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A new study from researchers at Brown University found that powerful utility and business interests routinely oppose environmental and clean energy legislation in Connecticut, while the public overwhelmingly supports such measures.
Electric and gas utilities spent $24 million on lobbying state lawmakers between 2013 and 2020, four times that spent by renewable energy firms and more than eight times that of environmental organizations, according to the analysis from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.
When it comes to written testimony on environmental bills, many of which are aimed at combating climate change, the majority of positions taken by utility, fossil fuel, business and real estate interests were in opposition, the study found.
In contrast, 91.7% of the positions taken overall on climate measures, mainly from individuals testifying on their own behalf, were supportive. These included measures to ban fracking waste in Connecticut, limit new natural gas infrastructure, and facilitate shared solar energy.
Connecticut should be a “best-case scenario” for progress on climate change, given that the economy is not reliant on fossil fuel extraction and there’s a “Democratic trifecta” in state government, said Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown and executive director of the Climate Social Science Network.
But instead, the vast majority of climate legislation never makes it out of the committee in which it was introduced.
“There’s a survival rate of 16%,” Roberts said.
The findings are based on an analysis of 48 climate bills identified as priorities by local environmental organizations, as well as state lobbying records.
Roberts said previous analyses of influence over climate and energy issues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts reached similar findings. Connecticut’s top 10 lobbying resources registered as having lobbied on energy issues “could be in any state in southern New England,” he said. “Utilities across the country have huge power over state climate and energy policy.”
The interests leading that list are Eversource ($6.7 million), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, or CBIA ($4.5 million), and Spectra Energy Transmission II LLC ($3.9 million.)
But Eric Gjede, vice president of public policy for the CBIA, said the report vastly overstates how much resources the organization puts into lobbying on energy. The $4.5 million is “divided over all of our registered lobbyists, more than 10 of them,” he said. “Only one of them covers any environmental or energy issues.”
He said the organization supports the state’s goal to have carbon-free energy by 2040, but wants to make sure those efforts don’t result in rapidly rising energy prices or decreased reliability.
“We support clean energy and a clean environment,” Gjede said. “It’s just how we get there that is a concern for us.”
Roberts characterized the CBIA as having “kneejerk” opposition to any tax or regulation.
“You can not take those immediately off the table in fighting the climate crisis,” he said. “Their members need to know what’s being done in their name.”
A spokesperson for Eversource issued a statement that said it shares Connecticut’s goal of a “greener energy future.”
“From offshore wind, solar and battery storage to energy efficiency, electric vehicles and our industry-leading goal to be carbon neutral in our own operations by 2030, we look forward to continue working with stakeholders to solve our shared energy challenges,” Mitch Gross said.
The study analyzed all of the reasons used by opponents of climate bills, based on their written testimony, and found that it isn’t that they dispute the reality of climate science. Rather, the study identified nine “climate delay discourses” frequently used by opponents. These include arguing for the need to continue using and/or expanding natural gas, labeling carbon pricing a tax, and saying that additional climate measures will make Connecticut look extreme and anti-business.
“Many of these arguments are just pernicious,” Roberts said. “They’re an excuse not to do anything.”
Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said she found it “validating” to see the arguments so frequently used by opponents of environmental bills documented in the report. In particular, she said, opponents repeatedly slow progress on climate legislation by portraying environmental protection as being at odds with economic growth, while she believes the opposite is true.
“Environmental groups and ordinary citizens will never have the money or resources to match what Eversource and the CBIA spend to influence lawmakers,” Brown said. “But broad majorities of Americans see climate change as a serious problem and are demanding action from their elected leaders. So the real power is at the polls.”
The report includes a number of recommendations. It suggests lawmakers pay more attention to public testimony on environmental bills, and try to find ways to limit utilities’ ability to wield influence. And it says environmental advocates ought to try to build broader coalitions, including aligning with labor unions, and highlight opposition from industry groups to make sure their members are aware of what they’re doing.