The number of companies and organizations hiring energy lobbyists reached record levels last year as major climate legislation worked its way through Congress.
More than 1,700 groups and businesses turned to K Street in 2009 for help on energy, climate and nuclear issues, a jump from 1,331 in 2008, according to new data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The numbers constitute a more than 70 percent increase from three years ago and include companies ranging from information technology giants to steel manufacturers.
In addition, many companies spent unprecedented amounts individually to get their voices heard on global warming policy with federal agencies and lawmakers.
"In 2009, the climate sausage making was under way, so this is expected," said Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan.
The totals are available now because the deadline for reporting lobbying expenditures to the government for last year occurred in late January.
The House passed legislation in June that would establish a mandatory cap on emissions in conjunction with a carbon trading system. The Senate moved a similar bill through committee, but ran into a stalemate on the issue as health care overtook the calendar.
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New entrants to lobbyists' offices last year included the Climate Registry, an organization that sets standards for entities to calculate and verify their emissions, and the Climate Protection Action Fund, an arm of former Vice President Al Gore's nonprofit empire. New coalitions such as America's Natural Gas Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance spent more than $1 million each for the year.
For companies paying record totals, expenditures for climate change often popped up on more lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress than expenditures for other topics. That often means those businesses spent more time advocating on global warming than on other subjects, according to Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Texas-based Energy Future Holdings, for example, spent $4 million on lobbying in 2009, a doubling of what it spent on an annual basis over the past 10 years. It listed climate legislation on 14 separate disclosure reports last year, compared with six or fewer mentions on other bills.
"On the particular issue of climate change legislation, like most energy companies, we believe it is important that we take part in shaping a solution," said Lisa Singleton, a spokeswoman for Energy Future Holdings.
The company supported principles from the Edison Electric Institute, which helped craft a complex blueprint for the utility sector in the House bill allocating 35 percent of carbon allowances freely to power generators, Singleton said. The cap-and-trade program called for in that bill would require capped entities to hold a restricted number of allowances equal to their emissions.
Oil and gas industry pours in millions
The oil and gas industry's spending reached a high of $154 million, up from $132 million in 2008, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Like Energy Future Holdings, many companies in the sector listed global warming legislation more than other bills in federal filings.
One of those corporations, Chevron, increased its overall lobbying by 66 percent in 2009 to $20 million.
"In addition to energy efficiency and conservation measures, Chevron supports the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through a national framework based on transparency, broad and equitable treatment of participating sectors, cost containment and avoidance of duplicative regulation," said company spokesman Morgan Crinklaw in a statement.
Much of the oil and gas industry complained after passage of the House bill that the industry got fewer financial benefits in the legislation than some other sectors. Yet recent discussion about the need for offshore drilling in an overall climate bill reflects the industry's spending clout, said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a watchdog group.
The ethanol and biofuel industries pressed hard on climate issues, too, as several companies and organizations in the sector set new spending highs.
American Coalition for Ethanol Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said he thought the group's efforts made a difference in persuading U.S. EPA to change its computer modeling so that ethanol benefited from regulations for low-carbon fuels announced last week. Initially, the proposed rules made it more difficult for ethanol to count as a renewable fuel under standards established by a 2007 energy bill.
The organization upped its lobbying dollars from $115,915 in 2008 to $178,346 in 2009.
A payback in the fine print?
Then there were companies that found success in pushing measures buried deep within bills. The global warming legislation passed by the House, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), includes language about updating the electrical grid by replacing one type of electrical grid equipment with another.
The bill specifically states that electrical grid planning should make use of "high capacity conductors with at least 25 percent greater efficiency than traditional ACSR (aluminum stranded conductors steel reinforced) conductors."
That benefits companies like Composite Technology Corp., which paid more than $300,000 to lobbyists last year after a three-year spending hiatus.
Its subsidiary, CTC Cable, produces "high efficiency" transmission conductors for electrical lines that use high-fiber cable rather than traditional materials. The environmental mantra of such manufacturers is that they prevent electricity wires from losing energy, so less fuel is burned and less greenhouse gases are emitted.
A Senate version of the bill that moved out of the Environment and Public Works Committee didn't include the House text, but Don Douglas, vice president of business development at CTC Cable, said he is working hard to make sure any ultimate package includes the conductor language.
Focus, not firepower, counts most
"It just needs recognition," he said of the company's product.
Despite the money flow, Rabe questioned how much the dollars make a difference. Some of the industries that benefited from provisions in the House climate bill actually decreased their lobbying expenditures in 2009.
The electric utility sector, for example, spent less even as the House bill included measures that provided a bevy of free carbon allowances to large, coal-dependent utilities. Many of those utilities decreased their lobbying expenditures last year overall, as well.
The issue is not how much a company or group spent, but where it focused its efforts and with how many lawmakers, explained Slocum of Public Citizen. A corporation using half the money to lobby 50 lawmakers rather than 100 can have the same influence if the smaller pool of politicians makes the difference for passage of a particular bill, he said.
Companies also may be focusing efforts more on advertising and grass-roots operations that escape the eyes of federal regulators, Rabe said. With the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations to fund advertising directly from their own treasuries, the move away from traditional lobbying could grow, he said.