The natural gas industry has dramatically stepped up its efforts to lobby the New York state government since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, according to a new report from the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative.
Based on an analysis of data from the state’s public disclosure database, the group found that five major natural gas firms have collectively more than doubled their annual lobbying expenditures in the past five years. In 2011, two firms spent $578,454 on lobbying; by 2015, three other companies were also lobbying the state, and together all five spent nearly $1.3 million that year.
The lobbying has only become more aggressive as Cuomo has tried to stake out a position as a green governor. In late 2014, he defied the natural gas industry by announcing a statewide ban on the gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracking, which is believed to be hazardous to public health and the local environment. More recently, Cuomo pressed for a temporary halt to construction on the Algonquin natural gas pipeline until the state government can complete a safety review.
The pipeline, which carries natural gas from Pennsylvania to New England through New Jersey and New York, is owned by Spectra Energy. That company increased its annual lobbying expenditures in New York by more than 105 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to the Public Accountability Initiative report.
As for Cuomo’s overall energy strategy, Public Accountability Initiative researcher Rob Galbraith advised a “wait and see” approach.
“There doesn’t seem to really be a cohesive policy,” said Galbraith. But Cuomo has thrown up some regulatory hurdles to natural gas expansion, and the fracking ban does seem to have made some people within the industry nervous, he told International Business Times.
The Public Accountability report finds that natural gas companies have retained lobbyists with close ties to the Cuomo political dynasty. For example, between 2007 and 2013, Spectra employed the lobbying firm founded by Rick Ostroff, a former aide to Cuomo’s late father, Mario Cuomo, a three-term New York governor.
“The way lobbying works is through leveraging relationships,” said Galbraith. “These relationships are often the deciding factor in how a deal is made.”