Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Headlines, North America

POLITICS-US: Lobbyist Ranks Swell with Advent of Climate Bill

Marina Litvinsky

WASHINGTON, May 20 2009 (IPS) - Nearly 140 new businesses and interest groups have joined in the intense lobbying in Washington on climate change, according to the Centre for Public Integrity (CPI).

A new analysis of lobbying disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Senate, ‘The Climate Lobby’s Nonstop Growth,’ shows that a total of 880 companies and interest groups reported that they lobbied on climate change in the first quarter of 2009, a 14 percent increase from the same period last year.

CPI started looking closer at climate change lobbying last year “knowing that this was pivotal for climate legislation,” said Marianne Lavelle, author of the analysis.

Microsoft, Google, and eBay are among the technology firms that helped drive the increase, though the lobby is still dominated by big energy producers and users. More than half are manufacturers, power companies, or firms in the oil and gas industry.

CPI found that just 10 lobbying firms, led by Alpine Group and Ogilvy Government Relations, represent nearly 100 of the businesses and interest groups seeking to influence the bill.

“The difference between this year and last year is that, with George Bush sitting in the White House, nobody thought there was going to be a bill passed,” said Deborah Sliz, leader of the lobbying firm Morgan Meguire, LLC, which represents consumer-owned water and electric utilities from across the country.

California Democrat Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and his energy subcommittee chairman, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, move forward this week with a mark-up of the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Their legislation seeks to curb the global warming threat through a complex ‘cap and trade’ system that would gradually reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that utilities, steelmakers, oil refineries and other companies could emit.

Under cap and trade, an ever-decreasing number of emissions permits would be available, and companies that still lack the technology to meet the lower pollution requirements could buy more permits from companies that no longer need their full quotas.

In its analysis, CPI found that the interests weighing in on this issue are more diverse than ever. Companies including technology firms Sun Microsystems and eBay and consumer brand names Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., and Starbucks are engaged in an organised lobbying push this year.

Their new coalition, Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), established after the presidential election last November, seeks even more aggressive limits on carbon emissions by 2020 than the Waxman-Markey legislation envisions.

“Typically, the voices from business you hear on Capitol Hill are the big emitters,” said Marcy Scott Lynn, director of corporate sustainability and responsibility for Sun Microsystems, a founding member of BICEP. “We have a different voice to bring to this conversation. We have a real desire to see climate change legislation that makes sense.”

According to the analysis, companies in the food business also showed an increased interest in climate change in the first quarter of 2009. New entries include Land O’ Lakes, Tyson Foods, the American Beverage Association, and the American Meat Institute.

Food processors are wary of a possible increase in energy costs under any programme to limit the carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning. Some have facilities large enough that they might be required to secure pollution permits from the federal government in order to do business under a cap and trade programme.

The Waxman-Markey bill would give away many of these permits for free to the power industry, and agreements also have been struck to bestow these permits on the ailing auto industry and certain manufacturers like the steel industry. But the food industry has seen no similar special provisions worked into the legislation thus far.

“It is unclear whether new players are going to have the kind of clout of the old ones,” said Lavelle. “A lot of changes that have been made in the process address those interests that have been at it for a long time.”

Refuting Big Oil’s influence, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard told CQ Politics on Monday that the climate change proposal was “unacceptable as drafted” because the emissions permits allotted for oil refineries are lower than those allotted for other sectors.

“We probably didn’t have a front-row seat in the dialogue,” he said.

With so many agendas to address, the climate bill has grown nearly 50 percent, to more than 900 pages, since the draft was originally floated on Mar. 31. The increasing number of interests makes the job of devising climate policy more difficult.

“Because there are so many efforts to appease all of these different interest groups, (policymakers) have to balance that with the goal of doing something to reduce this global warming pollution,” said Lavelle. “Anything to distract policy makers from the goal is going to be problematic

Most large environmental organisations still strongly support the package that Waxman and Markey have put together, viewing the compromises as the inevitable price of getting critical legislation passed – although they have vowed to work hard to strengthen the bill.

The deal-making has frayed any green group unity. Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen have raised concerns on the deals struck while Greenpeace said it could not support the measure in its current form.

“Despite the best efforts of Chairman Waxman, this bill has been seriously undermined by the lobbying of industries more concerned with profits than the plight of our planet,” said Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, in a statement.

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