Climate Stakeholders Target Senators

Posted November 6, 2009 at 6:07pm

After contentious Senate committee action on climate change legislation last week, industry and environmental interests are focusing on a select group of Senators who are trying to forge consensus on the heated issue.

Much of the attention will be aimed at Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who are seeking common ground between those who want to curb greenhouse gas emissions and others who fret about the economic consequences.

More broadly, the next round of lobbying will also target the chairmen and ranking members of five other committees that have jurisdiction over the legislation as well as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will have the final say over what goes into the legislation.

“We can now have an adult conversation about the bill,— one top energy lobbyist said.

The lobbyist was echoing the displeasure of a number of those who are involved in the legislation about what happened last week when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a bill that would reduce greenhouses gases 20 percent by 2020.

The committee’s work was marked by intense partisanship as Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) reported the bill out without any GOP lawmakers present.

Republicans boycotted the hearings after complaining they wanted to see an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency before proceeding.

Boxer, who accused the Republicans of stalling, invoked committee rules that allowed her to report the bill out with only a majority vote of the Democrats in attendance.

Democrats want to show some progress on the legislation before the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

Environmental activists had hoped to have legislation completed by the time of the international meeting but have now scaled back their expectations.

The roadblocks to passage of the ambitious bill are formidable and include a weak economy and Democratic nervousness after losses in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia last week.

Furthermore, much of the public attention as well as that of Democratic Congressional leaders and the White House has been riveted on the massive health care legislation.

Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, a major environmental group that supports climate change legislation, acknowledged the challenges in competing with health care.

“It is hard to break through the noise with the public, absolutely,— Kreindler said. Nevertheless, he said Senators who are crafting climate change legislation are paying attention to those lobbying on the issue.

Recently, Kerry and Graham authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which they outlined principles that would be the groundwork for climate change legislation, including reducing emissions of carbon gases, investing in renewable sources of energy and developing a mechanism to protect businesses from increases in consumer prices.

The two Senators have also been joined by Lieberman, who has worked with Republicans on some issues.

Key members of Senate committees that will be considering the climate change legislation are also getting attention from outside groups.

The World Wildlife Fund is planning to run television ads supporting climate change legislation in Alaska and Arkansas, in part because Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is chairman of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Joe Pouliot, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, said the groups’ seven-figure advertising campaign on behalf of climate change is unprecedented.

“We have made a strategic decision to engage like we have never had before,— he said.

Another environmental group, the Blue Green Alliance, is running a television ad in Pennsylvania thanking Sen. Arlen Specter (D) for voting for the bill in the Environment and Public Works Committee. Specter, who left the Republican Party this year, is facing both primary and general election challenges next year.

Other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, are running ads criticizing seven House Members, six of them Republicans, for opposing climate change legislation that barely passed the House in the spring. Among the targets are Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire.

One of the key features of the House legislation as well as the measure approved by Boxer’s committee is a cap-and-trade provision, in which polluters would be given government-issued emission allowances that they could trade.

The bills have been harshly criticized by many business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which argue the plan would drive up fuel prices and unemployment.

Jack Gerard, the president of API, said lawmakers should scrap the framework in the Boxer and House bills and develop a new bill that would be less economically harmful.

“We need to step back and take a deep breath and say we had a false start,— Gerard said.

He said API, which represents the major oil companies, will also continue its lobbying efforts, which include advertising and grass-roots efforts. Last summer, API spearheaded rallies across the country to protest the climate change legislation approved by the House.

“We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to educate the public and public policy officials as to the significance and importance of this policy and its impact on jobs and fuel costs and environmental protection,’’ Gerard said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has faced an internal rift over its opposition to climate change bills, last week indicated its willingness to work with Kerry and Graham.

“The chamber welcomes the call for a new conversation on how to address the issue and believes their editorial can serve as a solid workable commonsense foundation on which to craft a bill,— Executive Vice President R. Bruce Josten wrote in a letter to Boxer and EPW ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

However, in the letter Josten said the chamber “will continue to oppose bad policies that resemble the failed climate proposals of the past.—

In terms of lobbying resources, the business groups dwarf the environmental activists. Three of the top 10 spenders in federal lobbying in the first three quarters of this year were oil companies. Exxon Mobil Corp. alone spent $20.7 million. The American Petroleum Institute has shelled out $5.8 million through September.

By contrast, the World Wildlife Fund spent $1.7 million during the same period, and the Environmental Defense Fund spent less than $1.7 million.

The business community has not been speaking in unison on climate change recently. Some companies, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Apple Inc. and Exelon, have quit the chamber because of the its opposition to climate change legislation. Nike Inc. resigned from the board of directors.

Oil giants BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips have joined a group called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which advocated a required 80 percent reduction by 2050, the goal that was set by President Barack Obama.

There is general agreement that there is almost no chance that climate change legislation will be approved this year. Lawmakers and outside groups will spend the coming months striving for a compromise that can garner 60 votes in the Senate next year.

But Tyson Slocum, who heads the Energy Program at the liberal group Public Citizen, is skeptical that will happen.

With economic anxiety continuing and Democratic losses in the November elections, Slocum said he didn’t see strong support outside the Democratic base.

“There is going to continue to be a lobbying frenzy because the bill is still in play,— Slocum said. “But unless there is some sort of tremendous deal, I don’t see a bill being sent to the president this Congress.—