Billions at Stake with Climate Change Legislation

May 27, 2009

One local angle on the year's big climate change story involves no scientific uncertainty. It's the money – an indicator you can track and report on right now.

 The climate change legislation before Congress right now will impact scores of industries and hundreds of companies – some of them important in your area. And many of these industries and companies are hard at work trying to influence what the government does about climate.
In the past few years, there have been major jumps in lobbying and campaign contribution dollars spent by companies and organizations as they anticipate climate change effects in their geographic region or area of interest, and try to influence legislation and regulation. Many of these players are ones you might expect, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and vehicle companies, and major environmental organizations. But many more have begun to realize that the changing legislative and regulatory climate likely will have a significant effect on their operations, for better or worse, and they are beginning to spend accordingly.
By piecing together information from a number of databases, you can get a good handle on who the players are. That will allow you to identify companies, organizations, or general industries that have an impact on the lives of your audience, and to report on climate change from that angle.
One information source is a report released May 20, 2009, by the Center for Public Integrity. CPI notes that the number of entities officially lobbying on climate change is at least 880, through March 2009. That's up from 770 as of the same time last year, and up 400% from 2003.
Along with expected players, there are many potential surprises, falling into categories such as:
  • Alternative transportation (Segway, Better Place)
  •  High-tech or electricity-dependent companies and organizations (Microsoft, eBay, Google, Sun Microsystems, Northrop Grumman, Lenovo, irrigation districts)
  •  Food producers (Tyson Foods, Land O'Lakes, American Beverage Association, American Meat Institute, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, U.S. Beet Sugar Association)
  •  Publicly-owned utilities (in addition to the typically larger investor-owned utilities)
  •  Consumer product companies (Levi Strauss, Nike, Starbucks)
CPI also identifies many of the lobbying companies representing these interest groups, including Alpine Group, Ogilvy Government Relations, Patton Boggs, Morgan Meguire, McBee Strategic Consulting, and many more.
The data is searchable in multiple ways: by company, organization, or lobbyist name; sector (with 26 to choose from); dollar amount (above the $5,000 minimum CPI chose); or date (by quarter for 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, and by the first or second half of 2003, for comparison).
However, there is no comprehensive report, so you'll need to plow through the information in various ways to get an overview of the information from one perspective or another, or if you want to customize your information to reflect your audience's interests. In addition, the dollar contributions are muddied by the fact that the lobbying entity may well have been working on interests in addition to climate change. (Hint: you can browse the whole database by entering no search conditions.)
Another way to approach this topic is by looking at people in Congress who have received campaign contributions that may have been made in an effort to influence climate change work. One source for doing this is:
Keep in mind that, as with the CPI data, it's often impossible to separate out contributions specifically for climate change issues from those made to influence other issues of interest to that money source.
There are a variety of ways to find out who in Congress is involved with climate change efforts. A leading House committee is:
A leading Senate committee is:
On May 21, 2009, the House committee, which has 36 Democrats and 23 Republicans, approved by a 33-25 vote, largely along party lines, a massive bill addressing energy use and climate change.
The bill is included on that Web site. It's also available by searching for HR 2454 at There is no companion Senate bill, but there may be relatively soon. There isn't yet a Congressional Budget Office estimate for HR 2454, so it's difficult to get a feel for how much money is at stake. However, in the bill's description, running more than 930 pages, there is an extensive list of the broad categories covered by the bill, offering initial insights into many of the interest groups that will be front and center (including some you may not have considered, such as vocational educators and other teachers, unemployment organizations, international trade groups, and Indian tribes).
Other House committees that will be involved as some form of legislation moves forward include Ways and Means, and possibly others dealing with agriculture, transportation, and natural resources. For more information on House and Senate committees whose members will be swarmed by interest groups, see the TipSheet of Jan. 21, 2009.
This isn't the only bill related to climate change that is in the hopper. By searching for words such as "climate change" or "global warming," you'll see that, as of May 21, 2009, there are about 50 other Congressional actions, each of which has its affiliated legislators and interest groups.
Another source of information on interest groups is the list of participants at various hearings being held by House and Senate committees. One example for the Senate's Environment and Public Works committee is:
Once you've identified the various interest groups and legislators, through all the resources noted above, you can search OpenSecrets for related campaign contributions, in a variety of ways. The site, which is expected to be updated any day now with data for the first quarter of 2009, will provide many starting points for digging further. For instance, you won't be able to identify direct climate change contributions, but you can find contributions from a certain sector, or certain interest group within that sector, as well as the recipient(s) of those contributions. Combined with the CPI data, you can then begin to pull the pieces together to see where the big bucks are going.
For many more lobbying and campaign contribution resources, see the TipSheet of March 2, 2005.
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