Utility Lobbyists Steering the Energy and Environmental Debate

Ken Silverstein | Jul 09, 2012


Who is winning the energy and environmental debate? The answer really depends on how the discussion is framed and whether the focus is on the economy and energy prices or the ecology and human health.

Industrial and environmental organizations are all flooding the halls of Congress while trying to woo the American electorate at the same time. Republicans and Democrats can claim victories on behalf of their constituencies, although the corporate lobbyists won’t draft their long-term tactics until they see which party ultimately controls Washington.

If President Obama wins in November, energy and utility companies will join the discussions. But if the presumed Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, prevails and then decides that environmental issues will be back burned, those same entities would have much less incentive to participate in the dialogue. Energy companies were coming to the table after the Democratic sweep in 2008. But when Congress split in 2010, they saw their chance to steer the talks their way.

“Because of the state of the economy and how the debate is being framed -- jobs and the economy -- the climate change debate is not getting much attention anymore,” says Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, the non-partisan political intelligence unit of CQ Press. “The lobbying industry knows this. But it can all change pretty quickly after the election.”

First Street Research Group released an analysis of the bills introduced just after Obama’s team arrived in Washington in 2008 compared to when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010. The current congress has introduced less than half the number of climate change-related bills as the one before that when the Democrats controlled both chambers.

Nevertheless, the group says that there has been no lack of legislation on issues impacting the environment. First Street reviewed 64 such measures and found that energy companies were the most actively involved, which implies they simply wanted to construct the terms by which everyone could live. Among the largest: Duke Energy, MidAmerican Energy and Exelon Corp., which have very different goals as to what America’s energy picture should look like. 

National Election

Consider the recent vote in the U.S. Senate that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards: There, the most active utilities were those that rely heavily on coal: American Electric Power, Southern Co., Ameren, FirstEnergy Corp., DTE Energy, Energy Future Holdings, GenOn Energy and PPL. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity as well as the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council also spent heavily.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, they contributed a combined $67 million lobbying Congress between 2010 and the first quarter of 2012.

As to their mercury effort, it was defeated in the U.S. Senate. That caused some supporters of the coal industry to advise those entities to be a part of the solution and not to always be seen as obstructing environmental progress. They cautioned those utilities and coal lobbyists that their stature on Capitol Hill is waning and that any further losses would reduce their political powers even further.

“Energy companies are emphasizing energy prices and feel they can win supporters among the general electorate this way,” says Bronstein-Moffly. “The verdict, however, is still out: Industry is winning on the legislative front while the Obama administration and the Democrats are winning on the regulatory front.”

What political strategy is in the offing for the energy industry? If the preponderance of members from coal-producing states were to line up behind the president and the EPA, then the coal companies and their utility clients would come to the table as a way to affect the outcome of any bills or regs, adds Bronstein-Moffly. Until that would happen, though, those entities won’t have the incentive to do so, especially with a national election around the corner.

President Obama has made it clear that he supports tougher environmental rules and if he were to get re-elected, the energy community would likely become more conciliatory, says Bronstein-Moffly. If Romney wins, however, the analyst adds that any potential green legislation and regulation would get sidelined, noting that it would still be difficult to repeal anything that has already passed.

“It is never just about money and political lobbying,” says Bronstein-Moffly. “Time and again, when journalists and citizens line up behind an issue, it can shift the debate. Because we are in a state of limbo, there is not going to be any movement either way until the election is over.”

The political jockeying is well underway. The White House is coming off some key environmental victories that it believes the public-at-large supports. That position, though, is getting fiercely rebutted by those in industry and on Capitol Hill who feel the electorate is more concerned about economic health and energy prices.

EnergyBiz Insider is named a 2012 Finalist for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein


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Silverstein still worshiping a false god

Ken, you are really impervious to hard scientific data, solifidfying my view of you as a religious man-made global warming zealot.

Perhaps you missed this report this week in the TELEGRAPH that tree rings prove (at least in Europe) that climate was signficantly warmer in Roman times and have cooled since.  Damn those Roman coal fired plants that Jesus condemned!  

Meanwhile, every indicator that the corrupt and fraudlent IPCC pointed to as evidence for warming has been thoroughly debunked.  A small list is here:

The Antarctic sea ice extent has been at or near record extent in the past few summers and the ice is expanding, the Arctic hasrebounded in recent years since the low point in 2007, polar bears are thriving, sea level is not showing acceleration and isactually droppingCholera and Malaria are failing to follow global warming predictions, Mount Kilimanjaro melt fears are being made a mockery by gains in snow cover, global temperatures have been holding steady for a decade or more and many scientists are predicting global cooling is ahead, deaths due to extreme weather are radically declining, global tropical cyclone activity is near historic lows, the frequency of major U.S. hurricanes has declined, the oceans are missing their predicted heat content, bigtornados have dramatically declined since the 1970s, droughts are not historically unusual nor caused by mankind, there is no evidence we are currently having unusual weatherscandals continue to rock the climate fear movement, the UN IPCC has been exposed as being a hotbed of environmental activists, former Vice President Al Gore is now under siege by his fellow global warming activists for attempting to link every bad weather event to man-made global warming and scientists from around the world continue to dissent from man-made climate fears at a rapid pace.

Utility Lobbyists Steering Debate on Energy and Environment



The utilities operate within a system(s) that is concerned with  profits 
and market share.  If utility executives don’t deliver on those, they 
will be out the door.  The market systems under which utilities operate 
don’t take into account the threat to human civilization that fossil 
fuels are causing, so utilities steering the energy and 
environmental debate is part of the threat to human civilization. 



Need to review data on what electrification as done for humanity

Maybe I am reading something into your post that you did not mean but one should look up data on what electrification has accomplished to improve human health circumstances before implying that utilities have been bad for humankind and the environment.

In general, electricification and subsequent development has increased lifespan and decreased hunger worldwide.  Without fossil fuels, the pace of electrification and development would have been much, much slower.  It is difficult to develop a country's economy with undependable, non-dispatchable electrical power.

utility Lobbyists Steering Debate on Energy and Environment


Agreed that electricity and oil have brought unprecedented prosperity to
1 billion of the 7 billion people.  Now, however, the use of fossil fuels 
are the equivalent of drinking Jonestown kool-aid for human civilization 
on Earth.  

Bill Rees: Why We're in Denial


Bill Rees discusses cultural denial and how we could start 

adapting to our ecological challenges through a new cultural narrative. 

June 9, 2012   ~15 min video



TEDx David Roberts - Climate Change ...


  1. 6/12/12 David Roberts is staff writer at Grist.org. In "Climate Change is Simple” 
    he describes the causes and effects of climate change in blunt, plain terms. 
  2. text of Roberts TEDx video--
  3. By DavidRoberts. Back in April, The Evergreen State College invited me to ...

Joe Romm blog:


It doesn't seem to matter what the scientists  or Chomsky or  Romm have to say.  
The general public and the politicians don’t seem to be paying attention. 

There is the state Initiative process in about half the states that allows 
one to bypass electoral politics.
People in 7 states used Nuclear Safeguards Initiatives in the 1970s to 
change the public discussion about nuclear power. Even though 
we were greatly outspent and lost the battles, we won the war--
as no nuclear plants  started  construction for over 2 decades.  


Utilities Focus on Their Future

The US energy utility industry represents a capital investment of several trillions of dollars. The industry will be required to invest more than one trillion dollars in new and replacement  physical plant over the period through 2030, Federal legislative and regulatory decisions have the potential to significantly increase this investment requirement by requiring the early abandonment of existing coal generators which cannot be economically retrofit to comply with new emissions regulations and by essentially prohibiting the construction of new coal generation facilities.

It is little wonder that the energy utility industry is lobbying to avoid unnecessary and unrealistic legislative and regulatory requirements. Industry managements would be guilty of gross dereliction of duty if they failed to lobby to protect the interests of their investors.