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'Not Just Immoral, Deadly': How Corporate Lobbyists Ramped Up Spending Ahead of COP26

"The fossil fuel lobby's grimy fingerprints are all over yet another congressional deadlock on meaningful climate action," warned one campaigner.

Jon Queally

As critics warn the U.S. government is very much on the verge of showing up to next week's U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland with little or nothing to show in terms of new levels of ambition to reduce its planet-heating emissions, new reporting shows how the fossil fuel industry has ramped up its political spending over recent months in order to diminish any chance of real progress on the issue.

"We can't allow corporate influence to drive public policy. That's the people's job."

A review of campaign finance disclosures published by E&E News on Tuesday showed that oil and gas companies, electric utilities, and other extractive industries all increased their spending from July to September, a crucial period of negotiations in Congress as the Democrats tried to secure major climate provisions in President Joe Biden's signature 'Build Better Better' legislative agenda.

According to E&E News:

While Democrats crafted their proposals like the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), fees for oil and natural gas companies’ methane emissions, and new incentives to buy electric vehicles, the energy industry and its allies were doubling down on their efforts to stop or otherwise influence the policies, according to lobbying disclosures due last week that detailed activity between July and September.

The disclosures showed increases in spending by groups like the American Gas Association, the National Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute — organizations that have been harshly critical of parts of the "Build Back Better Act," the Democrats’ budget reconciliation package that was initially targeted to be $3.5 trillion but will soon be pared back.

In response to the figures, Jean Su, director of the energy justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity, told E&E that this flood of industry cash goes a long way in explaining the obstruction of lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the largest beneficiaries of industry campaign contributions.

"The fossil fuel lobby's grimy fingerprints are all over yet another congressional deadlock on meaningful climate action," said Su t. "Manchin's antics are solely for the benefit of a few obscenely wealthy companies selling polluting products that threaten the entire planet's well-being. As the climate emergency escalates, this lobbying isn't just immoral, it's deadly."

And it's not just the fossil fuel companies. The reporting shows that large corporate lobby groups like the Business Roundtable, which spent $11.8 million, and the National Association of Manufacturers, which spent $3.2 million, increased their lobbying budgets in the latest quarter by a 217% and 185%, respectively, compared to the same time period in 2020.

In addition:

Utilities that lobby federal officials increased their spending too, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., with a 33 percent boost to $920,000; NextEra Energy Inc.'s 47 percent increase to $1.29 million; Southern Co.'s 25 percent hike to $2.19 million; and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.'s $440,000 spending, a 33 percent increase. 

Utilities have been heavily involved in negotiations over CEPP, which would incentivize companies to decarbonize their electricity generation mixes each year.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House and among those leading the fight to keep robust climate funding in the overall bill, said the lobbying blitz should be seen as a clear example of industry greed trying to overrule the popular demand from voters who support curbing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the existential threat of the climate crisis.

"Big Oil and Gas just announced millions in new corporate spending against climate action," tweeted Jayapal later Tuesday night. "We can't allow corporate influence to drive public policy. That's the people's job."

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