With Federal Aid on the Table, Utilities Shift to Embrace Climate Goals
“I’ve spent too much time this last year flying in helicopters over areas of scorched earth,” Mr. Biden told them, referring to a rash of wildfires, blamed in part on climate change. “More territory is burned to the ground in the West Coast than the entire state of New Jersey in terms of square miles,” he added. “It’s just stunning. Absolutely stunning.”
Mr. Biden also let the assembled group know that he was well aware that many of them in the past were hardly ready to rally behind him, alluding to when he served as vice president during the Obama administration and also pushed, often in the face of industry opposition, for ambitious climate change measures.
During that period, utilities were secretly sending millions of dollars to a law firm that filed litigation on their behalf to block the Clean Power Plan, enacted during the Obama administration. They also made large donations to Republican attorneys general who filed their own lawsuits to overturn air pollution and climate rules.
E.E.I. members, in some cases, even organized their own sophisticated, but covert, political operations to try to block renewable energy mandates.
The owner of Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, secretly donated more than $10 million to help elect state regulators who would sabotage renewable energy requirements it opposed.
The company denied for several years that it had played a role in the scheme, until the F.B.I. opened an investigation. The company was subpoenaed and then confessed in 2019 that it had bankrolled the dark-money push.
But despite that history of opposition to clean-air regulations, the industry in recent years has been abandoning coal, largely for economic reasons. Southern Company, which serves 4.4 million electric utility customers Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, has long had one of the largest fleets of coal-burning power plants, and it waged an intense fight to protect them, including donations to climate change skeptics.