When lawmakers began a heated debate about climate change legislation in 2008, electric utilities Southern Co. and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent tens of millions on lobbying efforts.

Southern spent $14 million in lobbying related to climate change that year, while PG&E, which openly backed cap-and-trade legislation, spent $27 million and had a carbon footprint 40 times smaller than Southern.

To the authors of a new study, the two power companies are more alike than their positions on global warming indicate, and they reflect a trend of corporate lobbying on climate change.

“Both dirty and clean firms are active in lobbying, suggesting that while dirty firms lobby to maintain the status quo clean firms view environmental regulation as an opportunity to gain firm-level advantages,” Magali Delmas, Jinghui Lim and Nicholas Nairn-Birch, researchers at UCLA, said in their report.

Published last month in an Academy of Management journal, the study examined 1,141 companies.

The authors analyzed lobbying records from 2006 and 2009 and greenhouse gas emissions data from 2004 and 2008. They concluded that companies with strong positions for or against climate legislation dole out the most cash to sway Congress.

However, the motivation behind lobbying is different.

For heavy carbon-emitting companies, global warming policies are typically a threat to their operations, while greener rivals often view such policies as a way to further insulate themselves from the competition.

“Firms with increasingly good or bad performance spend more to influence the outcome of a contested environmental policy issue” like climate change, the authors said.

The results are depicted in a U-shaped chart. It shows companies with the least and the most carbon emissions are particularly aggressive.

“Although confirming the stereotype that dirtier firms are more politically active, our findings suggest that greener firms are also vying for political influence,” the report reads.

The researchers highlighted comments by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has said that pro-environment companies are happy to accept the reputational benefits of sounding green without aggressively lobbying for climate action. The findings seem to contradict that assertion.

The U-shaped diagram also highlights how “middle-of-the-road” companies—firms that emit a moderate level of greenhouse gases and would likely neither lose nor gain from the passage of climate laws—spend the least lobbying on climate change.

The study did not examine political lobbying done through trade associations. While the law binds trade groups to disclose their lobbying expenses, it doesn’t compel them to disclose what member companies contributed to their lobbying budgets.

The authors found that four industries—automobiles and parts, basic resources, oil and gas, and utilities—devote the majority of their lobbying dollars to climate change topics.

This story also appears in E&E Daily.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net. Click here for the original story.