Report: Utility Sector Shows Inconsistent Support for Climate Policy

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by | Jan 23, 2024

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The 12 largest electric utilities in the United States tend to lobby in favor of climate policies, yet remain members of trade associations that consistently lobby against climate policy, with some also indicating direct policy support for the fossil-fuel industry, according to a Ceres report.

All companies in the report, Toward Consistency: Assessing the Power Sectors’ Climate Policy Advocacy, agree with the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change and have lobbied in some way for Paris Agreement-aligned policies within the past three years. Nine out of 12 of the utilities have also publicly demonstrated support for the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In Ceres’ 2022 Benchmark report, only 50% of S&P companies had lobbied in favor of climate policies, while the utilities sector has been considerably more active in voicing its support.

However, every utility company assessed also lobbied against Paris Agreement-aligned policies in some way. Ceres explains that this inconsistent advocacy gets in the way of meeting decarbonization targets within the industry and recommends these companies consistently lobby in favor of policies geared towards net-zero emissions.

“Policy engagement is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” said Dan Bakal, senior program director of climate and energy at Ceres. “If utility companies are serious about meeting their climate commitments, then their advocacy must align with their ambitions.”

Some Support for Fossil Fuels, Negative Response to EPA Standards

Ceres cites multiple specific instances of inconsistent policy support throughout the report.

For example, a number of the utility companies surveyed, including Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, National Grid, PG&E, the Southern Company, Sempra Energy, and WEC, directly advocated for increased research and development funding for fossil fuel-based gas in the transportation and building sectors. The report also explains that utility companies have not held trade organizations, of which they are members, sufficiently accountable for negative positions on climate policy.

The report also notes that after the EPA released standards and guidelines for fossil-fuel-based power plants in May 2023, AEP, Dominion, National Grid, Southern Company, and Xcel commented negatively on the standards, advocated for investment in new fossil gas infrastructure, and called for exemptions for coal plants nearing retirement.

Ceres recommends that these utility companies make changes to ensure that lobbying efforts consistently support Paris Agreement goals, including engaging with trade associations to influence climate advocacy and collaborating with state and federal officials to create effective policy design.


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