New filings indicate that Koch Industries, the primary company of petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, spent $3.1 million on congressional lobbying efforts in the first quarter of 2017, according to its disclosure report. Much of that money went towards anti-environmental initiatives, where the Kochs have found an ally in the new president.
Lobbyists for Koch Industries worked on convincing congress to repeal the renewable fuel standard; to repeal requirements for vehicle efficiency, known as the CAFE standards; to repeal a Clean Air Act provision to decrease the risk of chemical accidents; to stymie the Clean Power Plan, an EPA rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; and on various budgetary allocations.
In addition, the company lobbied senators to confirm former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is just one of several cabinet members with ties to fossil fuels.
“The dirtiest corporate polluters in the country spent big to get a cabinet that puts their profits before the health of the public, and they are getting what they paid for,” the Sierra Club’s Adam Beitman told ThinkProgress.
The Koch brothers declined to back now-President Trump during the election, but it seems that now they are finding significant overlap between Trump’s anti-environmental agenda, including getting rid of the Clean Power Plan and rolling back regulations, and the Koch brothers’ top agenda items.
Koch Industries wasn’t the only fossil fuel company to spend significantly on lobbyists in the first quarter of the year. The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and natural gas industries, spent an additional $2.7 million in the first quarter of the year. ExxonMobil spent $3.4 million; Shell Oil Company spent $2.3 million; Chevron spent $3.3 million; and BP spent $1.7 million. In contrast, the Sierra Club spent $290,000, the most out of any of the “Big Green” groups.
Overall, the interests of the environment are significantly less represented than the interests of the fossil fuel industries. The Outdoor Industry Association, whose members depend on a healthy environment, spent only $80,000, while the American Wind Energy Association spent $170,000 during the same time period. SolarCity, the biggest residential solar installer in the United States, spent $190,000.
But the fossil fuel industry is notorious for its outsized — and effective — lobbying efforts. According to analysis by Oil Change International, the oil and gas industry gets $119 in tax breaks and other benefits for every $1 it spends on Congress.
“Influence is a tricky thing to measure,” the group writes. “It is obvious to anyone that pays attention to U.S. politics that the oil and gas industry is one of the most influential industries on Capitol Hill. But quantifying that influence is not always straightforward.”
It’s not surprising that now-EPA Administrator Pruitt’s nomination got the attention major fossil fuel interests. Pruitt has longstanding ties to the fossil fuel industry and, prior to his appointment to the agency, was a well-known opponent of the EPA. As attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA numerous times, including over the Clean Power Plan and other Clean Air Act provisions. He was on the same side as oil, gas, and coal companies for many of those lawsuits.
One of the companies Pruitt has been closely entwined with is Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company. In the first quarter, Devon spent $390,000 towards lobbying on a few specific issues, all related to the environment. The company filed lobbying disclosures on methane emissions regulations, “limitation guidelines” on fracking wastewater disposal, air quality standards, and endangered species protection measures. The company did not directly lobby for Pruitt’s confirmation.
Since taking a position in the Trump administration, Devon and the rest of the fossil fuel companies have seen a good return on their investment. Pruitt has — at the admitted behest of industry — repealed and delayed numerous rules intended to protect the nation’s environment, including some of the regulations specifically targeted in Devon’s lobbying efforts.
Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate by a narrow margin: a vote of 52–46, with 51 votes needed for confirmation. It’s impossible to say — without direct confirmation from a senator — whether the activities of the Koch brothers affected any of those votes or not.
Other groups that lobbied on the Pruitt confirmation included the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Wildlife Association, the Michigan Farm Bureau, the League of Conservation Voter, and the American Coalition for Ethanol, to name a few.