Green Groups Shape House Policy Recommendations After Donating To Lawmakers’ Campaigns
In the backrooms of Washington’s corridors, it may not always be clear who has a seat at the table. But when major policy proposals are rolled out the evidence starts to emerge in the details–even the footnoted references.
With the release of a climate policy “roadmap,” the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis took a major step toward the transformative economic policies sought by many on activist organizations. The committee’s lengthy proposal shows the influence of many influential green groups, including those which are campaign donors of committee members. Those groups include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and members of the BlueGreen Alliance.
The 547-page staff report cites research conducted by these green groups dozens of times, using the data to support its wide-reaching policy proposals, including reinstating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s Obama-era methane rule and putting a one-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
These citations are a sign of the influence of these groups’ work over the report drafting process. They also come after the green groups also spent generously, donating to re-election campaigns of lawmakers on the committee and spending big to lobby for Democratic lawmaker support.
The House Select Committee report shows that Democrats are developing a broad climate agenda in the vein of the Green New Deal. Analysis of the ties between environmental groups and Democratic politicians further shows the connections between these groups and the influence that environmental groups had over the process of developing the policy recommendations.
The following is a review of the climate report, campaign contributions and lobbying disclosure reports by Western Wire of a few top environmental groups.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF):
EDF has made methane reduction, electrification of the transportation sector, and the broader transition to a clean energy economy particular focuses of its research and analysis work. The group’s research was specifically cited in sections of the House report analyzing the future of the American transportation fleet and arguing that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) statistics underestimated methane emissions from oil and natural gas production.
Like many green groups, EDF would like to see the EPA more strictly regulate methane emissions from oil and gas production and infrastructure and for Congress to enact policies to push the U.S. to transition to a “clean energy” economy, another goal of the House report
After the report’s release, EDF President Frank Krupp wrote a blog post praising the House climate plan, specifically highlighting the methane reduction section that relied on CDF’s research.
“Their report gives other Congressional leaders the policy prescriptions to address climate change, and while doing so, build a robust and sustainable economy for American workers, small businesses and future generations,” Krupp wrote.
“At Environmental Defense Fund, we have long supported the climate solutions highlighted in this report—including aggressively cutting oil and gas methane pollution that is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to warming in the short term, and promoting and investing in community resilience to better adapt to extreme weather like flooding and drought,” he continued.
EDF has been both lobbying and donating to Democratic candidates. So far in 20202, EFD has spent between $675,000 and $785,000 lobbying Congress, according to recent lobbying disclosure reports. Its associated political action committee (PAC) is also handing out campaign contributions to get the attention of lawmakers. The group has donated to several House Select Committee members. According to OpenSecrets.org, the green group donated $1,000 each to Democrats Rep. Donald McEachin (Va.), Rep. Mike Levin (Calif.), and Rep. Joseph Neguse (Colo.)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
Work performed by the NRDC was cited in different sections of the report, often those relating to power generation markets, including nuclear waste management, creating a level playing field in wholesale power markets, and a plan to reorganize the Department of Energy to advance decarbonizing technologies.
Through its action fund, the organization’s affiliated but separate 501(c)4 counterpart that presides over its political advocacy and lobbying efforts, NRDC urges allies to support committee members, saying they “work to elect environmental champions.” Among the names included on their list are Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D, N.M), Rep. Donald McEachin (D, Va.) and Rep. Sean Casten (D, Ill.).Following the formation of the House climate committee, NRDC Action Fund donated $1,000 to Rep. Casten.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy is now the president and CEO of NRDC. McCarthy also chairs the NRDC Action Fund.
According to Open Secrets, NRDC has already spent nearly $1 million on lobbying in 2020, while the NRDC Action Fund spent more than $100,000 during the 2018 midterms. Recent disclosure reports, NRDC spent $481,000 in the first quarter of 2020 lobbying Congress in support of multiple bills that were included in the House climate action plan, including the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2019 (H.R. 309).
NRDC continues to be one of the most influential groups driving national environmental and energy policy. A 2014 report by the New York Times determined that many parts of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan derived from portions of an NRDC paper.
The Wilderness Society:
The Wilderness Society was cited in sections of the report dealing with permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which it has argued can be used to help confront the impacts of climate change. The report also quoted testimony given by Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams in support of a proposal to increase the minimum bid requirement for gas lease sales.
In the first quarters of 2020, the environmental group has spent $67,000 lobbying Congress, according to recent filings. Many of the legislative policies The Wilderness Society are lobbying on are included in the House climate report, including the End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act of 2020 (S. 3202) and the Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019 (HR. 2711).
While The Wilderness Society has not donated as an organization directly to members of Congress, individuals associated with the group have supported several of the committee members. Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse (D) received $5,600 in donations from Wilderness Society employees while Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D, N.M) received a much smaller donation of $80.
The Nature Conservancy:
The Nature Conservancy is a Virginia-based group that actively lobbies on climate change policies. It has published numerous reports on climate action and promoted a clean energy buildout. It has spent $920,000 on lobbying in the 2020 cycle so far.
Like NRDC, The Nature Conservancy draws on a former Obama official, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The group spent $1.9 million on lobbying last year alone, Western Wire reported earlier this year. So far in the first six months of 2020 the organization has spent $1,122,000 lobbying Congress. Jewell has been listed on the Open Secrets Revolving Door Report.
The Nature Conservancy stands at one of the top entities that lobbies the Interior Department, Jewell’s former agency. The House Select Committee cited The Nature Conservancy’s research in a section promoting protecting private lands from development and for research showing how reforestation helps to capture carbon.
Though the Nature Conservancy itself did not donate to any candidates directly. However, its employees did. California Rep. Mike Levin (Calif.) received $700.
An association of labor unions and environmentalists, the BlueGreen Alliance released a climate platform this summer that was the first to earn the support of the United Steelworkers. The BlueGreen Alliance spends little on lobbying (less than $10,000 so far in 2020) and has not directly supported any Democratic candidates this cycle.
However, several member organizations are major Democratic supporters and lobbying organizations, including labor groups like the American Federation of Teachers, United Steelworkers, Communication Workers of America, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Environmental groups that are members include the Sierra Club, NRDC, the National Wildlife Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters.
The group’s research was used to justify a zero-emissions vehicle agenda, including strong greenhouse gas emissions standards, and zero-emission vehicle mandates, and mandated upgrades to natural gas infrastructure in order to eliminate methane leaks.