Millions spent to lobby climate bill

Energy companies and industry groups with a major stake in climate change legislation are spending millions of dollars more on lobbying this year.

The two biggest consumers of coal, for example, each reported increases in lobbying expenditures as lawmakers considered a climate bill, which could reshape the nation’s energy fuel mix by capping carbon dioxide.

American Electric Power (AEP) and Southern Co. have spent $4.6 million and $6.3 million, respectively, to lobby Congress this year. AEP had spent around $3.3 million to lobby Congress at this point last year. Southern, meanwhile, had spent $5.6 million to lobby during the first six months of 2008.

Burning coal to produce electricity is the single largest greenhouse gas emitter of any human activity. A climate bill would likely curb coal use, although coal lobbyists did convince Congress to also direct hundreds of millions of dollars to research efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.

Major oil companies like Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil also reported big increases in lobbying expenditures this year.

Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for AEP, said the company increased its public advocacy budget because a climate bill had the potential to raise the costs for its consumers, particularly in states that now rely on coal to produce electricity. She said some of the increase, however, was also due to new reporting requirements that captured more types of advocacy activities.

AEP in particular wanted Congress to include a “flexible” offset program that allows companies to invest in projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when they couldn’t meet their required emissions reductions at the smokestack.

AEP is a member of a coalition of companies and environmental groups that developed a series of proposals that became the framework for the House bill. The company supports the House climate bill, though it is now lobbying the Senate in hopes of easing initial emissions reduction targets and adding more generous offset provisions.

Valerie Hendrickson, a spokeswoman for Southern Co., said the company supports “significant” portions of the House bill, but was lobbying for alterations to “mitigate” the costs to the utility’s consumers.

The electric utility industry’s main trade group also increased its lobbying budget. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, spent $5.2 million on lobbying so far in 2009 versus $4.2 million at this point in 2008.

The group helped devise a controversial strategy to divvy up emission allowances among utility groups. Thirty-five percent of the allowances would be given to local distribution utilities to help consumers offset higher electric bills.

Some environmental groups say energy companies and other interests had too much influence in crafting the climate measure, limiting its effectiveness at controlling climate change.

Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth said lobbying by coal, oil and gas and agriculture interests “watered down” the House climate bill. His group contends the bill would not cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to prevent climate conditions from worsening.

Other energy industries increased lobbying expenditures as well.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents major oil companies, has spent $3.7 million lobbying Congress and the administration so far this year, versus the $2.3 million it spent during the first six months of 2008.

Robert Dodge, a spokesman for API, said the increased spending reflects the fact that the “political world has changed quite a bit” with a new Democratic administration and strengthened Democratic majorities in Congress.

In addition to the climate bill, the oil industry is concerned about proposed tax increases and bills it says would limit domestic oil and gas production.

Individual oil companies have also spent more. Conoco Phillips spent $9.3 million on lobbying so far this year, compared to $4.5 million during the first six months of 2008.

Red Cavaney, the new head of the oil giant’s government relations department, said the increase is partly due to new reporting requirements that capture more grassroots advocacy efforts than were previously disclosed.

But climate change legislation and other bills that could hurt the industry have required the company to be more engaged on Capitol Hill.

“Our activity level is up, no question,” Cavaney said.

Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP have all also spent significantly more on lobbying during the first six months of 2009 compared to the first half of 2008.

Other groups with a stake in climate legislation are spending less on lobbying activity. The National Mining Association, which represents coal producers, spent much less to lobby this year. The mining group reported spending around $1.2 million sod far this year, versus the $2.5 million it had spent this time a year ago.

A spokesman declined to comment about why the group had reduced its lobbying budget.