Earlier this week Obama laid out his plan for combatting climate change, an area where Congress has continued to lag in terms of taking any serious action. One of the likely beneficiaries of any such action would be renewable energy industries like solar and wind. Considering that allowing people to have more choices in terms of where and what type of energy they get, would also fit nicely with the idea of the free market system the country, and particularly Republicans, espouse, one should ask: ‘Where’s the free market in energy?’
To change this would require Congressional action, and there are those who have tried in the Senate, but nothing’s really changed. “Since 2007, certain members of Congress, mostly Democrats but also a few Republicans, have been trying to pass comprehensive climate legislation that would use a market-based system to limit greenhouse gas emissions throughout the U.S. economy,” wrote MapLight Political Writer Donny Shaw. “Year after year, the bills have died in the Senate, either refused a markup in committee or filibustered to death on the floor,” he said.
The energy supply in the U.S. is largely protected by entrenched industries and solar and wind are relatively nubile to the market and utilities have an interest in maintaining their monopoly status rather than letting the free market work throughout the U.S. And they’re putting the money they make from ratepayers, i.e., the public to make sure they retain their status.
MapLight released an analysis of who’s spending the most to influence Congress in the the energy sector. The analysis looked at the period between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2012. It found that carbon-emitters far outspent—by nearly six times those that support market-based climate legislation. The analysis found that those spending against such legislation spent $25.1 million compared to $4.2 million from those that would benefit from such legislation.
The top five contributors to Senators to stymie action on climate change legislation shouldn’t be much of a surprise. MapLight found that the top contributors were gas & electric utilities, which paid $3.2 million to fight climate change legislation, electric power utilities weren’t too far behind with $2.8 million. The chemicals industries, which emit carbon and other pollutants in manufacturing processes would also be impacted by such legislation, as such, they spent $2.2 million to oppose it. Coal mining spent $2.1 million and independent oil & gas producers rounded out the top five with $2.1 million to fight climate change legislation.
Meanwhile contributions to Senators from those who would benefit from market-based climate legislation were much fewer and had nowhere near as deep pockets. Environmental policy advocates spent $2.9 million, while alternative energy production & services spent $1.1 million and nuclear energy, which rounded out the whole group, spent $262,660, according to MapLight. The difference in spending is perhaps one of the reasons why climate legislation that would benefit renewable energy industries hasn’t passed. But more recent work from groups like TASC, The Alliance for Solar Choice, are trying to change that.