Clarification: The original map of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy in this report listed Consolidated Edison as a member of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy. We’ve changed the map to clarify that while Consolidated Edison has lobbied on CCPA and belongs to lobbying groups that are members of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, the company itself is not a member of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy.
The fossil fuel industry has spent more than a decade – and millions upon millions of dollars – trying to obstruct climate action in New York State. Since 2016, this multifaceted campaign to shape public opinion and influence political decision makers has included spending more than $15.5 million on lobbyists to advance fracking and expand fossil fuel infrastructure. It has involved donating more than $1.4 million dollars to politicians on both sides of the aisle, and funding sophisticated propaganda efforts to mislead the public and policymakers about the impacts of fossil fuel consumption and climate mitigation.
While the fossil fuel industry has been central to the campaign against climate action in New York, other key drivers of the effort have been regional and statewide chambers of commerce and similar corporate lobbying organizations. Though fossil fuel companies – from drilling companies to pipeline operators, from power producers to utility corporations – are key members of business advocacy organizations, these lobbying groups also include members from across the corporate world.
This report examines the corporate power networks that have opposed climate action in New York State for years and how they have been mobilized to delay, water down, and otherwise frustrate the implementation of the CLCPA.
Fossil fuel interests around the state formed the astroturf group New Yorkers for Affordable Energy to block climate action.
New Yorkers for Affordable Energy publicly presents itself as “a reliable partner for a clean energy future,” but tax filings show that its mission is “to expand natural gas service.” The group is meant to have the appearance of a grassroots coalition, but it was founded by fossil fuel executives. Two of the three founding directors of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy are Michelle Hook, Vice President for Public Affairs of Danskammer Energy, and Karen Merkel, General Manager for Corporate Communications for National Fuel Gas Company.
The coalition is backed by a range of fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups, including utility companies National Fuel, National Grid, and Consolidated Edison; pipeline companies Williams, Enbridge, and Millennium Pipeline; and the American Petroleum Institute. Other backers include corporate lobbying groups like the Business Council of New York State, regional chambers of commerce like the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and fossil fuel industry trade groups like Independent Power Producers of New York and Energy Coalition New York.
New Yorkers for Affordable Energy has engaged in undermining climate mitigation efforts in New York, including coordinating with the New York State Senate Republicans to solicit comments to the Climate Action Council opposing regulation, a “six-figure campaign” to highlight “how energy bills will skyrocket if Albany lawmakers current plans become law,” and sending out direct mailings.
It also has a contract with high-powered public relations firm SKDKnickerbocker, which has run other astroturf campaigns for gig work companies and large New York City landlords and has close ties to the state and national Democratic Party.
Fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel-backed organizations claim to support New York’s climate goals while lobbying to water down and block climate action.
In testimony to the Climate Action Council and in public statements, corporations and their lobbying groups have made statements such as “We are committed to New York’s success in the energy transition” (National Grid), “We all share the goal of reduced emissions” (National Fuel), and “We recognize and respect the ambitious carbon reduction and renewable energy deployment targets set by the CLCPA” (Business Council of New York State).
These claims of support for decarbonizing New York’s economy are belied by these companies’ ongoing multi- year, multi-million dollar campaign to block climate mitigation efforts in the state legislature and in the Climate Action Council, including the creation of the New Yorkers for Affordable Energy astroturf group, lobbying against climate bills in the legislature, and campaign donations to politicians of both major political parties.
Ten fossil fuel corporations and lobbying groups have spent more than $15.5 million on lobbying since 2016 and more than $1.4 million on campaign donations as they pursue their efforts to hamper climate action.
We analyzed lobbying and campaign expenditures by ten key backers of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy: National Fuel, National Grid, Consolidated Edison, Avangrid, Millennium Pipeline, American Petroleum Institute, Independent Power Producers of New York, Energy Coalition New York, the Business Council of New York State, and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
The fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel-backed corporate lobbying groups fighting climate action in New York that we analyzed spent more than $15.5 million on lobbying since 2016 and more than $1.4 million on political donations. It is critical to note that these totals represent the lobbying spending and campaign contributions of just a small set of the central players in the fossil fuel-led fight against New York’s climate mitigation efforts.
We found that New Yorkers for Affordable Energy members have lobbied against the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (and its predecessor bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act), the Climate and Community Investment Act, the All-Electric Building Act, the Clean Futures Act, the Statewide Natural Gas Transition Plan, and the Build Public Renewables Act.
Main targets of campaign donations include Governor Kathy Hochul ($45,682.30), the Republican Senate ($151,930) and Assembly ($62,542) Campaign Committees, and Kevin Parker ($41,450) and Michael Cusick ($25,800), the Democratic chairs of the state Senate and Assembly energy committees.
Fossil fuel industry lobbying group American Petroleum Institute, with a long history of fighting climate regulation and promoting climate disinformation, stands to influence the Climate Action Council through its connections to New Yorkers for Affordable Energy and the latter’s presence on the CAC.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) is the largest oil and gas lobbying group in the United States, representing the interests of some of the most powerful oil and gas firms in the world, such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. The organization brings in hundreds of millions of dollars per year, which it has used for decades to orchestrate disinformation efforts designed to stop government action on climate change.
Recently, U.S. states have sued the API for its carrying out “a decades-long campaign to deceive the public about climate change,” according to one Reuters story. A recent study also “uncovered a decade of spurious data, deceptive messaging, and disingenuous public positioning” by the API around methane emissions and climate change.
The API is a member of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy’s steering committee. According to a New Yorkers for Affordable Energy slideshow presentation, API is “leading” its lobbying effort on “energy issues.” Examples of legislation that API and New Yorkers for Affordable Energy would be opposing were spelled out in the presentation and include the All Electric Buildings Act, the Statewide Natural Gas Transition Plan, and the Clean Futures Act.
API is also a member of the Business Council of New York State.
Executives from utilities and fossil fuel corporations opposing climate action have seats on the Climate Action Council.
While 12 of the Council’s members represent state agencies and authorities, a full ten members are outside appointees. Of these ten, LittleSis has identified three – nearly one-third of the outside appointees – as representing corporations and industry associations that actively opposed the original passage of the Climate Act and are working tirelessly to weaken its implementation.
Donna DeCarolis is the president of National Fuel Gas Distribution, chair of the Business Council of New York State, and a board member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and New Yorkers for Affordable Energy. Gavin Donohue is the president of Independent Power Producers of New York, a lobbying group representing operators and developers of independent electric generating facilities, power marketers, and suppliers of goods and services to the industry that is itself a member of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy. Dennis Elsenbeck leads the energy consulting business at Phillips Lytle LLP and is a former board member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Prior to Phillips Lytle, Elsenbeck worked for National Grid for nearly 30 years, from October 1987 until March 2017. Phillips Lytle, Elsenbeck’s current employer, is also a member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Phillips Lytle partner David Murray sits on the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Board of Directors.
National Fuel, Independent Power Producers of New York, and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership are all backers of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy and, as discussed above, are engaged in myriad political influence efforts to block climate action.
It is no secret that New York State has the potential to make historic strides around climate action in the coming months and years. However, as this report shows, the fossil fuel industry and its corporate networks have been mobilizing to delay, water down, and otherwise frustrate the implementation of the CLCPA and other key climate legislation. The fossil fuel industry is using front groups like New Yorkers for Affordable Energy and engaging in extensive lobbying to stifle climate progress. Moreover, these same forces that have aggressively fought to oppose the CLCPA (and other climate legislation) are now represented on the very body tasked with implementing the CLCPA, the Climate Action Council. Legislators, communities, and other stakeholders invested in a cleaner, greener, decarbonized future for New York must stay vigilant around efforts by the fossil fuel industry to muzzle and erode the state’s most far-reaching climate legislation ever passed.