Warming Up for Debate

Industry Groups See Opportunities in Climate Change Fight

Posted March 6, 2007 at 6:33pm

Corporate lobbyists, who might be looking for opportunities to turn the debate over climate change legislation into a quagmire on their clients’ behalf, have a major potential ally on their side: Congress.

That’s because, lobbyists argue, nearly every House and Senate committee can claim a piece of the action in the far-reaching and possibly fast-moving debate. And while not all industry sectors want to derail climate change bills, they all are searching for the committees — and Members — best suited to look out for their interests.

And lobbyists say they are eyeing ways to exploit any Member or committee turf battles and jurisdictional spats to help their clients get what they want.

“It’s always easier to make nothing happen than something,” said a Democratic lobbyist who has clients with a stake in the fight. “And if you want nothing to happen, it’s good to have multiple jurisdictions.”

A longtime energy lobbyist, who also has multiple clients in the climate change debate, added that having so many Members of all political and geographic stripes involved can give lobbyists a leg up.

“It means that nobody who is organized should find themselves in the climate debate without a champion,” said this lobbyist, who would talk only on background. “There is so much overlapping jurisdiction here that the opportunities for mischief are large.”

In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will take a leading role, but so will Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who heads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have staked a claim on the issue, too. And when it comes to possible taxes on carbon emissions, that falls under the Finance panel.

The House already has put a turf battle on display between House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is chairing a select committee on global warming. As if that isn’t confusing enough, House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has kicked off hearings on energy and tax policy, too. And even Rep. Bart Gordon’s (D-Tenn.) Science and Technology Committee as well as the Agriculture panel have a shot at influencing the debate.

“We just think that the maximum opportunity for debate, discussion and review of differing thoughts will mean that the best ideas or policy judgments will hopefully be what becomes policy,” said Rosario Palmieri, director of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. “This is something that will affect the entire economy, so every aspect of the economy, every sector, should be examined.”

Palmieri said that even international relations committees will have an interest in the debate because it might affect treaty obligations and Armed Services panels also will want to want to have their say. “It’s hard to come up with a committee in the House or Senate that don’t have some interest in something as significant as these set of issues for the economy,” Palmieri said, noting that even with competing jurisdiction, Congress still easily could pass legislation.

Scott Segal, a lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani whose clients include energy companies, said too little is known about the impact of certain policies, so the more discussion, the better.

“There are very fundamental questions that have yet to be posed, let alone decided, on global climate change,” he said. “For example, should the policy response be a tax, a cap or direct regulation or technology transfer. No one of them should be considered to be in the lead.”

Juanita Duggan, president of the American Forest & Paper Association, called the overlapping jurisdictions healthy competition.

“It will be a good thing for the debate and will be a good thing for the business community because there will be options,” Duggan said. “There’s simply so much we don’t know. We don’t have any specific proposal to model against.”

But even as the business community tries to find rifts among Members and committees, it can’t claim to speak with one voice on the global warming issue, either. Automobile and oil companies don’t see eye to eye, while public utility and chemical enterprises have pitched in their own, oftentimes competing, ideas.

Companies are looking to usual suspects such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently launched a new Institute for Energy, and the NAM to pull disparate corporate interests together. Palmieri said the NAM represents a range of industries in the debate, including auto and utilities, that don’t necessarily agree. “We have a climate change task force that has been meeting, and we definitely intend to be engaged in the debate to the extent that we achieve consensus,” Palmieri said.

The Democratic lobbyist said there is an overall effort to get some of the industries together, “but that hasn’t been successful yet. The question will become, will they all unite to stop something or separate to cut their own deals” with Members who champion their side.