State Level Efforts to Delay Climate Action

PI: Dr. Timmons Roberts

Lobbying and public relations campaigns by organized interest groups have obstructed the passage of any wide-ranging national climate policies in the United States. State legislatures have become the primary battlegrounds for policies such as emissions standards and carbon prices. Although research has pointed to utility companies as keystone political actors in state-level energy politics, scholars have little systematic information about interest groups’ preferences over state-level clean energy policies. We will address this gap by compiling a large dataset of interest group positions on bills in state legislatures. We will scrape, clean, and harmonize interest groups’ disclosed lobbying records from 7 states which cover a broad range of economic, political, energy, and climate conditions. We will apply this dataset to test various theories about the political preferences of utilities, including whether and how their regulatory structure and capital investments appear to influence their policy preferences. With gridlock in Washington, the initiative on clean energy and climate change in the U.S. has largely shifted to the states. Our research in statehouses and regulatory agencies in the Northeast is showing that utilities and the real estate industry are top resistors of ambitious climate legislation adoption and implementation, along with fossil fuel industry funded organizations. Building on analyses of lobbying spending and legislative testimony in three states, we will collect and study discourses of delay in testimony, press releases, press coverage, and social media of these battles. Using descriptive statistics and Structural Topic Modeling, the study will characterize shifts, variation and similarities between top discourses for and against climate action in these states, and the types of groups deploying them. This work lays the methodological and substantive foundation for application of discourse analysis to obstruction networks at other levels: regional, national, and international.