Energy and environmental interests spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars on federal lobbying last year.
A Greenwire review of recently filed disclosure forms shows lobbyists for companies and trade groups for every energy sector as well as environmental groups were busy in 2014 despite a gridlocked Congress enthralled with campaign antics.
Tuesday was the deadline for interest groups to file their quarterly reports under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Those forms detail what they lobbied on as well as how much they spent.
While Capitol Hill may have offered little in legislation to lobby on, the Obama administration proposed a number of controversial regulations that pitted powerful industries against each other in Washington.
One of those moves was a U.S. EPA proposal to lower the 2014 biofuel mandates in the renewable fuel standard, which angered ethanol producers and drew cheers from oil and gas companies. The proposal led to a furious lobbying battle between the two sectors.
"We have been under attack from Big Oil with the RFS," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, a trade group that represents ethanol producers. "You can’t allow this campaign of misinformation and outright lies to go unchallenged. You have to fight and stand up for your industry."
Growth Energy boosted its lobbying last year, doling out about $1.7 million on K Street advocacy compared with the $1.4 million the group spent in 2013.
There’s hope EPA will climb down from its position and reverse the biofuel cuts to the RFS. That decision is expected this year (Greenwire, Nov. 21, 2014).
"We are waiting to see what that is. We are frustrated with the delay as everyone else is," Buis said. "Uncertainty is something a lot of businesses have problems with. … Having that certainty out there is really important."
Defense is often the lobbyists’ approach to wheeling and dealing in the nation’s capital. Groups found themselves, not just their issues, under attack from political opponents.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has accused the Natural Resources Defense Council of "collusion" with EPA over the agency’s rule to cut power plant pollution. The environmental group has pushed back against those allegations, saying the senator’s investigation of the group’s lobbying of the administration is an "illegitimate fishing expedition" (Greenwire, Dec. 11, 2014).
The group has not backed down on its lobbying. Records show it spent about $714,000 on lobbying last year — more than the $528,000 NRDC spent in 2013. The group has lobbied on everything from the Keystone XL pipeline and renewable energy tax breaks to "Climate and Clean Air Act defense," according to its latest report.
This year will be even more hectic for NRDC as now Republicans control both the House and the Senate after last year’s elections.
"The Republican leadership is bringing up a whole range of anti-environmental bills, including Keystone right now. 2015 is going to require much more lobbying," said David Goldston, NRDC’s director of government affairs.
Others spent more on lobbying as they, too, came under attack for their politics.
Koch Industries Inc. spent about $13.8 million on lobbying last year, a big jump from the $10.4 million the company spent in 2013. The company has become a household name due to ceaseless attacks by Democrats and liberal-leaning groups on CEO Charles Koch and Executive Vice President David Koch, who are major conservative donors (E&E Daily, April 8, 2014).
Koch the company reported lobbying on several issues last year, including a carbon tax, liquefied natural gas, security surrounding chemical facilities and various appropriations bills.
TransCanada Corp., the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — its construction a never-ending debate in Washington — also spent more on lobbying this year compared with 2013. The company doled out $1.4 million in 2014 on K Street efforts, a jump from the $1.1 million it spent the year before.
Spending for most held steady
Several power players in Washington’s energy and environmental world, however, saw little change if not small drops in their lobbying spending from 2013 to 2014.
The American Petroleum Institute spent about $9.1 million on lobbying in 2014, not as much as the $9.3 million the group spent the prior year.
The trade group’s lobbying operation has often been dwarfed by its public relations effort. A Center for Public Integrity report noted last week that in 2012, API spent $7 million on lobbying while sending out $85.5 million to four PR and advertising firms (Greenwire, Jan. 15).
For 2015, API plans to lobby for increased oil and gas production, including building Keystone XL, while battling against new environmental regulations that it argues hinder business.
Michael McKenna, president of MWR Strategies, said he believes lobbying spending will remain flat for energy and environmental interests during the coming year.
"A huge chunk of what these guys do and care about — energy companies, environmentalists — is going to be happening at EPA this year, like it did last year. … A bunch of it will be administrative stuff that will be tough to quantify as advocacy," said McKenna, who is a Republican lobbyist for several energy companies.
Giants in the oil and gas sector also spent big on lobbying in 2014. Exxon Mobil Corp. spent about $12.7 million on lobbying last year, while Chevron Corp. dropped $8.3 million and BP America spent $5.7 million.
Dropping prices for oil could affect oil and gas companies’ lobbying operations during 2015.
"As oil prices hurtle downwards, that really hurts their bottom line. You are going to see the Washington presence shrink for some of these companies," McKenna said.
Other energy sectors were active in lobbying, too.
The Nuclear Energy Institute kept its K Street spending about level between 2013 and 2014, going from $2.1 million to $2.2 million. In 2015, the group will be pushing for a finished license for Yucca Mountain, Nev., so it can store nuclear waste as well as reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank and promoting nuclear energy.
Utilities remained influential in the capital, too, though some lowered their spending on lobbying last year.
The Edison Electric Institute spent $8.5 million on lobbying last year, compared with $10 million in 2013. Others spent big on K Street in 2014, such as Southern Co. with $12.3 million, American Electric Power Co. with $6.5 million and Duke Energy Corp. with $5.9 million.
Greens on defense
Environmental groups also kept their spending on lobbying about the same between 2013 and 2014.
The Sierra Club spent $360,000 on lobbying last year, while Environmental Defense Action Fund spent almost $1 million. The League of Conservation Voters spent $175,000 on lobbying in 2014, a slight increase from $120,000 for the prior year.
Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for LCV, said the bump in lobbying spending last year came about because of growth in the organization.
"Our organization over a whole has grown over the years. Our policy staff has grown as well. That’s part of the reason why you see the bump in 2014," Sittenfeld said. "We also had a big lobby day in June 2014 with the state leagues."
Sittenfeld and other environmentalists have a year of playing defense to look forward to as Republicans run the show on Capitol Hill to block various EPA regulations.
"Our top priority remains addressing climate change," Sittenfeld said. "When it comes to Congress, we will be looking to defend the progress that the administration has been making. It just has been attack after attack."
Legislation might not move, though, as campaign season will likely get an early start as Washington’s attention begins to focus on the 2016 presidential race.
"Once Hillary Clinton announces she is running for president, the presidential campaign is officially on and Congress is officially over. The agencies will keep cranking out rules no matter what, though," McKenna said.