Lobbyists Against Green Energy

illustration by Forrest Laffely

At the time of writing, OpenSecrets reports Sen. Joe Manchin has received $1,128,517 received $1,086,567 from the oil and gas industry since becoming a politician.

During the 2021-22 election cycle, Manchin was the top recipient from lobbyists in the coal mining, oil and gas, tobacco, savings and loans industries according to opensecrets.org.

With the Senate divided 50-50, Democrats cannot afford to lose a vote if they want anything passed, including green energy bills.

How much does lobbying from oil and gas companies affect the passage of green energy policy? The answer: surprisingly not that much.

Lobbying: The Basics

“Any attempt by individuals or private interest groups to influence the decisions of government” is considered lobbying by the Encyclopedia Britannica. When people talk about lobbying in politics, however, they usually mean large corporations, or a collection of corporations, giving money or gifts to politicians in exchange for support.

In 2021, $3.73 billion was spent on lobbying, with some of the biggest spenders like Amazon, Meta (formerly Facebook), Blue Cross/Blue Shield and more companies spending over $20 million each.

Lobbying is not done just by billion-dollar companies.  The field also includes lobbying groups for unions, trash collection, magazine publishing and other prominent industries. Each spend millions of dollars every year.

Eric Hittinger, an associate professor and acting Interim Department Chair of Public Policy at RIT, described how lobbying groups will write up draft legislation for politicians if there is a specific wording they want passed into law.

According to Hittinger, most of the time these draft legislations are not used or are heavily edited before becoming the final bill.

However, these draft legislations can pass into law, such as in 2013 when 82 percent of the lines from a bill that passed in the House weres drafted by the bank Citigroup.

According to research conducted by USA Today, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, 10,163 bills introduced in statehouses from 2010-2018 were very similar or almost identical to draft legislation created by special interest groups.

Considering that state legislatures across the country see about 109,000 bills introduced each year, that means that around 10 percent of all bills introduced each year are based on draft legislation.

“Lobbyists are basically there to try and make arguments about how different laws would affect a politician and their constituents,” Hittinger said. “In Manchin’s case, he comes from a state where the fossil fuel industry is an important piece of their economy, so he is sympathetic to those arguments.”

An Unmovable Fear

Politicians are afraid to enact green policy due to one thing: disastrous mistakes. They do not want to be responsible from any possible mishap that could happen during the switch to renewable energy.

No politician wants to be the lawmaker that signed the bill that was not implemented properly and caused a disaster. In short, lawmakers are afraid of change.

While lobbying politicians to go against bills that implement wind and solar energy does not help the climate situation, it is not the only problem stopping these bills from being passed.

“I think [lobbying] is only a moderate or small problem. I think the bigger problem is public opinion,” Hittenger said. “The public has not recognized the importance of the problem, and so it tends to not ... rise to the top of the political agenda.”

“I think [lobbying] is only a moderate or small problem. I think the bigger problem is public opinion.”

Ricky Price, associate professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at St. John Fisher College, believes the public’s blind eye might not be closed for much longer.

“This is something that younger people care about regardless of their partisan affiliation,” Price said.

The other major problem in the way of enacting these policies is that the environment has turned into a partisan issue.

“Any big climate legislation would be considered a ‘win’ for Biden and the Democrats,”  Hittenger said. “Republicans are somewhat disinclined to give a big political win to the Democrats, especially with an election year coming up.”

The growing divide between Democrats and Republicans and their refusal to agree on almost any major policy has affected a number of bills, including multiple Voting Rights Acts that have failed in the Senate due to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic Senator from Arizona.

An Individual's Power

While it may seem like there’s nothing the individual can do about lobbyist groups spending billions of dollars on politicians, Price disagrees.

“There’s a million things we can do as an individual,” Price said.

Things like writing to elected officials and showing up to town halls to discuss and express support for green policy are some of the personal ways to show support for these causes.

“We know that when you as an individual work with your community in groups that you either form brand new or with existing groups ... that is a fundamental transformative act,” Price said.

Groups like the Sunrise Movement have been running campaigns and sit-ins for climate action since 2017, and have worked with notable political figures such as Noam Chomsky, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

When talking about solutions to political problems, one of the most obvious answers is to go out and vote, and this problem is no exception.

“We need to see people start losing elections because of their positions on things. That’s what really motivates politicians,” Price said. ”If voters were to punish politicians at the polls, then we would see change.”

”If voters were to punish politicians at the polls, then we would see change.”

Not voting for candidates if they do not have clear climate policy or voting out representatives who do not fulfill their promises sends a clear message to those in office that voters see climate change as a non-negotiable issue.

Voting has been the main method of political engagement that younger generations lack, according to Pew Research Center.

Social media engagement from younger Americans regarding climate change is high, but that does not translate into political change.

While Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to donate money, contact an elected official or volunteer or attend a rally than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, older Americans are more likely to vote.

Physical support and voting for a movement as dire as climate change can sway politicians more than creating a social media post.

As Price puts it, “Move outside of your Twitter box and into the realm of politics.”