The Climate Lobby: Fossil Fuel Industries Spent More Than Two Billion Dollars between 2000 and 2016 to Influence Relevant Legislation in the U.S. Congress

Lobbyists spent more than two billion dollars between 2000 and 2016 to influence climate-change-related legislation in the U.S. Congress, according to a new study carried out by the researchers from the Drexel University in the U.S. The analysis found that the fossil fuel companies, electrical utilities sector, and transport companies—which were likely to be hugely impacted by bills limiting carbon emissions—outspent environmental groups and clean energy industry to influence legislations in the American Congress.

“Public opinion is pretty much a minor factor in deciding what Congress is going to do,” said Robert J. Brulle, the lead researchers of the study and a sociologist at Drexel University.

According to Brulle, money spent on lobbying has far greater influence in Washington than the opinion of majority of Americans who support government action to deal with the impact of global warming and climate change.

“We seem to have a public opinion fetish where if we get public opinion to be supportive of climate change legislation, then it’ll happen,” Brulle said. “My answer to that is, gee, well, we should have gun control legislation then.”

To carry out this research, Brulle examined thousands of lobbying reports collected by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. These reports are available on the website Open Secrets. Brulle identified specific reports by business sectors and calculated that an amount of US$ 2 billion was spent by various sectors for lobbying on climate-related issues between 2000 and 2016. This figure represented on average 3.9 percent of the annual federal lobbying dollars. The electrical utilities sector spent the most—about 554 million dollars—on lobbying over the 16-year period examined by the study. According to Brulle, these figures don’t cover the money spent on activities such as getting op-eds published in electronic or print media, mobilizing outside groups, or directing public relations campaigns.

The study further also estimated that a total of 53.5 billion dollars were spent between 2000 and 2016 on lobbying on other issues in the U.S.

The timing of proposed legislations and congressional hearings influenced the amount of money spent on climate lobbying. While lobbyists spent just 50 million dollars between 2000 and 2006, the expenditure rose notably in the following years. In 2009—the year when Congress debated the American Clean Energy and Security Act—the spending reached its peak at 362 million dollars, accounting for 9 percent of the total money spent on lobbying in that year. In 2010, when the bill failed in the Senate, the climate petitioning efforts also experienced a slight drop.

In the following years, the lobbying expenditure decreased dramatically to average around 3 percent of overall lobbying efforts.

The detailed findings of the study are published in Springer’s journal Climatic Change.