U.S. corporations are clamoring for renewable energy now more than ever before. At the same time, fossil energy stakeholders continue to lobby against progress. Their tactics range from buttonholing top-level policymakers at the COP27 climate talks on down to funding local citizen groups. Business leaders can push back against the obstruction by forming new alliances that support their needs for renewable energy.
The global reach of the fossil energy industry was very much in evidence at COP27 in Egypt last week.
The organization Global Witness and its two partners, Corporate Accountability and Corporate Europe Observatory, compiled a list of 636 lobbyists directly connected to the fossil energy industry at COP27. The list is based on disclosure forms and other publicly available documents.
That was likely a significant undercount. Global Witness surmises that many lobbyists at COP27 declined to document their connections with fossil energy. The NGO also notes that the list does not include lobbyists from other fossil-related sectors including finance, big agriculture and petrochemicals.
Businesses that hope to accelerate the energy transition can support the work of organizations such as Kick Big Polluters Out to help curtail the influence of fossil energy lobbyists at the next annual U.N. climate talks.
Last week, The Guardian took note of a coalition of organizations that submitted a formal complaint against the fossil-friendly attendance policy at COP27.
The complaint was submitted to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the branch of the United Nations that organizes the annual COP climate talks.
The complaint charged that the COP talks would “continue to fail to meaningfully address the climate crisis” due to the substantial access of “polluting interests.”
“The framework should prevent entities with private, polluting interests from unduly influencing or undermining UNFCCC activities and processes through their engagement as representatives of non-governmental organizations,” the group stated.
Specifically, the group called upon UNFCCC to tighten up its access and accreditation process by applying established norms and procedures adopted by other U.N. bodies and international organizations.
Fossil energy stakeholders are also working the other end of the scale. Local citizens can — and should — exercise their influence on local concerns. However, in the case of opposition to renewable energy, the hand of an organized, stakeholder-funded effort is at work.
The independent news organization Popular Information took note of this under-the-radar lobbying effort in an article last week. Under the headline, “Fossil fuel industry dupes media, quietly funds non-profits to block renewable energy,” reporter Michael Thomas listed three citizen groups opposed to offshore wind farms planned for the Atlantic coast: Save Our Beach View, Save Long Beach Island and Nantucket Residents Against Turbines. As Thomas reported, all three are affiliated with an organization called the Caesar Rodney Institute (CRI).
The CRI connection illustrates how fossil energy stakeholders can funnel influence to local organizations that push back against renewable energy development.
“As of this writing, the ‘Donate’ button on the Protect Our Coast NJ website redirects to a PayPal link that reads ‘Donate to Caesar Rodney Institute,’” Thomas notes.
The Delaware-based organization Meet the Polluters describes CRI as having an outsized influence over state and regional affairs. “Despite its relatively small budget, the Caesar Rodney Institute has emerged as a cog in the State Policy Network’s coordinated attacks on clean transportation policy, even if they represent no one in the state but themselves,” Meet the Polluters states on its website.
Meet the Polluters describes CRI as a “a far-right, free-market advocacy group based in Delaware that receives considerable funding from dark money sources and the Koch-controlled State Policy Network.”
“The institute is a member of and funded by the State Policy Network, a network of right-wing organizations that the Koch network funds to promote junk science, climate denial, and corporate welfare,” Meet the Polluters writes.
“It is also funded by dark money foundations including Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust, two pass-through funds that have been called the “dark-money ATM of the conservative movement,” that mask donations from foundations controlled by Charles Koch,” the group adds.
Fossil energy stakeholders have a long, well-documented record of funding efforts to sow doubt and confusion over the scientific consensus on climate change, going back for decades. It is no surprise to find these efforts resonating in the citizen-scientist area today. It is also no accident.
Ten years ago, local organizations in North Carolina began to follow the public speaking activities of one such person, John Droz, who was front and center in the pushback against offshore wind turbines.
While Droz cultivated a reputation as a citizen activist, the organization Facing South noted that he was a senior fellow with the American Tradition Institute (ATI), “a conservative think tank that's part of a family of advocacy groups founded and funded by fossil-fuel interests.”
Scientific American also published an expose on Droz’s activities back in 2013, taking note that his habitual bespectacled, sweaters-and-jeans attire helped to mask the political influencers supporting him.
“…this semi-retired real-estate investor and self-described environmental advocate spends much of his time quietly and effectively plying the halls of power in Raleigh, N.C., deflecting credit and avoiding the spotlight, observed Scientific American reporter James Borden.
Droz has ventured far beyond North Carolina in recent years. His organization “Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions” advises local groups on opposing wind projects. The fossil energy lobbying organization Heartland Institute promoted Droz and the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions last February in a podcast headlined, “Industrial Wind: How to Fight It in your Hometown.”
Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise that Republican office holders and their allies have raised the “woke corporation” charge against businesses that favor renewable energy. The Republicans’ newly won but slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will enable them to hammer out that canard on the national stage in the years to come.
However, U.S. businesses that value sustainability have been through waves of opposition before, and each time they have upped the ante instead of backing down.
Business leaders united behind the Barack Obama administration in force in the run-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. They also continued to double down on renewable energy all throughout the Donald Trump administration, even as the former president attempted to bend U.S. energy policy toward fossil energy. Within days of President Joe Biden taking office, business leaders also rallied for national unity on climate action.
The next two years will be challenging, but business leaders can seek new alliances with each other, as well as civic organizations and government policymakers, to keep the energy transition moving forward.
Image credit: Katie Rodriguez/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.