Big Oil trade group allies have spent 27 times more than clean energy groups, with billions in advertising and lobbying to keep fossil fuels flowing

Big Oil trade group allies have spent 27 times more than clean energy groups, with billions in advertising and lobbying to keep fossil fuels flowing

You’ve probably seen ads promoting oil and gas companies that solutions to climate change. They are meant to be inspiring and hopefulwith scenes of a green and clean future.

But shiny ads isn’t all these companies are doing to protect their business interests in the face of a rapidly warming world. Most also provide financial support to industry groups that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political activities, often to thwart policies designed to slow climate change.

For example, the New York Times recently reported on the Propane Education and Research Council study attempts to derail efforts to electrify New York homes and buildings, in part by donating nearly US$900,000 to the New York Propane Gas Association, which flooded social media with misleading information about energy-efficient heat pumps.

The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refiners and petrochemical companies, has spent millions on public relations campaigns, such as advocating a rollback of federal energy efficiency standards.

These practices have been going on for decades, and evidence shows that industry groups have played key roles In blocking state and federal climate policies. This is important not only because of the huge sums the groups spend, but also because they often act as a command center for political campaigns aimed at killing pro-climate politicians.

We study the political activities of industrial groups. In a recent research paperwe scoured tax returns to follow the financial trail of trade associations engaged in climate change issues and track the billions they have spent to shape federal policy.

What we found

After NASA scientist James Hansen sounded the alarm on climate change in 1988, three trade associations – the National Association of Manufacturers, the Edison Electric Institute and the American Petroleum Institute – joined together with a few electric utilities to form the Global Climate Coalitionor GCC.

The GCC has consistently opposed any international regulation of global warming emissions and successfully prevented the United States from ratifying the Kyoto Protocola 1997 international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It was the first example of professional associations working together delay government action on climate change. Similar efforts continue today.

So how much do professional associations spend on political activities, such as public relations? As nonprofit organizations under the Internal Revenue Code, professional associations must report their income and expenses.

We found that business associations historically opposed to climate policies spent $2 billion in the decade from 2008 to 2018 on political activities, such as advertising, lobbying and political contributions. Together, they spent 27 times more than industry groups that support the climate.

The oil and gas sector was the largest, spending $1.3 billion. Of the 89 trade associations we examined in nine different sectors of the U.S. economy between 2008 and 2018, no other group of trade associations came close.

Expense #1: Advertising and promotion

What was more surprising when we compiled the data was how much trade associations spend on advertising and promotion. This can include everything from mainstream media advertisements promoting the industry to hiring public relations firms to target particular issues ahead of Congress.

For example, until their split last year, Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, received nearly $30 million U.S. fuel and petrochemical makers to promote fossil fuels, reporters from the online news site Heated found.

Our study found that trade associations engaged in climate change issues spent a total of $2.2 billion on advertising and promotion between 2008 and 2018, compared to $729 million on lobbying. As 2022 lobbying data showstheir spending continues. Although not all of this spending directly targets climate policy, climate change is one of the main political issues for many industries in the energy sector.

Media buying is expensive, but these figures also reflect the specific role trade associations play in protecting the reputation of the companies they represent.

Trade groups run promotional ads for their industries, as well as negative ads.

One of the reasons why groups like the American Petroleum Institute have historically taken to running negative public relations campaigns is that their members, such as BP and Shell, are not lumped together with our interviews with confirmed industry insiders.

However, many companies are now under pressure to leave trade associations that oppose climate policies. In one example, oil giant Total leave the API in 2021citing disagreements over climate positions.

Spending on social media in the weeks leading up to the US midterm elections and during the UN Climate Conference in November 2022 provides another window into the operations of these groups.

A review by advocacy group Climate Action Against Disinformation found that 87 fossil fuel-related groups spent an estimated $3-4 million on more than 3,700 ads through Facebook’s parent company alone in the 12 weeks leading up to and during the conference .

Facebook received millions of dollars for running ads promoting natural gas.

Most of it came from a public relations group representing the American Petroleum Institute and focused heavily on natural gas and oil defense and energy security. American plastic makers spent about $1.1 million on climate-related advertising during the two weeks of the UN conference.

Channel money to local think tanks and groups

Professional associations also spent $394 million on grants to other organizations during the decade we examined. For example, they donated money to think tanks, the universitiescharitable foundations and political organizations such as associations of mayors and governors.

While some of these grants may be philanthropic in nature, of the professional associations we spoke to, most have a political objective in mind. Grants to local community groups, for example, can help build an industry’s reputation among key constituencies and, therefore, their social license to operate.

What this means for climate policy

Fossil fuel companies, which have declared record profits in 2022, always spend more on political activities than do their professional associations.

But industry groups historically opposed to climate policies are also big spenders, our research shows. They outspent those supporting actions to slow climate change, like the solar and wind industries, by $2 billion to $74.5 million over the 10 years we looked at.

This probably helps explain why it took Congress nearly 35 years after Hansen first warned representatives of the dangers of climate change to pass a major climate bill, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

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