Outside of political circles, the practice of lobbying — and its influence on issues like climate change — can be shrouded in mystery. Helping to clear the air is Robert J. Brulle, PhD, a Drexel environmental sociologist who conducted the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of climate change lobbying data.
The study, published in Springer’s journal Climactic Change, found that lobbyists spent more than $2 billion influencing climate change legislation in U.S. Congress between 2000 and 2016. The fossil fuel, utilities and transportation sectors — known for being tight-lipped on the subject of climate change — accounted for more than half of that amount, eclipsing the 6.1 percent spent by environmental groups and the renewable energy sector.
“Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process,” Brulle says. “This process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process.”
The study also showed that the amount spent on climate change lobbying varied depending on the timing of proposed legislation and congressional hearings. While $50 million was spent between 2000 and 2006, that amount increased significantly in the following years, peaking at $362 million in 2009.
“The Waxman-Markey Bill, formally known as the ‘American Clean Energy and Security Act,’ barely made it past the House in June 2009, by a vote of 219-212,” Brulle says. “It’s clear that when the greatest threat presents itself — like when Congress and the executive branch are aligned and favorable to recognize climate change as a major issue — corporations that engage in the supply and use of fossil fuels work the hardest to upend legislative efforts.”
Brulle says that this has important implications for the outcome and nature of future climate legislation, which is largely determined by intra- sector and inter-industry competition. He found that the activities of environmental and nonprofit organizations often constitute one-time, short- term mobilization efforts — a shortcoming, given the vast expenditures and continuous presence of professional lobbyists.
“Legislative outcomes fuel change, and to not address the lobbying imbalance or ignore this factor is shortsighted,” says Brulle. “A more efficacious strategy will consider this lopsided representation in lobbying, as well as focused efforts, mobilization of citizens and rallying public opinion.”