In Colorado, Lobbyists Play Both Sides of the Environmental Battle

Welcome to Colorful Colorado sign on a vivid blue sky background and landscape stretching beyond.

Welcome to colorful Colorado: Where environmental protection clashes with industrial interests. (Photo by Martin Podsiad on Unsplash)

by | May 8, 2024

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In Colorado, a state plagued by worsening air quality and frequent climate-related adversities, a striking conflict of interest has been uncovered among lobbyists. 

A new report from F Minus and Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab reveals that several Colorado lobbyists are simultaneously representing the interests of fossil fuel firms and entities adversely affected by climate change, in a troubling dynamic finding them advocating against environmental regulations even as they represent victims of pollution.

The report identifies 24 Colorado lobbying entities, including firms and individual lobbyists, with dual engagements with fossil fuel enterprises and groups such as local governments, health organizations, and environmental advocates. Of particular note are four firms: Capitol Focus, 5280 Strategies, Politicalworks, and Nexus Policy Group, which have been active in opposing anti-smog legislation crucial for improving air quality in the state.

Lobbying Against Clean Air

From 2020 to 2023, Capitol Focus received substantial fees from the American Petroleum Institute to oppose over 100 bills, many related to air quality and emissions. At the same time, this firm represented the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, warning that air pollution increases lung cancer risks. Similarly, Nexus Policy Group opposed several anti-smog bills while representing Denver Public Schools, which had been pushing for a transition to renewable energy due to climate concerns raised by its students.

Politicalworks and 5280 Strategies also displayed conflicting allegiances. While Politicalworks has lobbied for organizations like the Nature Conservancy to support environmental protections, it has also served clients like Chevron and Onward Energy, which have vested interests in fossil fuels. 5280 Strategies, meanwhile, has been caught monitoring and amending bills concerning air quality on behalf of Xcel Energy while representing regions and schools suffering from poor air quality.

The Cost of Conflicting Interests

The implications of such double-dealing are profound. Local governments and other organizations employing lobbyists who also serve the fossil fuel industry are inadvertently undermining their constituents’ health and safety. By funding these lobbyists, they contribute to perpetuating fossil fuel dependence, effectively using public funds to counteract environmental progress.

This unethical overlap dilutes the integrity of lobbying efforts and can deeply compromise legislative outcomes that would benefit the public. According to James Browning, Executive Director of F Minus, these relationships “normalize and legitimize” the harmful activities of fossil fuel firms, thereby delaying meaningful action on climate change.

Academic and Advocacy Responses

The exposure of these practices has stirred responses from academia and advocacy groups. Max Boykoff, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Environmental Studies Program, emphasizes the importance of transparency, saying, “I suspect that many Colorado nonprofits have no idea that they’re hiring the same lobbyists as fossil fuel companies.”

Micah Parkin, Executive Director of Colorado 350, calls for decisive action, urging Colorado entities to sever ties with dual-representative lobbyists to curb the fossil fuel industry’s influence, emphasizing, “It’s time to force Colorado lobbyists to pick a side in the climate fight.”

Calls for Ethical Lobbying

The report highlights broader ethical concerns about the lobbying profession. Aly Belknap of Colorado Common Cause points out the inherent conflict of interest when lobbyists support and oppose the same legislation, calling into question the democratic process. This practice of “double-dipping” – lobbying for environmental measures while simultaneously opposing them on behalf of other clients – is unethical and fundamentally opposed to public interest.

A Nationwide Issue

This issue extends beyond Colorado. Across the United States, there is a pervasive pattern of lobbyists representing conflicting interests, often at the expense of public health and environmental integrity. Research by F Minus reveals over 1,500 lobbyists engaged in similar practices nationwide, illustrating a systemic problem within the lobbying industry.

The entanglement of Colorado’s lobbyists with both fossil fuel giants and their victims paints a concerning picture of the current state of environmental advocacy. As the state grapples with the impacts of climate change, the need for clear, uncompromised voices in policy advocacy has never been more critical. 

Only through transparent and ethically consistent lobbying can Colorado, along with other states, hope to address environmental challenges effectively, ensuring a healthier future for all.

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