Think of big businesses that lobby to restrict US work on climate change. ExxonMobil and its hard-line petroleum allies probably come up first. However, we sometimes forget the participation of many of the flagging US coal barons. The Climate Investigations Center, a small progressive group that monitors energy and environmental outliers, says the coal lobbying influence is waning. CIC released a survey this month of the lobbying spend and the influence of climate change on it.
In 2015, coal generated about 33% of US electricity. Only a decade ago, it made up about half the total. Some of the factors surrounding coal’s declining market share:
- Increased public awareness of how burning coal endangers living organisms
- Many different benefits of transitioning away from coal
- Low natural gas prices
- Rapid growth of renewable energy
As a result, major banks have cut back on financing coal mining. Federal, state, and local governments have become more vocal. Many of the coal majors themselves have begun to reduce air pollution, promote renewable energy, and address climate change directly.
The new report examines the spending of the principal industry lobbying groups — the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Both have drastically cut back since 2008. In fact, in the past year, as shown by Bloomberg, ACCCE reduced its coal lobbying spending by 51% from 2014. The National Mining Association cut lobbying by almost half (44%) as well. Even Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, cut its lobby spending by 24%.
(Note also that despite its own bankruptcy, Peabody has vowed to continue opposing the US Clean Power Plan.)
In all, ACCCE’s 2014 coal lobbying and political spending decreased to about 10% of its record high in 2011. The graph here shows ACCCE’s Internal Revenue Service filings from 2008 through 2014. The CIC report notes that only two of the seven utility companies that were major ACCCE funders in 2008 remain members today: American Electric Power and Southern Company. Over the past two years, ACCCE lost two other founding utilities: Ameren and DTE Energy.
The National Mining Association also suffered defections: Anglo American, Chevron, Pacificorp, Wells Fargo, and Zurich. Although the causes are unknown, five other major companies recently disappeared from NMA’s web page list: KPMG, Wood Mackenzie, Michelin, CSX, and Norfolk Southern.
The researchers looked at the World Coal Association’s annual reports as well. The WCA has recently lost these major members:
- Total S.A., the French oil and gas supermajor
- Consol Energy
- Bankrupt Arch Coal
- Bankrupt Alpha Natural Resources
The new report also documents that major corporations have slowed or halted their participation in NMA and ACCCE because of the coal lobby’s attacks on climate change policies. For example:
- Duke Energy left ACCCE because “we believe ACCCE is constrained by influential member companies who will not support passing climate change legislation in 2009 or 2010.”
- At the Paris climate summit in December 2015, Volvo left NMA, calling its efforts against the Clean Power Plan “crazy.”
“The coal mining industry is increasingly isolated, and its goal of increasing coal production levels has become further at odds with other business sectors’ interests, particularly [among related] companies that have committed to reduce their own carbon footprint, power their operations with 100% renewable energy, and/or publicly support national and global policy efforts to address climate change.”
Catherine Traywick of Bloomberg News believes that the mining groups see little more to gain from further coal lobbying to the executive branch. She sees them shifting attention to efforts with states and in the courts. Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, cites the Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay the Clean Power Plan.
On Tuesday, the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement advised state governments to require coal interests to set aside collateral for future mine cleanups. Joe Pizarchik, OSMRE’s director, sees “clear signs that the energy industry is undergoing a major transformation” and moving away from fossil fuels. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that the majority of the 90,000 US coal workers could be retrained to work in the solar sector for about $180 million. The cost of retraining employees in solar PV could amount to less than one year of CEO pay.
And already, as a New York Times report documented on Wednesday (“Beyond Coal: Imagining Appalachia’s Future”), “elected officials, business leaders, environmentalists, and community advocates are looking beyond politics to wrestle with a question essential to the [coal mining] region’s survival: What comes after coal?”
Where goes coal, so go the other fossil fuels?
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