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Southern Company dominates the climate lobbying scene

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Southern Company, the nation’s largest electric power generator, also had the largest force of lobbyists among the hundreds of businesses and interest groups that were seeking to influence the landmark climate change legislation that just passed the House.

With 63 lobbyists, the Atlanta-based energy giant had nearly twice as many climate lobbyists as any other company or organization, according to registration statements filed with the Senate Office of Public Records for the first quarter of 2009. (The second quarter filings won’t be available for a few weeks.) Eleven of Southern’s climate representatives were in-house, while the rest came from a dozen different lobbying shops.

Southern’s interest in the bill is not surprising, since more than 80 percent of the 200 million megawatt hours of electricity its plants generate annually is fired by fossil fuel — the main source of greenhouse gases. (A database comparing electric companies and emissions, based on 2006 government data, can be found here.) For a comparison that illustrates just how huge Southern’s lobbying force is, look at the No. 2 power generator, American Electric Power, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, which actually has a more fossil fuel-intensive fleet and higher carbon dioxide emissions than Southern. AEP had only nine registered climate lobbyists as discussions on the bill began early this year.

“We feel it’s very important to educate our legislators, and we continue to work with Congress to further address the issues we see as critical to our ability to provide affordable, reliable energy,” said Southern spokeswoman Terri Cohilas, when asked about the company’s large lobbying contingent. As for the bill so far, she said Southern supports “significant portions” of the legislation that passed the House. But she added: “We do believe it will have a profound impact on the U.S. economy, and the bill does not do enough to reduce the cost to customers or to provide regional fairness.”

So expect more lobbying ahead, as action moves to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to take up the legislation this fall.

Below are the top 10 businesses and organizations by the number of lobbyists they’ve hired on climate change so far this year. Although the list is certainly dominated by big energy generators and users, there are a few unabashed advocates of climate action on the list — most notably the political action arm of the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center, headed by Jason Grumet, who served last year and in the transition as a top energy adviser to President Obama.

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