Maryland’s highest paid lobbyists registered to push fossil fuel interests in statehouse next year

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Just in time for the 2024 General Assembly session: An update on state lobbying firms that represent fossil fuel clients — and the governments, clean energy companies, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions that hire them.

Earlier this year, a new national climate advocacy group sprung up called F Minus. It sought to expose some of the contradictions in statehouse lobbying: That certain firms can represent entities that support climate action and the development of clean energy while also representing polluters. And that some of the “green” groups or institutions hire lobbyists who also represent fossil fuel companies.

F Minus, the brainchild of former Maryland Common Cause Executive Director James Browning, has compiled a 50-state database of lobbying activities, the government affairs shops that are profiting from fossil fuels, and the potential conflicts of interest in their client list.

“F Minus’s research is key to ensuring climate accountability,” said Sonia Demiray, founder of the Climate Communications Coalition, a nonprofit organization that helps environmental and climate justice organizations with communications and outreach campaigns. “This database holds our government and other institutions accountable for continuing to engage with lobbyists representing those who harm our communities and put our climate goals out of reach. This includes those who push fossil fuels as well as those who propose false solutions to the climate emergency including trash incineration, woody biomass for energy, and biogas.”

With lobbyist registrations for the upcoming legislative session filed this fall with the Maryland State Ethics Commission, F Minus has updated its data for Maryland. The advocacy group found that as of Dec. 4, at least 42 lobbyists were registered to represent fossil fuel interests for the session that begins on Jan. 10, including most of the top earning lobbyists in the state in the previous year.

But F Minus found some progress since its first database went public in July. The organization suggests both Johns Hopkins University and the City of Baltimore are backing away from working with lobbyists whose fossil fuel advocacy is at odds with their own climate goals.

In July 2023, F Minus revealed that JHU shared the lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Strategies with coal-plant operator NRG Energy, and shared the Annapolis firm of Manis Canning with coal company Holcim — relationships maintained despite the university having divested from coal companies and offering climate studies programs. F Minus’ preliminary data from the new registration period shows that Cornerstone Government Strategies continues to represent JHU but not NRG Energy, while Manis Canning continues to represent both Holcim and JHU.

“Johns Hopkins employing coal lobbyists goes against everything they claim to care about on climate, especially on the destructive impact of coal,” Browning said. “This new data suggests that Johns Hopkins is telling at least one lobbying firm to make a choice. ‘You can represent us, or coal, but not both of us.'”

The City of Baltimore was found to share the lobbying firm of Gordon Feinblatt with ExxonMobil in 2021 — despite the fact that Baltimore is suing ExxonMobil — and gas-plant operator Calpine in 2022. New filings show Gordon Feinblatt retaining Baltimore but neither ExxonMobil nor Calpine.

JHU continues to share Cornerstone Government Strategies with the American Petroleum Institute and Domtar, operator of woody biomass power plants in Maryland and 14 other states. JHU and the City of Baltimore also both continue to employ lobbyists for highly-polluting incinerators and waste-to-energy facilities in the city, with Baltimore sharing Gordon Feinblatt with Curtis Bay Energy and JHU sharing the firm of Harris Jones & Malone with Wheelabrator.

Pollution from these facilities has been linked to environmental and health risks for communities of color and low-income communities in South Baltimore for years. Curtis Bay Energy pled guilty this year to 40 violations of state environmental regulations and was fined $1.75 million, one of the largest penalties Maryland has ever charged for an environmental criminal case.

“Trash incineration emits more climate-warming pollution than any other energy source per kWh, even coal,” said Jennifer Kunze, Maryland organizing director with the advocacy group Clean Water Action. “Maryland’s trash incinerators emit mercury, lead, and dioxins into our air, directly harming people in our campus and city communities. Every reason that would motivate universities or local governments to cut ties with fossil fuel companies also demands cutting ties with trash incinerator companies.”

The Maryland lobbying firm of Old Line Government Affairs was cited in a separate F Minus report on climate foundations that employ fossil fuel lobbyists. In 2022, Old Line worked for New Venture Fund, which has given money to protect the Chesapeake Bay, at the same time it was working for NRG Energy, which in 2016 was fined $1 million for releasing nitrogen into rivers feeding the Bay.

This summer, Maryland Matters reached out to dozens of State House lobbyists and entities that hire lobbyists in Maryland for comment on the F Minus data. Most declined to comment for the record.

But several privately noted that the nature of State House lobbying is generally to hire firms that employ generalists with an ability to represent a broad array of clients. Others suggested that the clean energy transition simply isn’t far along enough to forgo fossil fuels in the state’s energy mix — or fossil fuel interests in their own portfolios.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up