Dirty Money: Big Oil and corporate polluters spent over $500 million to kill climate bill, push offshore drilling

See full data on how much energy companies and trade associations spent on oil lobbying for 2009-2010 (.xls)

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill makes a pattern in Gulf waters in this AP photo.  Here’s another pattern:  Big Oil and its allies have spent more than  half a billion dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions to stop pollution reductions over the past year an a half.

CAPAF’s Daniel J. Weiss, Rebecca Lefton, and Susan Lyon have the numbers and charts in this cross-post.

There will be many bad memories from the summer of 2010. We’ve seen the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, record temperatures across the globe, calving ice chunks the size of Manhattan, record heat waves and wildfires in Russia, and floods in Pakistan submerging one-fifth of the country. These extreme weather events are consistent with scientists’ predictions about global warming, and they portend more catastrophes to come as greenhouse gas pollution spews unchecked from power plants, vehicles, and factories [1].

But as the case for action grew more urgent Big Oil, Dirty Coal, and other energy companies redoubled their efforts to block congressional adoption of global warming pollution reductions. With that effort successful they are now scheming to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from following the law and setting reduction standards for the largest polluters.

Reductions would effectively establish a price on carbon pollution that would increase incentives to invest in clean energy technologies, create jobs, and enhance international competitiveness. The United States needs these investments now more than ever as it falls further behind international competitors like China that are forging ahead with investments in clean energy technologies that create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and increase their international competitiveness.

This occurs while the United States still suffers high unemployment and slow growth as we emerge from the worst recession in eighty years. Clean energy and climate legislation would create jobs and stimulate the growth of clean energy industries as well as hold polluters accountable for their emissions. Unfortunately, the Senate was unable to muster a supermajority of 60 votes to limit the danger of burning fossil fuels after the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

This failure is no accident. Big Oil, Dirty Coal, and other special interests like the American Petroleum Institute combined spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and filling their campaign coffers. So far, these dirty energy corporations have gotten their money’s worth.

Companies and trade associations have two powerful tools to defeat measures they don’t like. They can spend millions of dollars on lobbying to strong arm legislators into opposing measures that they believe will cost them money. And these special interests can bequeath campaign cash to legislators who support their agenda while funding the opponents of those willing to oppose them.

So just how much are these groups spending to defeat climate legislation? We created a preliminary “political pressure” measure that combines the funds companies and trade associations spent on lobbying and on their political action committee donations. This measure, however, significantly underestimates special interests’ total advocacy efforts because there are no public reporting requirements for spending on many traditional pressure tactics such as earned media, polling, rallies, and television advertising (which these companies and associations heavily engage in). Further, companies’ donations to trade associations are kept secret, and the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision empowers corporations to spend their money to elect or defeat candidates often without any disclosure or reporting requirements.

total lobby spending by energy industryLobbying activities ramped up in 2009 as the House of Representatives began debate on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Senate deliberations began last fall and continued throughout 2010. The entire electric utility industry spent more than $264 million on lobbying alone in 2009 and the first half of 2010. Oil and gas interests spent a record $175 million lobbying in 2009″”a 30 percent increase from 2008″”and have spent $75 million already in 2010.

The oil, gas, and coal industries have spent over $2 billion lobbying Congress since 1999. These three industries combined spent a whopping $543 million on lobbying in 2009 and the first two quarters of 2010. Meanwhile, alternative energy companies spent less than $32 million on lobbying efforts in 2009 and have only spent $14.8 million this year.

The 20 biggest-spending oil, mining, and electric utility companies shelled out $242 million on lobbying from January 2009 to June 2010 [2]. Trade associations that generally oppose clean energy policies spent another $290 million during this time. This is over $1,800 in lobby expenditures a day for every single senator and representative.

Six of the seven companies with the largest lobbying expenditures are Big Oil companies””ExxonMobil (1), ConocoPhillips (2), Chevron (3), BP (5), Koch Industries (6), and Shell (7). Their 18-month lobbying expenditures total $143 million. Their agenda varies among companies, but generally they oppose most proposals to reduce global warming pollution from oil refineries and transportation fuels. And they seek to limit companies’ liability for oil spills like the BP oil disaster.

top 10 political presssure spending by energy companies

Southern Company, a major utility with significant coal-fired power generation, was the fourth-largest lobbying company at nearly $20 million. The company is a longtime opponent of efforts to reduce global warming pollution. American Electric Power, or AEP, was eighth, spending nearly $10 million. AEP played a (somewhat) more positive role by attempting to shape clean energy and global warming legislation to its benefit. But it also supported efforts to prevent EPA from limiting global warming pollutants from the largest sources in the absence of congressional action.

The largest trade association working to defeat clean energy and global warming legislation is the umbrella lobby organization the Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $190 million during this year and a half [3]. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor owned utilities spent $18 million””a million dollars a month””lobbying on global warming legislation. EEI was occasionally supportive of some proposals, but it strongly advocates halting EPA from reducing global warming pollution.

The American Petroleum Institute, or API””the trade association and lobbying arm for the biggest oil and gas producers””spent $11 million to lobby Congress to defeat pollution reductions and maintain their tax loopholes. The New York Times reported on some of their activities with their story, “Oil and Gas Interests Set Spending Record for Lobbying in 2009.”

top five political pressure spending by energy trade associations

API certainly got its money’s worth since no legislation was passed and the tax loopholes are still in place. Their spokesman Bill Bush said: “We had a lot of work to do trying to educate people on these issues”¦We hope we were successful.”

Lobby reports show that oil companies lobbied on a number of clean energy and global-warming-related issues. These included:

  • The Blowout Prevention Act, H.R. 5626, to prevent future oil disasters
  • BP federal royalty payments for oil captured from the Deepwater Horizon blow out, Spilled Oil Royalty Collection Act, H.R. 5513
  • Clean Air Act pollution reduction requirements
  • Efforts to cut global warming pollution: American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454 and the American Power Act
  • Opposition to closing tax loopholes that save oil companies $45 billion
  • Opposition to a “Community Right to Know” requirement that shale gas producers publicly report on the toxic chemicals they use to “frack” rock to produce natural gas, Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, H.R. 2766
  • Restrictions on the use of oil produced from highly polluting “tar sands
  • Increases in energy efficiency and deployment of wind, sun, and other renewable energy sources
  • Other public health, job creation, oil reduction, and environmental protection policies

Twenty-first century campaigns are outrageously expensive. Senators and representatives must raise millions of dollars in campaign cash for their contested reelection campaigns. Legislators’ need for money combined with special interests’ access to cash makes campaign contributions a potent weapon in the hunt for votes. Trade associations, businesses, and their employees donate thousands of dollars to legislators willing to do their bidding.

Political action committees, or PACs, from the oil and gas industry gave $6.6 million to federal candidates from January 2009 to June 2010, with two-thirds going to Republicans. The mining industry donated $1.6 million so far, with $3 of every $5 going to Republicans.

The most generous individual energy PACs belong to Koch Industries and ConocoPhillips, who doled out $700,000 and $600,000, respectively. And this does not include Koch’s recent $1 million donation to pass Proposition 23 in California, which would repeal the state’s landmark clean energy and global warming law.

But the lobbying and campaign expenditures capture only part of the influence of spending by the oil, coal, utility, and other traditional energy industries. Many of these companies and trade associations are also spending millions of dollars that need not be reported to run expensive television, radio, and print “message” ads that do not explicitly mention energy or global warming legislation but are still designed to shape legislators and voters’ views.

BP, for example, is spending $5 million a week on advertising to restore its image after its oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Between April and July BP spent $93 million, which is more than three times the amount it spent on ads during the same period last year. Meanwhile, Big Oil and its allies have spent more than $126 million on television ads this year to promote the expansion of offshore oil drilling and defeat efforts to eliminate their tax loopholes.

Companies are not required to report these expenditures like they are for lobbying or campaign spending. API, Koch, and others have also funded Astroturf rallies to spread their anti-global-warming and anti-safety-regulation platforms. These expenses are unreported, too.

The energy interests’ successful efforts to block clean energy investments, oil use reductions, and global warming pollution limits have real costs. It’s not clear, for example, whether or when there will be a declining limit on global warming pollution that establishes a carbon price. This doubt has in turn led investors to husband rather than invest their capital in the research, development, deployment, and commercialization of clean energy technologies. Fewer investments mean fewer jobs.

And while the United States dithers other nations continue to build their clean energy industries to bid for their share of the $1 trillion we’ll see in the worldwide clean energy market by 2030. For instance, China knocked the United States down to second place as the most attractive market for investing in renewable energy according to Ernst and Young’s new “Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices.” Ernst and Young cite lack of clean energy policies like a renewable electricity standard and long-term stable incentive structures as reasons for the takeover.

The United States has economic, national security, and environmental imperatives to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, reduce oil use, and cut global warming pollution. What’s more, Americans overwhelmingly support these measures, as many recent opinion polls demonstrate.

Yet the Big Oil and Dirty Coal lobbies are working hard to stop reforms so that they can protect their enormous profits. Legislators must ignore the pleadings of special interests and adopt comprehensive clean energy and global warming policies to enhance our economic competitiveness, safeguard our national security, and protect public health and our environment.

See full data on how much energy companies and trade associations spent on oil lobbying for 2009-2010 (.xls)

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, Rebecca Lefton is a Researcher, and Susan Lyon is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at American Progress.


[1]. See U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Outlook” (2010), p. 4.

[2]. Lobbying and PAC contribution figures from the Center for Responsive Politics at

[3]. The Chamber of Commerce undoubtedly spent many of these resources lobbying against the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, and other issues. Lobbying reports do not specify the various amounts per each issue.

20 Responses to Dirty Money: Big Oil and corporate polluters spent over $500 million to kill climate bill, push offshore drilling

  1. ihatedeniers says:

    Joe please do a post on ozone!
    The oil companies dont want us to know that ozone is killing trees!

  2. jyyh says:

    where are the fish on the photo?

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    Matthew –

    The system “is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 25-50 centimeters (10 to 20 inches) from far southern Mexico into northern portions of Central America with isolated maximum amounts of 76 centimeters (30 inches) possible,” the Miami-based NHC warned.

  4. Money in. Money out. The other side of the coin is that every day governments give fossil fuel industry $2 billion according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Geneva as cited in my article below:

    “Every Day Governments Give an Estimated $2 billion to Oil, Coal & Gas Industry”

  5. Michael Y says:

    Dear Friends,

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses on my prior post about whether it is time to move forward on climate geo-engineering. Apologies for my slow reply….I live in Switzerland and the time difference got in the way.

    I still sit with the “if not now, then when?” question. I think it is a critically important question for us to address.

    By contrast, the comment on doom and gloom was a passing one, not intended to suggest either way whether this sort of rhetoric was an effective approach to shaping the debate. I was really just trying to point out that if things are as bad as we say (and I think they are), then it is time to move on options such as pumping sulfer in the upper atmosphere, etc. even if it makes me cringe to think of such options given all the failed and back-firing results we have seen with other heavy-handed “solutions” to environmental problems.

    On a different, procedural note, one of the things I see on this blog is that conversations diverge a great deal. In a single stream, we find emails on a wide range of topics….from climate science questions, to climate engineering, to best communication strategies, to blowing steam about the actions of the climate-change deniers. I wonder if we (Joe?) might be able to set up ongoing discussion fora on various topics, so that folks dedicated to a particular topic could go further in an on-going conversation?

    Thanks for your consideration.

    Michael Yaziji

  6. James Newberry says:

    What a great collapsing empire of fraud. All these billions of dollars to buy allegiance to personal and corporate profit while the ship of state sits dead in the waters of clear and present dangers.

    They used to call it treason.

    Stories like these tell me the American political fabric (including Legislative, Judiciary and Executive) has rotted. The rot of an apple is due to oxidation and we certainly are oxidizing (burning) the gas, liquid and solid hydrocarbon materials extracted from the globe. The nation is becoming burned out and insolvent too. These are signs that our young USA experiment, built on the principle of justifiable social revolution, is presently failing.

  7. Aaron Lewis says:

    Every time my congress(woman) or senator watches the PBS Newshour, she gets a dose of the much larger oil industry advertising and public relations budget.

    That is a huge pile of money that also affects law and policy makers – right down to the EPA techie that said it was OK for BP use dispersant at depth in the DH oil release event.

    Even senators that do not take “oil money”, still watch the Newshour, and thus still get their daily dose oil industry PR.

  8. catman306 says:

    Someone here has posted that the heat content of one gallon of gasoline produces 100,000 times that heat content in future CO2 warming. OK (actually, it’s NOT OK!)

    Someone else posted that flying has the largest carbon footprint of any mode of travel. Many times that of driving the distance in an automobile. They said that if people only fly when absolutely necessary, we could substantially reduce our nation’s carbon load and actually make a dent in the rising CO2 curve. That’s Good, so stop flying.

    On those three unhappy no-fly days right after 9/11, the skies over America were the clearest and bluest that they had been in decades. Didn’t ozone levels drop on those days too? And CO2 ground levels?

    Obviously jet aircraft produce a lot of CO2 with the potential for global warming, other combustion products, and particulates.

    So here’s a climatology question:

    SInce jets fly above 10,000 feet up to 50,000 feet, most of the CO2 that they produce is at high altitudes and there’s plenty of it;
    Does the CO2 emitted by jet planes in the upper troposphere have a greater global warming effect than if the same amount of fuel were burned at ground levels? Is there an atmospheric layer somewhere above that has higher levels of CO2 than at the ground? Does high altitude CO2 effect more climate change than ground level CO2?

    Would there be an added benefit to greatly reducing the number of jet miles flown daily worldwide besides the obvious reduction in fossil fuel burned because the CO2 wouldn’t be released eight miles up?

  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    Two Ways

    I’d like to mention two of the main ways in which we’ll need to try to face and address, or counter, these sorts of influences.

    We’ll need to send “market-based signals” to these companies in a currency they can understand, i.e., via huge, effective, and lasting boycotts aimed at the most egregious leaders in these industries.

    And, we’ll need to address the media problem via intense messages to them, and if necessary boycotts as well. The media enable the influences mentioned in the post, and the mainstream media do very, very little, if anything, to shine light on this problem. For example, do we expect The New York Times to run an insightful and appropriately hard-hitting article on this problem of the multifaceted political influences of the oil and coal companies? Not likely.

    People, “redoubling” the number of messages we send to our Senators is simply not going to do the trick. If we want the climate problem to gain the focus it cries out for, and if we want our “leaders” to find ways to adopt effective policies, we’ll need to implement huge and effective boycotts, bring suitable pressure upon the main news media organizations, name names, and so forth. As far as I can tell, we are still — STILL — in denial about the sorts of things that history has shown to be necessary in order to bring about positive societal change.

    For one thing, as odd and bizarre as this might sound, many of the leaders of these huge coal and oil companies, and the API, and so forth, actually probably think (in their own minds) that they are doing “the right thing” or at least the thing that “my responsibilities to shareholders require of me”. They believe in the false assumption that if everyone simply follows the profit motive, then an invisible hand will magically ensure that “it is all for the good” and that everything will work out fine. They find purpose, and excuses, in their understanding of their responsibility to shareholders — to maximize shareholder value (in the short term?!), even at the expense of society?!

    The Supreme Court isn’t going to change its rulings (about corporate spending and voice) anytime soon.

    To me, it feels as though we are in a stagnant dead-zone, so to speak. We know that our efforts (although they have provided some context, I guess you could say) have largely failed so far; yet we seem unwilling to admit that we’ll need to dramatically change and improve them. We complain (and rightly so) about all this spending on the part of oil and coal companies, and we complain about the media’s lack of attention to that problem and others, but we seem entirely un-eager to put any real effort into launching boycotts against the chief culprits. We apparently hope that e-mails will prevail!

    To be clear, I appreciate and applaud these efforts to uncover, and publish, these efforts by the oil and coal companies. But we have to go WAY beyond that. It should be clear by now that uncovering these things, and publishing them on blogs and specialized media, is necessary but far from sufficient. We need to do two things: Solidly prompt the mainstream media to cover this stuff, and other stuff; and take market-based actions against the main culprit companies.

    Of course, there are other messages and actions that fit into this and would complement these: For example, academia is still WAY TOO QUIET on the climate problem and on what it will take to prompt society to face and address the problem. Faculty members of Stanford and Harvard are on the Board of ExxonMobil, for example, and what have they done, and what are they doing?? And pension funds: What pension funds still own huge chunks of stock in the companies that are the largest climate violators? We’ll need to pressure those funds to sell those stocks, in my view. And what about presumably-credible management consultancies? Why aren’t BCG and Bain and McKinsey and Booz and etc. speaking out that companies SHOULD face and address the climate and energy problems, and providing REAL and GENUINE advice as to how that could be done, including advice to support changes in public policy that will allow and encourage companies to shift their approaches in ways that effectively address the climate problem? Have the management consultancies forgotten their understanding of science? Or, in the end, is it their stance that near-term profit is more important than the world’s climate and ultimate sustainability? Or do they just think “it’s not my job!”?

    I am becoming increasingly shocked, disappointed, and frustrated at the apparent lack of will and lack of wisdom being displayed by far too much of society these days, including institutions and organizations that (you would think) should be able to do far better. Organizations that I once admired are losing my admiration and respect as the minutes and hours and days pass.

    That’s it for today.


  10. Colorado Bob says:

    Canadian officials are warning that fully repairing the damage done by Hurricane Igor in Newfoundland last week is likely to take months.

    Hundreds of government and military personnel are now providing food, medicine, water and fuel to thousands of people in the region.

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had “never seen damage like that” after visiting Trouty and Britannia, two of the hardest hit towns in the province, last week.

  11. mike roddy says:

    There’s a better word for “campaign donations”: Bribery.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Glacial retreat: Ecuador’s ticking environmental timebomb

    Cayambe’s receding ice mass highlights how global warming could leave some of the world’s poorest people without water

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    Flooding in Nigeria worsens food shortage
    About 2 million people have been displaced or affected by the high waters

  14. Windsong says:

    The Solution (How to Kill the Enemy):

    The only way to kill the enemy (the fossil fuel industry) is to stop feeding him. We have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The solution is working in Groups. (Wait! Hear me out!)

    At this point, it should be obvious that those in power (government elites) have no intention of stopping GW. Except for token gestures- throwing crumbs at the problem, they’ll do nothing. Their sole goal is to retain power, control and financial assets, all based on BAU.

    Therefore, the wisest thing (IMO) is for us to get together in Groups, “Transition Towns” or whatever, work together in close knit communities to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and prepare for the coming calamities ahead. By ourselves, we are floundering. But in groups we can tackle the challenges, encourage one another and become strong. We have no choice except to do what needs to be done– on small scale scenarios. Paradigm shifts begin gradually (butterfly wings)and grow powerful.

    No one likes to give up his independence but we either work togeher in groups or end up on a hot, dead planet! Think of Native Americans (groups) and ancient cultures (groups) and Mennonites (groups) and … Transition towns!

  15. Sasparilla says:

    Boy, really takes my breath away to see these numbers and this was before our supreme court took the head off of corporate campaign financing limits recently (wait till next year, right?). How totally corrupt a process we have set up for ourselves here in the US – this is one of the main barriers we have to beat, somehow, to win at this game.

    Thanks for putting this up Joe. The disparity between the dirty energy lobbies and the little green energy lobby is stunning. We’re lucky we have a green energy sector in this country at all based on those figures…although it seems like 2009 will be the high tide for that sector in the US for the foreseeable future (expecting congress & the Administration to continue dropping the ball there).

  16. Windsong says:

    I’ve read that Transition Towns started in the UK and have spread all over the world. Recently, I received a flyer concerning a group forming in a nearby state. Here is some information:

    “Training for Transition”– The transition movement is a vibrant, international, grassroots initiative that seeks to build sustainable community as we face the inevitable challenges of climate change, oil depletion and economic instability. The Transition movement confronts the reality that these issues can be resolved by eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels……

    Visit: Call 410-357-9523 or email

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’m afraid that your political system is totally corrupt, just like those in all the Western ‘democracies’, only more so. Take a one-party system, with two phony ‘opponents’ who, in fact, are the two wings of the business-owned party of power. Add an oligopolistic media, in the hands of truly evil individuals, with no compunction in using their stooges to push a straight propagandistic, brainwashing, line. Throw in voluntary voting, negative, character assassinating, campaigning and rank political dishonesty, now ubiquitous in ‘market capitalist democracies’ (an entirely self-contradicting construct) topped off by unlimited political ‘contributions’ aka bribery, and you are left with a system unable to be reformed. It corresponds, with hideous precision, to the ancient Greek idea of the ‘kakistocracy’, rule by the worst.
    As resistance is futile, and would be, I think, welcomed, as an excuse to crack down even harder on non-conformists guilty of thought crime, the only remaining option, I believe, is withdrawal. Radical downsizing of consumption, passive resistance to paying taxes that will only be used for war and pillage, boycotts, local food production and sharing etc.
    Of course, all these practises, if widely adopted and seen to be being effective, will be outlawed, and any leaders of the movement vilified, framed and incarcerated, probably for scores of years, as seems the norm over there these days. No doubt it will be re-classified as a new species of ‘terrorism’, say ‘economic terrorism’ or some such. But what is the alternative?

  18. Mark H says:

    The “tar sands” is a hot topic here in Canada right now. The CBC held a poll which indicated 51% of Canadians agree with the statement: “while there are some risks to the environment with this development, the need for energy in Canada outweighs those risks.”

    With this kind of public opinion, it looks grim that any kind of climate action will take place in Canada any time soon.

    As well, we have idiotic “the climate debate is still on” articles such as this:

    -being published in the Alberta media.

    It’s infuriating that this kind of crap continues. Right now it appears that greed is winning out over morality and the effects of 500+ppm CO2 concentrations will be well documented by the end of this century (or sooner – we are now at 388ppm).

  19. Chris Winter says:

    So the oil & gas industry spent $250 million on lobbying dedicated to maintaining business as usual. By my estimate that could have bought them 500 of those advanced blowout preventers that are required for North Sea oil wells and that the Deepwater Horizon well which blew out lacked.

    Or, more realistically, they could have spent that sum on a mix of better BOPs, preventive maintenance, and accurate systems documentation. This in my opinion would have been a far more effective use of the money.

  20. Chris Winter says:

    By the way, Joe: The bar graph says electric utilities spent $246M on lobbying. The paragraph right next to it puts that figure at $264M.