After a year defined by wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, and many dire climate projections, and an underwhelming global COP 26 summit that left many wondering what it will take to increase our ambition and urgency around a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society has released a new analysis that provides insights about who is influencing action and inaction on climate and clean energy legislation in the Connecticut State House.
After wading through thousands of pieces of testimony and analyzing lobbying expenditures from both fossil fuel and clean energy advocates, a picture begins to emerge of how the fossil fuel industry has built beachheads that give it a strategic advantage and can slow down strong climate policy and the potential for transformational change.
Here are five key takeaways from our report:
1. Climate and renewable energy solutions face a major lobbying disadvantage.
The analysis showed that electric and gas utilities spent $24 million on lobbying between 2013-2020, amounting to four times that of renewable energy firms ($6 million) and more than eight times that of environmental organizations ($2.7 million).
2. A small group of anti-climate interests create the loudest opposition to climate legislation.
The majority of positions taken in written testimony given by the electric/gas utility, heating oil, business association, auto, fossil fuel, and real estate sectors opposed priority climate legislation. Specific opposition to priority climate legislation most often came from AVANGRID/UIL, the CT Business and Industry Association, the Connecticut Petroleum Council, and Eversource.
3. Despite the lobbying money mismatch, supportive testimony dominates.
The report is based on systematic collection and analysis of 2,940 pieces of public testimony on climate legislation, and found that despite being far outspent by anti-climate policy lobbyists, over 91 percent of testimony was supportive of climate legislation. Large numbers of testifiers supported legislation to ban fracking waste in Connecticut, facilitate shared solar energy, encourage electric vehicles, institute carbon pricing, create a Green New Deal and limit new natural gas infrastructure. Individuals speaking on their own behalf made up the largest segment of testimony, submitting over 3,000 positions on these bills - almost all in support of climate solutions legislation.
4. The messaging of opposition to climate policy is evolving.
The report underscores a strategic shift in anti-climate messaging, veering away from attacks on climate science, and towards unsubstantiated arguments attacking the cost and reliability of renewable energy, as well as perceived interference in the market giving renewables an unfair advantage and projecting an image that Connecticut is “anti-business”.
5. There are things we can do right now to help level the playing field. In light of our findings, the report includes a number of recommendations for the legislature and proponents of climate legislation to consider going forward, including:
Evaluating and addressing the oversized political influence of utilities
Identifying opportunities to broaden climate coalitions to help advance policy and blunt pro-fossil fuel business attacks
Confronting anti-climate solution messaging on cost, reliability, and business atmosphere
Improving transparency, accountability, and opportunities for public voice in the legislature and its committee process