the same period a year ago. That number is skewed by one company, California utility PG&E Corp. By itself, PG&E spent 80 percent less in the third quarter of 2009 than in the same period of 2008. Last year in the third quarter, it tallied $19.1 million in lobbying expenses as it fought ballot initiatives in San Francisco and statewide. PG&E reports local and statewide lobbying as part of its federal total. The utility spent $3.8 million on lobbying from July through September this year.
The oil and gas industry in the third quarter outspent all of the other sectors lobbying on climate. That energy industry's spending increased less than 1 percent to $38.4 million from $36.7 million a year ago.
Exxon Mobil Corp. led its sector with $7.2 million in lobbying work, more than the total of the entire alternative energy sector. Wind, solar, biofuel and other green energy companies and trade groups spent $6.6 million, up 18 percent from $5.6 million spent a year ago.
Electric utilities bankrolled $37.4 million in persuasion efforts. The industry in last year's third quarter spent $49.3 million, with PG&E's drop in spending playing a large role in the year-over-year decline.
Green groups open wallets
For the quarter, the World Wildlife Fund spent the most within the environmental sector. Its $1 million lobbying tally is more than twice the $430,000 total of the Environmental Defense Fund, the next biggest spender.
A nonprofit that works to preserve natural areas, plants and animals, the World Wildlife Fund had previously spent little on lobbying because it saw its efforts in a global context, including work in the Amazon rain forest, the Congo basin and forests in Southeast Asia. But last spring, WWF decided it needed to focus at least some of its efforts on Washington.
"Because climate change is really such a big issue that could undercut decades of conservation progress, we jumped in," said Ginette Hemley, WWF's senior vice president for conservation strategy and science. "We have mounted a campaign. We are now in the discussion, in the debate."
WWF's campaign, which started in August, targets senators in the swing states of Montana, Maine, Indiana, Arkansas, Alaska and North Dakota. The wildlife group is funding advertisements that cite the effects of climate change specific to each state. In Montana, for example, ads mention increased wildfires. They ask people to call their senators and press for a "yes" vote on climate legislation.
The WWF effort, Hemley said, is meant to complement one from Clean Energy Works, a campaign that unites environmentalists, organized labor, hunters and fishers, and military veterans pushing for passage of a bill. That drive started in early September.
The Environmental Defense Fund similarly beefed up lobbying largely because of climate legislation, spokesman Tony Kreindler said.
"Clearly the biggest priority for every group out there right now is getting this bill passed," Kreindler said. "Everyone expects it to happen. The momentum is there."
"The question now is timing, how quickly it can happen," Kreindler said, adding that if the bill i not passed before December, the hope is that it will happen early next year.
Increased spending from environmental groups reflects that they see a key opportunity to get climate legislation over the finish line, said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"They continue to believe, and are probably right, that this administration is the best one they've had in years in terms of mirroring the concerns [they] have," Ebinger said. "They feel like this is the best deal they'll ever get."
But he questioned whether environmentalists are too eager to sign onto legislation that won't meet their policy goals. Both the House bill and the one from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are "very flawed pieces of legislation," Ebinger said.
"Above all else, they want a cap-and-trade system," Ebinger said, because environmentalists believe it will drive private investment to greener energy sources. "There's so many loopholes and so [much] backpedaling here that we're not going to see the reductions we need to get."
Kreindler said EDF comes at the issue from a different angle.
"The most important thing to do right now is get the architecture in place so we can start moving forward," Kreindler said, explaining that a future Congress can improve climate policies.
"What we need to do," Kreindler said, "is just get started."
Big spending, mixed results
Despite their high level of spending, oil and gas companies so far have not seen much in return in the Senate climate legislation, Slocum and Ebinger said. The Senate bill largely is modeled on the House version, with both doling out a large portion of pollution permits in the early years.
The House bill gave oil refiners just 2 percent of those free emission allowances for two years. The Senate bill turns it over to U.S. EPA to determine how many free permits oil refiners would receive.
But high lobbying spending by the oil and gas industry shows that it is still battling, Slocum said. The industry might hope it can block a bill, he said, or secure favorable amendments in committee or on the Senate floor.
The industry trade group American Petroleum Institute believes it is "making some headway in both educating consumers and constituents and lawmakers on the hill," said spokesman Robert Dodge. Over the summer, he said, there was big turnout at rallies that API sponsored to voice concerns about how the House-passed bill could affect energy prices.
"We're sort of maybe in the first quarter or even earlier in the ballgame," Dodge said. "The legislative process is often a long one. These issues, they have a long life sometimes."
For now, API is not talking about what it wants in the Kerry-Boxer bill. The industry has criticized the allocation of free pollution permits in the House bill, saying it is inequitable and will drive up fuel costs.
The electric utility industry fared better in the Kerry-Boxer legislation. Boxer in her chairman's version of the bill included identical language to the House version that gave 30 percent of free pollution permits to state-regulated local electric-distribution companies. Those allowances must be used to benefit consumers.
Trade group Edison Electric Institute wants that share of free permits increased to 40 percent. EEI also is lobbying to have utilities receive those free permits for a longer period, said spokesman Jim Owen. Under the Kerry-Boxer bill, investor-owned utilities and smaller local distribution companies would see their free credits zero out in 2030.