16 Mar 2009: Report

An Army of Lobbyists Readies
for Battle on the Climate Bill

With carbon cap-and-trade legislation now on Washington’s agenda, companies and interest groups have been hiring lobbyists at a feverish pace. For every member of Congress, there are now four climate lobbyists, many of them hoping to derail or water down the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

by marianne lavelle

Climate action advocates found the sign they had been waiting for in Summary Table 4 of President Obama’s budget plan: The administration intends to place a price on carbon dioxide emissions that would cost fossil fuel industries $646 billion through 2019 — creating a new pot of federal money in the process.

That stark row of numbers also gave opponents of climate legislation what they had been waiting for: a call to arms. “The Obama budget did more to help us consolidate and coalesce the business community than anything we could have done,” William Kovacs, who heads up regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Wall Street Journal.

If the stage is now set for the climate battle to begin, there is no shortage of combatants. A Center for Public Integrity analysis shows that, by the end of last year, more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.

Some of the lobbyists, like those representing the U.S. Chamber, clearly are seeking to derail any federal effort to mandate a reduction in fossil fuel
There’s reason to fear that climate policy will die at the hands of special interests.
emissions. But others have more subtle agendas — they seek to blunt the costs, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas. Some just want a slice of that revenue stream. Others hope to shape the rules of the bazaar in the market-based system that the politicians, including Obama, favor for grappling with global warming.

So the growth in lobbyists signals not only a redoubling of efforts by the energy industry and manufacturers — who dominated the scene five years ago — but the addition of a slew of new interests, from the bankers on Wall Street to the officials running public transit on Main Street.

Some longtime climate action advocates welcome the newcomers to the party. They have a kind of Realpolitik rationale: As a practical matter, they believe support will build among the politicians as more interests like agriculture, financiers, builders, and even forward-looking manufacturers and power companies see what they could gain in a carbon-reduction regime.

Perhaps they’re right. Maybe the “sum of all lobbies,” as U.S. energy policy has been famously described, will this time add up to a positive for the planet. But there’s more reason to fear that climate policy will die at the hands of special interests than there is to believe that special interests can bring climate policy to life.

Look at what happened to the climate bill sponsored last year by Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner.

With the legislation being debated last spring just as U.S. gasoline prices made their historic climb to more than $4 a gallon, the Chamber of Commerce and other business opponents focused on how climate policy would make the nation’s favored fuels even costlier. The Chamber warned of job losses and economic hardship, with memorable ads featuring energy-starved Americans cooking eggs over candles and jogging to work on auto-free streets.

Proponents of climate legislation were able to summon economic studies — including from the government’s own experts — challenging the grim predictions of the Chamber and others. But when push came to shove, the bill garnered only 48 votes, and nine of those came from the infamous “Gang of 10” Democrats who soon revealed they would have voted against the actual bill — all due to their concerns over the price for consumers and business. Remember, Lieberman estimated his bill only would have imposed $17 billion in costs on the fossil fuel industry in the first year. That key line in the Obama budget anticipates first-year climate revenue of $79 billion.

Dealing with blatant opponents is bad enough. But what about wavering climate action supporters? Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, the nation’s sixth-largest power producer, says he wants to see a climate bill this year. But he has been quick to criticize the Obama approach, because he says a slower transition is needed to protect consumers of the coal-dependent states in the Midwest and South.

Duke and other members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership — a coalition of businesses and some environmental groups — favor the government giving carbon pollution allowances for free to local electric distribution companies like Duke in the early stages of the program. Rogers
Renewable energy companies and environmental groups are outnumbered 8 to 1 by other interests.
has been critical of the Obama approach, which is expected to require polluters to pay for the program through a government auction of all carbon dioxide emissions permits. Proponents of auctioning 100 percent of CO2 permits seek to avoid the pitfalls of the European system, which initially gave away many permits to power producers at no cost, resulting in windfalls for those companies. The U.S. auction would provide revenue for the federal government to fund programs to offset the increased energy costs to families, as well as to invest in development of clean energy.

Yet another position is being staked out by the Edison Electric Institute — a power industry group to which Duke also belongs — which argues that free allowances also should go to the so-called “merchant” generators of power, companies that sprung up due to state deregulation and are now responsible for nearly a third of the power consumed in the United States. The merchants don’t serve local populations — as old-style utilities do — but sell their power to the highest bidder in the wholesale market. Local utilities would be required by state regulators to pass the value of free allowances to their ratepayers, but unregulated merchant generators could keep any financial windfall for themselves.

If it sounds like the power business is divided among itself, that’s because it is. That’s part of the reason that U.S. CAP never could reach agreement on whether to support Warner-Lieberman bill last year. Meanwhile, U.S. CAP’s $870,000 in spending on climate lobbying last year paled next to the $9.95 million spent by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a group of 48 coal mining, hauling and burning companies. (Duke, incidentally, is one of several companies that are members of both ACCCE and U.S. CAP. It’s hard to tell the players in the game, even with a scorecard.)

ACCCE will undoubtedly be a major player in the battle to pass climate legislation, and the group advocates a cautious approach that some cap-and-trade advocates say would delay serious climate legislation for years. While the group claims to support a federal program to curb CO2 emissions, ACCCE opposed the Warner-Lieberman bill and says it will only back legislation that encourages a “robust utilization of coal.” Since there's no technology available today that scrubs the carbon out of emissions from coal-fired power plants, what ACCCE is really seeking is a go-slow approach from Congress while the government invests in developing that technology. Warner-Lieberman, in ACCCE's view, went too far, too fast.

On the other end of the spectrum is the fast-growing renewable energy sector, which is fully devoted to adding the price of carbon pollution to every kilowatt generated from cheap coal competitors. Yet, put renewable energy interests together with the environmental groups — both lobbies have mushroomed in the past five years — and they are still outnumbered 8 to 1 by all other interests lobbying on climate.

Climate action advocates will be counting on winning some of those interests to their side. Cities, counties and public agencies, for instance, see an opportunity to plug into a new federal revenue stream. Growth of mass transit, for example, could help get cars — and their carbon emissions — off the road. But would-be grant recipients want as few strings attached as possible, meaning fewer assurances that the money will actually be invested in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And take agriculture. It is a hotly disputed subject, but some argue farmers could contribute to the climate solution through improved soil and manure handling practices. Projects to retain carbon in the soil or capture methane
The number of parties interested in influencing climate legislation seems to grow by the day.
from manure are costly, but what if farmers could earn “credits” that they could later sell to coal-fired power companies that have trouble reducing their carbon dioxide emissions? Would these so-called “offsets” be enough to offset the agriculture interests’ worries over rising fuel costs? Last year, the American Farm Bureau Federation was originally neutral on the Warner-Lieberman bill, then opposed it when offset opportunities were reduced in later amendments.

Shaping a climate policy to satisfy a variety of narrow interests has obvious perils. And the number of parties interested in influencing climate legislation seems to grow by the day. Wall Street banks and other financial players, for example, had virtually no presence on climate change on Capitol Hill five years ago. But by 2008 they had 130 lobbyists — as many as the alternative energy companies. Wall Street interests see themselves as brokers, project developers, financers and consultants in an emissions “permit” market that one federal regulator estimates could reach $2 trillion in value within five years, making carbon the world’s most widely traded commodity.

Among the group of financial climate lobbyists last year was now-serial federal bailout recipient American International Group, which aimed to make investments around the globe in carbon-reduction projects. AIG was forced by public outcry to stop lobbying last fall soon after its first infusion of federal dollars, and the company recently withdrew from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. But there are plenty of other potential carbon marketers looking to weigh in on policy, and oversight of their dealings is sure to be a sticking point — complicating or delaying the already difficult task of crafting a program to tackle global warming.

Former Senator Tim Wirth, president of the Ted Turner-funded UN Foundation — which has been working to promote global progress on climate — is worried. Public policy-making, he says, is by its nature incremental. But as climate scientists deliver ever-more urgent warnings about the rapid pace of warming, Wirth is increasingly convinced that radical action is needed.

“The money that will go into complicating this issue and casting doubt on this issue is going to be increasing as rapidly as the science,” he says. “There will be more and more interests weighing in on behalf of doing little, or even taking the incremental steps that you’d expect policymakers to take. And it’s exceedingly dangerous.”

Negotiations for a new global climate treaty, of course, can go forward just as they have for years, without any clear signal of what sort of commitment the United States is willing to make to cut carbon emissions. But there’s no chance of a deal that can make a difference to the planet without the U.S. on board. And that’s going to take a feat of political leadership that keeps the interest of solving the climate crisis in the forefront, while leaving the special interests behind.

POSTED ON 16 Mar 2009 IN Climate Climate Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Europe North America North America 

COMMENTS


0.6% of our oil usage is for electrical generation and the proponents of taxing energy claim that by building wind and solar (which can only generate electricity) this will get us off dependency on foreign energy. Please explain how this works. It seems impossible.

Wind and solar require fossil fuel back-up 75 and 60% of the time. Please explain how they clean much air. Wind and solar cost several times more than any other source of power.

The 60 to 75% of the time wind and solar are backed-up by fossil fuel the fuel used will be taxed by carbon credits or carbon taxes. Wind and solar plants have expected lives of less than 20 years compared to nuclear with design lives of 60 and actual lives extended to sixty years in many cases. Wind or solar would also require new oversized power lines to remote locations (due to the fact they must be designed for maximum power production, not the average.

The unreliable, unpredictable and frequent outages of wind and solar prevent any grid from having more than 5% or so of these energy sources as no grid can have this much variability.

How does this work to cleanly supply energy for our needs?

Building 200 more nuclear plants over 50 years to augment the 103 that currently produce 20% of our power could eliminate the one trillion tons of coal burned for power each year.

We have had nuclear power for 20 years and now have 103 plants supplying 20% of our power with zero emissions. What is wrong with this? Why would anyone object to actually becoming energy independent when we can eliminate one trillion tons of coal burning each year and then open up the 85% of our energy being blocked and truly be energy independent?

Why would anyone not profiteering from alternatives that cannot solve any of our energy or environmental not support such a common-sense plan?
Posted by Dahun on 16 Mar 2009


Dahun, your points about the feeble wind and solar markets are reasonable right now, but wind and solar are getting a foot in the door. Their emerging markets are pointing the way toward the kind of experience, expertise and infrastructure that will improve their
contributions, stability and cost.

Nuclear sounds very clean when you frame it in terms of "emissions." But then there's that nasty issue of the waste. I've lived near places where waste was being stored; it's a political and logistical headache for the states that must house the waste, not to mention a long-term
hazard to the people, land and water. Many politically active communities don't even want
the stuff trucked through, much less buried or encased near their aquifers (or local fault lines).
Probably we can get away with some of it, but 200 new plants is a pretty tough pill.

I like the idea of a portfolio that aims to balance all the tradeoffs. Some wind, some solar, some coal, some hydro, some nuclear and biofuel -- along with a healthy dose of research to add to the alternatives in the mix. Oh! And trying to rein in the demand at the same time, by convincing people to use less. Conservation counts, too.
Posted by Anne Minard on 16 Mar 2009


"Oh! And trying to rein in the demand at the same time, by convincing people to use less. Conservation counts, too."

It does, but it should count much, much more than it does.

Mostly, it requires intelligent planning by municipalities, and a revolution in what we view as a desirable lifestyle. Since buildings use most of our energy, we can use a more enlightened, less greedy development industry.

I'm drawn to Tom Friedman's wish: For one day only, we need a visionary dictator who can push through laws to save us from the merciless difficulties (when decisive action is critical to survival-as-we-know-it) of our political system.
Posted by Trevor Burrowes on 16 Mar 2009


I'm drawn to Tom Friedman's wish: For one day only, we need a visionary dictator who can push through laws to save us from the merciless difficulties (when decisive action is critical to survival-as-we-know-it) of our political system.

Posted by Trevor Burrowes on 16 Mar 2009

Looks like you got your wish.
Posted by Dahun on 17 Mar 2009


Global warming alarmists are trading in fear. I think many Americans have seen how this tactic has been used for political purposes and are now far more likely to look at the facts.

Hopefully this will cause more and more people to actually learn the facts and realize attempts to tax carbon are not attempts to clean the air and are not in resonse to any real threat of warming. They are truly just political in nature. they are an attempt to introduce more huge taxes on energy which are simply a sales tax on one of our most basic commodities.

Fervent dismissal and arguement against any real solutions and fervent religious adherence to ideas that cannot work have only one obvious intent, further pork projects and raise taxes for government.

Global warming has no basis in calculation, scientific test. It is an invention of the UN and profiteers try to cut off debate. In twenty years of trying with hundreds of millions spent global warming alarmists have never accurately predicted temperature change. For twenty years they claimed success based simply on the obvious fact the climate was warming. They unequivocally claimed it was impossible for the climate to cool for the next 100 years. All seven computer programs verified this claim. For two years it has cooled dramatically and in response the IPCC says this cooling is just weather.

Alarmists have risen the outcry and dire predictions in order to gain financing before the realization becomes apparent that the earth is cooling. Global warming is now called Climate Change, no longer are tannual temperatures published, the need (we are told) is that we be given comparisons to hand-picked averages. We are considered so naive that we cannot understand the dishonesty.

Global warming has been 100% disproven by these failed predictions. Global Warming never had a factual basis and nothing has more definitively proven how false it is than Nature itself destroying any pretense of credibility it ever possessed.

The battle in Washington is for increased taxes and political control; it has nothing to do with climate.



Posted by Dahun on 18 Mar 2009


Of course "companies and interest groups have been hiring lobbyists at a feverish pace" - what did we expect! Most people with a basic knowledge of economics predicted this outcome. It is the reason why a carbon tax makes much more sense and why most eminent economists (see Greg Mankiw's views for example) recommend this approach - it is more transparent and not so easily 'gamed.' The reason we have cap and trade is because of the politicians' fear of the 'T(ax)' word - an attempt to pretend that businesses and not consumers will bear the costs.
I wonder just how many people are fooled!
Posted by Boutagy on 19 Mar 2009


Dahun has it exactly right. But the environmentalists are more terrified of the nuclear power bogeyman than of the global warming bogeyman. Which is very peculiar, as both the UNSCEAR studies and the Taiwan study [accidental chronic cobalt 60 irradiation of 10000 people over 20 years -JPANDS 2005 ] show decreased cancers and decreased foetal abnormalities as compared to non irradiated people.

Similar results from the (unpublished) study on American shipyard workers. I think it was not released because it wasn't scary enough.
Posted by ian hilliar on 19 Mar 2009


Sorry, that reference was JPANDS vol 9, No 1 ,Spring 2004 [Chen et al.] And, a carbon tax makes about as much sense as an oxygen tax. Has anyone read the Copenhagen Consensus? A whole bunch of "eminent economists " [including 4 nobel prize winners] recommended we do absolutely nothing about "global warming," or "Climate change," as any action would cost gazillions and achieve absolutely nothing. Much better to spend the money on HIV in Africa and asia, clean water supplies , malaria eradication, and that sort of commonsense thing. Except of course ,there isnt any spare money to spend at the moment,and the Obama government is hoping to score a heap of money from carbon cap and trade to bail them out. ENRON was hoping the same, as was Lehman Brothers! Good luck, Barack.
Posted by ian hilliar on 20 Mar 2009


I can only hope that the lobbyists who oppose action manage to hold the fort until the reality that anthropogenic global warming is hogwash sinks in. Getting people to go along with further wrecking the economy is going to be a harder sale with no warming having occurred since 2001 (and the warmest year on record being in the 1930s).
Posted by Capertree on 20 Mar 2009


The largest pollutant in the US is power production where one trillion tons of coal is burned every year to produce power.

At best the technologies of wind and solar could, with many trillions of dollars for wind and solar instalations and required power lines, replace 10% of these coal plants or produce 5% of our power. Due to restrictions of reliability this would be the absolute most that is even theoretically possible and the nameplate power could only be realized 25% of the time for wind and 40% of the time for solar. 100% back-up from fossil fuel is required for every kwh of power produced by wind or solar. No fossil fuel plants could be shut down therefor no actual increase in capacity is realized by any wind or solar. This monumentally expensive project would require 15% carbon taxes on back-up power.

The 70% of the time these technologies are not producing fossil fuel will be used for back-up. the estimated 15% carbon taxes (carbon trading sceme if you prefer) will be applied to the cost adding 15% to 70% gives another 10% increase in everyone's bills; total 25% extra for 5% clean power.

Building nuclear would cost far less, could produce for our needs, could shut down all coal plants saving one trillion tons of coal being burned each year. Zero carbon taxes would be levied. These plants would last for 60 years as opposed to the projected 20 for any wind or solar.

We cannot do this because of a disingenous canard that we are inacapable of storing waste properly, ignoring the current far less secure storage procedures.

If you are truly concerned about pollution you would not but into schemes that are simply pork. You would realize the only practical solutions and work to have them implemented. You would not choose the highest cost, least effective means possible.


Posted by Dahun on 20 Mar 2009


Google Beryllium 10 and atmosphere. The article is on "Watts Up", and clearly demonstrates that solar activity is responsible for climate change.

Sorry, people, but in the future AGW hysteria will be mentioned in the same company as phrenology, Lysenkoism and numerology. Oh, except none of them ruined the economy.
Posted by Shoshin on 21 Mar 2009


Actually, there may be a relatively simple cost effective technical solution to the present inefficiency of wind. I'm working on it, not because of any green toe delusions of global warming, cooling, or psudo-pollution hype, but because I'm a cheap SOB, and sick and tired of foreign potentates controlling my future.
We'll see.

Posted by Bill Price on 21 Mar 2009


With regards to the problem of nuclear waste it appears that someone has developed a process to encapsulate and remove waste produced by nuclear reactions. See http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/121880
Posted by Phil Kavanagh on 21 Mar 2009


Recycling is another way to address the problem, this has been banned for 40 years as the by-product is plutonium which can be used as fuel but has greater potential for use in nuclear weapons. France the world's largest percentage user of nuclear power (the US despite not having built a reactor in 30 years is still the world's largest user) utilizes recycling.
http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/factsheets/doeymp0411.shtml

The encapsulating process, as explained, seems to be fine, however it seems to be limited to medical and municipal waste as I interpret the news release.
Posted by Dahun on 22 Mar 2009


The most logical explanation for the cycle of warming and cooling the earth goes through is solar activity as theorized by Svensmark and many others. Cosmic radiation is influential in creating clouds; irrefutable science. The theory is that lower solar activity blocks less cosmic radiation and which results in more cloud formation. More clouds, more shading, cooler earth. During high solar activity more cosmic rays are blocked. Less cosmic rays, less clouds, less clouds, more sun, warmer earth.

All testing so far has verified these theories and the theory corresponds with 450,000 years of solar activity history. Some day it may be proven wrong, but if I were a betting man I would put my money on a theory with 450,000 years of accuracy versus a theory twenty years old that has never been right and during the last two years has predicted the absolute opposite of what has happened.

"Based on these considerations, it is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with truly exceptional global mean temperature. These considerations also suggest that, barring the unlikely event of a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next 2-3 years."

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2007

They now acknowledge that cooling may persist into the middle of the next decade.
Posted by Dahun on 24 Mar 2009


Dear friends.
I'm working for a organization called Ladakh Young Buddhist Assocation, so we organisz a campaign on climate change on 4th December 2008,with the collabration of 350.org, so we have a wonderful experience in the converner of the Himalaya,we have a big big threat from this changes,so we are with you and love do campaign for this, big problem for the world, please do keep in touch and inform about your program.
Posted by Tashi Angchok on 24 Apr 2009


I expected great things from Obama, but he has been defeated by big business. It falls to the common man to resist them.
One of the main problems is that the decisions to obtain coal by mountain blowing are made by people who are not effected.

Good luck with your protest.
Posted by martin Bemment on 27 Jun 2009


Comments have been closed on this feature.
marianne lavelleABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marianne Lavelle is an investigative reporter for The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, digital news organization specializing in investigative journalism and research on public policy issues. Her most recent report for the Center is "The Climate Change Lobby." Lavelle joined the Center last year to report on energy, the environment, and climate change, bringing two decades of experience covering Washington, D.C. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report and The National Law Journal and has received numerous journalistic honors, including the George Polk Award and the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award.

 
 

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