Special Report: What Do Lobbyists Get Back?

Congressman Gene Green sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and helped craft the climate change bill passed in the House earlier this year. That's when he pushed for an amendment to the legislation. It gives companies more leeway with pollution limits.

"Whether it's Shell or Exxon or any of my refineries can limit their emissions, they ought to get some credit for it."

The amendment passed and critics called it a sellout. Dave Levinthal with the Center for Responsive Politics says that's what lobbying pays for.

"What they are trying to do is tweak here, tweak there, try to influence the process here, try to influence the process there. And ultimately on perhaps smaller items whether the overall bill, they're trying to get the best deal they can."

Sara Banaszak with the American Petroleum Institute says big energy companies are not against protecting the environment. But says Democratic led plans will hurt the industry and consumers. She says a lot of the lobbying is focusing on that.

"Because it's a game changer for the entire U.S. economy, not just the oil and gas industry...."

A survey of energy companies by Capitol News Connection reveals the boost in lobbying.

ConocoPhillips has spent more than 13-million dollars so far this year, up from 8-and-a-half million dollars all of last year. Marathon Oil has spe nt more than 7-and-a-half million dollars this year compared to about 6-point-nine million dollars last year. Big spender ExxonMobil has dropped more than 20-million-dollars since January.

The money goes to things like salaries, overhead, travel and — most importantly — Levinthal says gaining the attention of lawmakers.

"What they try to do when they are making lobbying expenditures like this is buy themselves into the process."

Petroleum's Banaszak says a lot of the lobbying goes to educate lawmakers on the issues.

"Policy makers come in to represent people from their home districts and they don't always understand all of the issues for how an industry operates and what are its perspectives."

Congressman Green says he listens to big energy companies because they're a part of his constituency.

"I have five refineries in our district; I have more chemical plants than any other member. So I am sensitive to what happens in our district with the job base."

That doesn't mean he does everything they want. In the end Green supported the climate change legislation he helped craft.

"I voted for the bill. But I probably got more heat for voting for Cap and Trade in my district than anything else. I've run for office for many years and I've had support from industry. I have not had it some time. It does not matter. I have a district to represent and the biggest job base we have is in the petrochemical complex."

Climate change legislation is now in the Senate's hands and one can expect Texas energy firms to spend millions more to get their point across.

From Capitol News Connection, Manuel Quinones, KUHF—Houston Public Radio News.

 

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