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Dean of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment: Fossil Fuel Political Contributions 30x That of Clean Energy

on • 3 min. read

This past September, Tigercomm President Mike Casey interviewed former “super lobbyist” Jack Abramoff. Whatever else you think about him, the fact is that Abramoff knew the business of Capitol Hill influence peddling inside-out. What Abramoff said to Casey was that the fossil fuel industry is deadly serious about this game, and that the clean energy industry needs to fully understand that. Case in point? A new analysis on The Great Energy Challenge blog by Bill Chameides, Dean of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. The key takeaways?

First, that the Koch brothers "are but one of many, many individuals and corporations in the business of trying to use money to influence government energy policy." How much money are we talking about? Chameides crunches the numbers and comes up with these eye-popping statistics.

In 2013, total dollars spent lobbying in Washington for:

Coal, oil and gas industries: $156 million
Alternative energy industries: $22 million

A reported 852 lobbyists worked for the fossil fuel industries. Three companies reported spending more than $10 million on their lobbying efforts: Exxon, Chevron, and Koch Industries.

By contrast the alternative energy industries reported 334 lobbyists with the top spender laying out $1.6 million. There were six companies with expenditures between $1 and $2 million: Clean Energy Group, American Wind Association, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board, Clean Energy Fuels Corp1 and Renewable Fuels Association.

Bottom Line: Three fossil fuel companies alone spent almost 1.4 times more on lobbying than was spent by the entire alternative energy sector.

Second, if you think a ratio of 7:1 for lobbying expenditures in favor of fossil fuels is bad - and it most certainly is - how about this?

Total contributions during the 2011-12 campaign cycle:

Fossil fuel industries: $88 million
Alternative energy industries: $2.8 million

That's an incredible 30 to 1 ratio in favor of fossil fuels when it comes to political contributions in the 2011-2012 campaign cycle. What that money buys is clear: policy influence in Congress to ensure that the taxpayer-funded corporate welfare gravy train to their industry continues; to slow down momentum in the clean energy industry; to head off a price on carbon; etc.

Finally, while money is crucial to buying influence in Washington, DC, fortunately it's not the only thing that matters. As Bill Chameides explains:

If money is the name of the game, if dollars dictate the goings-on in DC, then the prognosis for alternative and renewable fuels looks bleak. The alternative energy industry is being buried under a mountain of greenbacks for lobbying and campaigns from the fossil fuel industry. If there were a penalty for “piling on” on Capitol Hill, the whistle would have been blown many times over.

But sometimes a small running back who’s got the quicks and the moves can weave his way under and around and find his way into the end zone. And it’s just possible that that will be the case for alternative energy it’s hard to beat clean, abundant energy.

Let's hope that's the case, because it's hard to see how clean energy will be able to outspend the fossil fuel folks - including the Koch brothers and their $41-$51 billion net worth - anytime soon.