It’s a day of conflicting developments for the Washington lobbyists who represent BP. Thad Allen, a US Coast Guard admiral, said that the company’s effort to stop oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico was working. But the New York Times reported that BP had initially selected a riskier but less expensive method casing the well that ultimately exploded, and predicted embarrassing hearings. (It was an unambiguously awful day for Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of the Minerals Management Service, who lost her job this morning amid reports that the flow of oil was higher than previously reported.) But just as each day in the continuing environmental crisis brings mixed news for BP, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is yet another example of the contradictions many major lobbying firms are founded on.
Take the Podesta Group, which has received $60,000 from BP so far this year, according to its most recent filings. Super-lobbyist Tony Podesta has acknowledged that his firm is working for the company on its Deepwater Horizon response. BP’s current woes will probably make the Podesta Group more money, even as the company becomes more difficult to represent, but it might also make things easier for some of Podesta’s other clients. Take, for example, the US Renewables Group, an investment firm that oversees $750 million in renewable-energy projects; the worse oil companies look, the easier it’ll be to make the case for smoothing regulatory paths to renewables. Then there’s FuelCell Energy, which manufactures alternative-power plants that it markets as an alternative to fossil-fuel-generated electricity and hired the Podesta Group for $90,000 in 2010. BP’s loss may be its direct financial gain.
The Podesta Group also represents a variety of environmental organizations. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District is a smaller Podesta client, in for just $10,000 so far this year, but with the organization’s focus on climate change and oil-and-gas emissions—and its history of going after local oil companies that violate safety and emissions procedures—I can’t imagine they’re shedding lots of tears over BP’s misfortunes. The firm also represents CarbonFund.org, which sells carbon offsets to individuals and businesses and does outreach efforts—at a cost of $30,000 in 2010—and represents Acterra, an environmental-education organization, for $20,000 so far this year.
Arnold & Porter, another of BP’s firms (at $20,000 in 2010) doesn’t represent the same number of environment-related firms that the Podesta Group does, but one of its significant clients is Energy Future Holdings, which pays the firm $100,000. The company has made significant efforts to rebrand itself as environmentally friendly, particularly in the wake of a fight between one of its divisions, TXU, and the Environmental Defense Fund. In a 2008 agreement as part of a deal to sell the company, TXU committed to scrap plans for eight new coal-fired power plants and accepted to back a mandatory cap-and-trade bill.
Some of BP’s other lobbyists don’t have such dramatic conflicts on their billing rolls, but it’s possible BP’s woes may make some organizations rethink their images. DC Legislative & Regulatory Services, which has taken $20,000 from BP this year, also represents Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a pesticide- and landscaping-industry group. Given the specter of massive corporate damage to the environment unrelated to killing golf-course-plaguing mosquitoes, RISE might want to consider a name that’s a little bit more specific to its mission.