Climate lobbyists look far beyond cap and trade

Climate lobbyists are flooding Capitol Hill, and they're not showing up in all the likely places.

As uncertainty hovers over passage of an economywide cap on greenhouse gases, advocates are pushing for climate provisions in less obvious spots, like legislation funding the Federal Aviation Administration. There are also opportunities for hired guns to shape global-warming language in measures about livestock management and waste disposal, among other issues.

"Climate change is like Hamburger Helper," said Scott Segal, a lobbyist for coal-fired utilities and other energy companies. "It's one of those popular concerns that people in any distantly related area on the Hill want to associate themselves to attract interest."

Regardless of the motivations of lawmakers, lobbyists can now target global-warming measures in committees ranging from Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to House Ways and Means. Since January, politicians have introduced more than 20 bills mentioning climate change, including proposals that would prohibit taxes on the emissions of domestic animals and would require metropolitan planning organizations to incorporate climate in their transportation blueprints.

In the 109th Congress, by comparison, members of Congress introduced only 60 or so bills on the topic over a two-year period from 2005 to 2006.


Climate lobbyists on Capitol Hill fall into two camps, said one lobbyist representing utilities. Businesses worried they may be harmed by a cap-and-trade bill tend to appear in front of traditional energy committees, he said, while those seeking to advance a product are more likely to want to branch out.

"There's certainly a lot of folks who believe they have a technology solution and are very interested in using the budget process," added Jeff Holmstead, the head of the environmental strategy section at Bracewell & Giuliani. "They might have something they've been working on, but it's not yet commercial."

For global warming-centric organizations, the proliferation of provisions is a welcome opportunity to move an agenda in increments, even if only a few of the proposed bills gain traction.

Climate Communities, for example, pushed for measures that made it into the recently passed stimulus package, including $300 million for the Department of Energy's Clean Cities program helping local areas shift to alternative fuels.

The organization, a coalition of cities and counties founded in 2007 to combat global warming, paid $100,000 to lobbyists in 2008. A potential cap-and-trade bill remains a focus, but for now, they are watching the appropriations process and measures in congressional transportation committees, according to Climate Communities Deputy Director Andy Seth.

Cities and airlines focus on transportation bills

Seth said the group will be pressing lawmakers to boost mass-transit funding and provide incentives that reduce the number of miles the average American drives. A target will be the reauthorization of a multi-year transportation-works bill slated for action this year, he said.

Similarly, lobbying documents filed in the U.S. Senate show that many businesses mentioning climate change on recent forms are in the aviation sector, with Boeing Co. and JetBlue Airways appearing in the mix.

Last week, Congress passed a six-month extension of the FAA's authorization, giving lawmakers and lobbyists additional time to shape a larger bill in the months ahead.

Many groups want an ultimate package to contain extensive funding for the Continuous Low Energy, Emissions and Noise program, which among other things would support development of alternative fuels for aircraft. There also is a push for language supporting a multimillion-dollar upgrade of air-traffic control from a radar system to a satellite-based one.

A total revamp of the current infrastructure could cut greenhouse gases from planes by 10 to 15 percent, according to Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at the Air Transport Association.

"If we had a full satellite system, planes would be able to fly point-to-point and reduce emissions from circling," Young said.

The American Trucking Associations, meanwhile, wants tax incentives through "any legislative" mechanism to help drivers obtain expensive anti-idling equipment for their vehicles, said Tim Lynch, senior vice president of the group, which recently hired lobbyists from Bob Moss & Associates. The idling activity of the average truck can spew more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide yearly, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Offset opportunities gain a growing following

Supporters of carbon offsets, or projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through things such as methane digesters at dairy farms, are watching action in the House Agriculture Committee closely, according to one lobbyist. Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) announced this month that he was soliciting the opinions of more than 400 agricultural, environmental, scientific and educational groups on "the different options being considered in Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The carbon capture sector also has a growing set of actors looking outside big energy bills for a little help. Clean Energy Systems, a seller of power-plant turbine systems, is pressing for grants for small companies after the stimulus bill emphasized large projects.

Funding tends to go for big demonstration projects that aim to grab a half-million tons of C02, squeezing out promising players that might hold a breakthrough if they could get support for small tests, said Jason Larrabbee, a company lobbyist.

"My message to Congress is, don't discriminate against certain technologies," said Larrabbee. "We don't have the ability to address a 500-megawatt power plant." The company spent $30,000 lobbying Congress last year, according to CQ Moneyline.

Even for those focused on cap-and-trade legislation, the types of advocates get more diverse by the day. A recent report from the Center for Public Integrity found that the number of climate lobbyists tripled in the past five years to at least 2,340 individuals.

Waiting for the 'litigation stage'

Big corporations like Shell Oil Co. have mentioned global warming on Senate documents in the past few months, but much of the surge came from new players like investment banks, retailers and agribusiness. There also has been a jump in lobbying from companies touting products with a claimed climate benefit.

ImageTree, for example, doled out several thousand dollars in 2008 to promote its software that helps measure the amount of carbon in forests.

Then there are the immigrants from the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Australian National University, for example, lists climate change as a major focus in 2009 official lobbying documents. BlueNext, a French company active in the European carbon market, just hired Washington, D.C.-based Natsource to lobby on climate change in "domestic and international agreements."

With Congress revving up to consider a mandate for utilities to produce renewable electricity, there's going to be a fight about how much companies can count "renewable energy certificates" from outside projects to meet the requirement, said one tax expert. Similarly, many are predicting a jockeying match over the role of offsets in a cap-and-trade system, with everyone from the turfgrass industry to farm operations wanting their clean-energy projects to count towards emission reductions.

The real lobbying squabble on global warming may come after any cap-and-trade bill gets passed, though, according to Kyle Simpson, a policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

"Once we're actually trading carbon, everything moves into the litigation stage," he said. "That's going to be a madhouse. Everyone will be arguing over whether a ton of carbon is really a ton."

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