What The Dirty Energy Industry Earns From Millions In Lobbying

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When you combine the lobbies of electric utilities (representing the coal industry) and the lobbies of oil and gas interests, there is no industry that puts more money into buying politicians and influence from year to year than the fossil fuel industry. So far this year, the utilities and the oil and gas industry combined have already pumped a staggering $75.7 million into lobbying activities, and we still have more than five months left until the end of the year.

But that amount is a mere pittance when compared to the $285 million the two groups spent lobbying during 2012, or the $295 million they spent the year before. Again, when taken together, no industry outspends the dirty energy industry in Washington, D.C.

Like any savvy investor, the industry puts its money wherever they believe they can get the highest return on investment. And nowhere is that return higher than in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Just last month, Republicans in the House, joined by only 16 Democrats, passed a bill that, if signed into law, will force the Obama administration to come up with a five year plan on how best to expand drilling activities in America. The bill would require the President and his administration to vastly increase the amount of offshore areas available for oil drilling, giving the oil industry free rein over our coastal waterways. 

Four amendments to the bill were defeated, three of them proposed by Democrats that would have limited the power of oil companies to drill where they please.  These included Rep. Alan Grayson’s amendment that would have allowed states to regulate their own coastlines, Rep. Peter DeFazio’s amendment to limit drilling in Bristol Bay in Alaska, and Rep. Lois Capps’ amendment to block oil and gas leases in Southern California. 

The bill itself will never be signed into law, but more importantly, it is completely unnecessary.  President Obama has done everything possible to expand offshore drilling, even after presiding over one of the worst offshore oil spills in U.S. history. After all, Obama has taken his fair share of industry money.

The bill itself is a continuation of the GOP’s plan to paint Obama as an enemy of the energy industry, a claim that has been contradicted by Obama’s own actions.

But expanding available areas for drilling is only part of the repayment plan demanded by the oil lobby. Congress also has to take out the main competition to dirty energy, and that is the alternative, renewable energy industry.

A recent spending bill for the Department of Energy passed by the House severely cuts back on the government’s investment and research into renewable energy programs. 

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, wanted to take the cuts even further by completely eliminating the Department of Energy’s renewable energy program altogether. Luckily, his amendment calling for the complete shutdown was defeated. McClintock has taken in more than $138,000 from the oil industry during his four years in office.

The proposed spending cuts would be more meaningful if the Republicans in Congress were slashing other areas.  But there is one important budgetary item that they refuse to scale back:  Big oil’s billions in subsidies. 

In 2011, when the opportunity to end subsidies arose and public outrage over the fact the government was subsidizing a multi-billion dollar industry was at an all-time high, the Republicans in the House voted unanimously to protect the industry’s subsidies, sending a clear message to the American public about whose side they are really on.

While the dirty energy industry’s lobbying expenditures might be taking a dive this year, the gifts they are getting out of our elected officials remain steady.  In terms of dollars spent, the dirty energy industry is the most powerful lobbying force in Washington, D.C., and the bills that are being churned out by Congress are a clear reflection of that investment.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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