Fossil Fuel Interests Have Outspent Environmental Advocates 10:1 on Climate Lobbying

More than $2 billion was spent on lobbying climate change legislation in the United States from 2000 to 2016, with the fossil fuel industry, transportation companies, and utilities outspending environmental groups and the renewable energy industry 10 to 1, according to a new analysis published in the journal Climatic Change.

The amount of money spent influencing climate legislation represents 3.9 percent of total lobbying expenditures in the U.S. during this time period, according to environmental sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University, author of the new research.

“Special interests dominate the conversation, all working for a particular advantage for their industry,” Brulle told ThinkProgress. “The common good is not represented.”

Brulle analyzed nearly 2 million publicly available lobbying documents collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C. that tracks money spent on U.S. elections and lobbying. He found more than 64,100 lobbying expenditure reports with keywords such as “climate change” and “carbon,” then divided them by industry.

Climate-related lobbying in the United States between 2000 and 2016, by industry.

Climate-related lobbying in the United States between 2000 and 2016, by industry. Brulle et al. 2018

The electric utility sector spent the most money on climate lobbying: $554 million between 2000 and 2016. The fossil fuel industry spent $370 million, while the transportation industry, including airlines, spent $252 million. Combined, these three sectors account for more than 56 percent of all climate-related lobbying expenditures. Environmental organizations, meanwhile, spent $48 million, representing 2.3 percent of total climate lobbying, and renewable energy groups spent $79 million, or 3.8 percent. Other sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and business associations account for the remaining expenditures.

Brulle warns the $2 billion total spent on the fight over U.S. climate legislation is likely a conservative estimate. As the Huffington Post explains, federal rules only require that people who spend more than 20 percent of their time on lobbying activities submit disclosure forms. The total also doesn’t account for the money fossil fuel interests or other groups spent on public relations campaigns.