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Research: Who’s Lobbying Congress on Climate Change

Research: Who’s Lobbying Congress on Climate Change
Harvard Business Review
By Magali Delmas
Published: October 19, 2016

To many, political lobbying is seen as a way to advance special interests at the expense of the greater good. So when it comes to lobbying on climate change, the prevailing public view is that most firms lobby against climate regulations — such as those aiming to curb carbon emissions — because greater regulation threatens industry. It’s not hard to see why this might be. Consider the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest lobbying organization, which spent over $90 million lobbying against climate change legislation in 2014 — more than any organization, based on our analysis. That same year, one of the highest-polluting utilities, Southern Company, spent an estimated $9 million on climate change lobbying. This is one reason why Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse recently called for more corporate lobbyists to aid the climate movement.

However, because lobbying data has only been recently made electronically available, there’s been little analysis of which firms are lobbying most and on what issue. My co-authors, Jinghui Lim and Nick Nairn-Birch, and I examined Lobbying Disclosure Act data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, to see which firms actually lobby on climate change, and how much they spend. Specifically, we wanted to determine whether it’s true that only heavy greenhouse gas emitters (“brown” firms) lobby, or whether green firms (lower greenhouse gas emitters) are also active.

We analyzed lobbying expenditure data and greenhouse gases emission data on 1,141 U.S.-based firms. We focused on the years 2006 to 2009, as it was a period of intense climate lobbying — the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed in the House of Representatives in June 2009, but was not taken up in the Senate. There have been no major climate bills since then, despite some initiatives to combat climate change in the Obama administration.

We are able to focus on lobbying spending that was specific to climate change, by examining the issue descriptions filed with lobbying reports. We flagged words related to climate change, such as “climate,” “global warming,” and “greenhouse,” as well as the names and numbers of climate-related bills. If we found climate-related key words, bill names, or bill numbers in the issue descriptions, we coded the amount as climate lobbying spending.

We should note that one serious deficiency with Lobbying Disclosure Act data is that it doesn’t include whether a company lobbied for or against a specific regulation. So we only know how much was spent.

Our results, published in August in the Academy of Management Discoveries, show that both brown and green firms are active in lobbying. We found a U-shaped relationship between greenhouse gases emissions and lobbying, which means that the highest and the lowest greenhouse gas emitters spent the most on lobbying related to climate change. Meanwhile, companies that had average levels of emissions spent the least on lobbying, perhaps due to having less to gain or lose from potential changes in laws.

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