Energy companies boost lobbying amid reconciliation fight

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News • Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2021

President Biden in New Jersey yesterday touting his infrastructure, social and climate plans. Michael Santiago/Getty Images

Fossil fuel companies, electric utilities and other industries significantly increased their spending on lobbying federal officials as debates over President Biden and congressional Democrats’ climate change agenda heated up.

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.

The American Gas Association increased its lobbying spending 67 percent over the same quarter last year to $550,000, while the National Mining Association had a 91 percent hike to $530,000 and the American Petroleum Institute spent $1.25 million, a 4 percent boost. All disclosed lobbying on some portions of the Democrats’ climate and environmental agenda.

NMA is not only focused on policies affecting coal. House Democrats are also pushing mining law reforms as part of reconciliation. It’s unclear whether that effort remains alive (E&E Daily, Oct. 6).

API said its lobbying included pushing for carbon pricing and direct regulation of methane emissions. “We continue to work to defeat a punitive and duplicative natural gas tax and other misguided efforts to restrict the affordable, reliable energy needed to fuel America’s economic recovery,” said spokesperson Bethany Aronhalt Williams.

Some of the biggest spending increases among energy companies came from Koch Industries Inc., with an 82 percent increase to $3.25 million; Marathon Petroleum Corp., which boosted spending 134 percent to $820,000; ConocoPhillips Co.’s 59 percent increase to $620,000; and BP PLC’s $1.17 million spending, a 31 percent increase.

Lobbying by Marathon, a fuel refiner, focused on issues including the renewable fuel standard, sustainable aviation fuels and potential expansions to the master limited partnership structure, said spokesperson Jamal Kheiry, who noted that the third quarter of 2020 saw an “unusual lack of legislative activity.”

Capitol Tax Partners, a lobbying firm working for Marathon, said in its quarterly disclosure that its advocacy for the refiner included the reconciliation bill and the “Clean Energy for America Act,” S. 1298, the Senate Democrats’ proposal to overhaul clean energy tax incentives.

Jean Su, director of the energy justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the fossil fuel industry deserves blame for the difficulty Democrats are having in passing their climate proposals amid opposition mainly from Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“The fossil fuel lobby’s grimy fingerprints are all over yet another congressional deadlock on meaningful climate action,” Su told E&E News in a statement.

“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,” she said. “As the climate emergency escalates, this lobbying isn’t just immoral, it’s deadly.”

While Congress was busy in the third quarter of 2021 with the reconciliation proposal, the same period a year prior was still the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lobbying was being held back by restrictions on in-person gatherings.

The National Association of Manufacturers and Business Roundtable, both vocal critics of the “Build Back Better Act,” hiked their lobbying significantly in the most recent quarter, with a 185 percent spike from NAM to $3.2 million and Business Roundtable hitting $11.8 million, 217 percent higher than a year prior.

All three of the main national lobbying organizations for electric utilities increased their lobbying spending: the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

NRECA pushed for policies like allowing nonprofit utilities to get clean energy incentives equivalent to tax credits. It also lobbied on various issues surrounding the transition to clean energy, including “reliability and affordability issues presented by the proposed CEPP,” said spokesperson Stephen Bell.

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.

But their views on the idea are diverse. Some, like Exelon Corp., are vocal supporters, while others, like Arizona Public Service, have been outspoken in opposition, and many have remained publicly quiet (Climatewire, Sept. 30).

Exelon’s lobbying spending fell slightly to $900,000, a 7 percent decrease, while Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service, upped its lobbying spending by 42 percent to $170,000.

Clean energy companies also appear to have been very active in the third quarter of the year. The Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Clean Power Association both increased their lobbying spending by more than three-quarters, with SEIA hitting $400,000 and ACPA $529,000.

SEIA spokesperson Jen Bristol said the group cut back lobbying in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, and it spent $560,000 in the third quarter of 2019. SEIA’s two biggest policy priorities continue to be tax and trade policy, Bristol said.

Apex Clean Energy and Invenergy, two of the nation’s biggest clean energy developers, had some of the largest spending increases. Apex spent $190,000 lobbying, up 217 percent, while Invenergy had a 280 percent increase to $380,000.