Climate forecast for Congress -- whirlwind activity and sporadic showers of money

Correction appended.

From the halls of Congress to the desks of businesses and environmental groups, climate change is spurring a lobbying frenzy.

In the first quarter of this year alone, dozens of companies have doubled the money paid to hired advocates pushing a particular point of view about global warming. From groups without deep pockets, advertisements, numerical analyses and white papers are flying around the nation's capital to influence lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Everyone and their sister is knocking on my door," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who sits on the committee, which is considering draft legislation from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) mandating cuts in greenhouse gases. The bill could touch virtually every corner of the economy by requiring emission reductions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

The exact dollar amount spent on climate advocacy in the first quarter of 2009 is unknown, since groups aren't required to mention the subject on official documents filed in the U.S. Senate. They also can bundle issues on federal lobbying forms. The utility Southern Co., for example, spent more than $3 million in the first quarter pressing lawmakers on about 10 topics, including the Waxman-Markey proposal and "coal ash regulation."

A closer examination of federal reports, however, reveals a huge jump in cash flow from the end of 2008 among many companies specifying their distributions to climate-specific lobbyists.

Exxon Mobil Corp., for example, paid $60,000 to Avenue Solutions in the first quarter of 2009 after paying out $5,000 in the final three months of 2008. The firm is just one of Exxon's many lobbying entities, but one focused solely on "climate change," "regulation of greenhouse gas emissions," and "energy trends" for the oil giant.

Other lobbying shops receiving money from Exxon in the first quarter to push global warming policy include Cloud & Co. ($30,000) and ML Strategies ($90,000).

Similarly, CF Industries, a manufacturer of fertilizer products, paid $110,000 to representatives at one firm in early 2009, compared to only $60,000 in the final quarter of 2008. A lobbyist for the company referred all inquiries to the Fertilizer Institute, which has warned that a carbon cap could hurt the energy-intensive industry by spiking natural gas prices.

Efforts to shape carbon-cutting measures in the economic stimulus package accounted for some of the dollar increases, but the Waxman-Markey plan has taken center stage for months, according to many insiders.

"It's weekends. It's nights. It's an all-consuming exercise right now," said Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, about the House bill. The group, responsible for an ad campaign promoting the potential benefits of "clean coal," spent more than $400,000 in the first quarter on lobbying fees.

Electric utilities and oil refiners have made it clear that they want a bulk of emission permits for free under a cap-and-trade system, which would require companies to buy and sell allowances for the right to emit a limited amount of greenhouse gases. Large corporations have the advantage of thick wallets, but some of the biggest money jumps in lobbying this year came from businesses with a product to hawk.

Hoping to push algae into the bill


Ternion Bio Industries, which makes a bioreactor that captures carbon dioxide emissions with algae, is trying to prevent the House Energy Committee from changing current legislative language governing sequestration of greenhouse gases.

"We need to make sure that when the bill goes through its next round, algae is still counted as a tool to capture carbon," said Elizabeth Moeller, head of public policy at Pillsbury, the law firm for Ternion. The company doled out $40,000 to hired guns in the first quarter of 2009, after spending less than $5,000 in all of last year.

For businesses and groups without deep coffers, the Waxman-Markey bill is spurring a different kind of advocacy craze, replete with studies, conference calls, posters, e-mail blitzes, lists of climate principles and hordes of volunteers.

In addition to the $20,000 it paid to traditional lobbyists in the first quarter, green-jobs promoter 1Sky started a program in February called "Climate Precinct Captains" to get volunteers roaming the streets in search of like-minded activists. During marathon hearings in April about the House bill, more than 1,500 such captains and recruits flooded Congress with phone call after phone call.

"We're leveling the money playing field," said Gillian Caldwell, campaign director for 1Sky.

A similar competition for congressional ears is going on about the cost of a cap-and-trade system, with groups releasing competing numbers on an almost daily basis.

For the Coalition for Affordable American Energy, an umbrella group including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the conclusion last week was that cap and trade would cost the average household $1,400 a year by 2020, even with direct rebates to consumers. The nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, on the other hand, has been conducting briefings with lawmakers for weeks about a new study reporting that emission cuts can be affordable for even the lowest-income families.

'Clean Green Coal' hot off the press

Then there are the ad wars.

Yesterday, the Alliance for Climate Protection, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, released new advertising spots urging passage of climate legislation.

Coal companies like Peabody Energy, meanwhile, are rolling out the latest versions of "clean coal" advertisements with full-page spreads in newspapers such as the Washington Post. This time, the catch phrase is "Clean Green Coal," with the word green highlighted in its matching color.

Others are targeting moderate Democrats on the House Energy Committee specifically. Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell has been distributing memos outlining the campaign-contribution money received by many of the political fence-sitters on the House bill.

"No, I don't think you can actually buy a member of Congress for several thousand dollars. But you sure can rent one," O'Donnell wrote in one e-mail about donations from fossil fuel-dependent companies to the lawmakers.

On the opposite side of the ideological perspective, the American Energy Alliance is targeting many of the same middle-of-the-road Democrats with radio spots in 11 congressional districts urging their constituents to complain about "the Waxman-Markey energy tax."

Similar hoopla developed last year with the debate on climate legislation introduced by now-retired Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Many say the rallying cries and dollar signs are bigger this time, though, with Democrats supportive of emission cuts controlling both the White House and Congress.

Political analysts watching the situation say that nontraditional lobbying methods can be more effective than money thrown at law firms. It's all about whether dollars buy direct access to a member of Congress through personal relationships, said David King, a public policy professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Otherwise, ties to a large coalition with a history of influence can be a better option.

Powwow with the 'Green Group'

"A lot of lobbyists are wasting their money," said King.

The value of piggybacking on an existing coalition was noted recently by Robert Gruenig, senior policy analyst for the National Tribal Council, which does not have funds to pay multiple lawyers wearing expensive suits. New to Washington, D.C., during the Lieberman-Warner debate, Gruenig befriended a troupe of influential environmentalists called "the Green Group."

"By observing what they were doing and seeing what they were able to accomplish, I figured out how to navigate the Hill," he said. The Green Group introduced him to staffers for Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), he said.

Originally, the Lieberman-Warner bill didn't even mention tribes, but it wound up with set-asides that Native Americans could use to adapt to warming temperatures. This time around, Gruenig already has sent principles on climate legislation up to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, with the help of personal contacts he made the last time around.

For lawmakers, the importance of this kind of networking is clear.

In an interview this week, Rep. Upton noted that he has had long talks about the House climate bill with Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, because they had known each other "a long time." He said he also has spoken extensively with Dave McCurdy, head of the Alliance of the Automobile Manufacturers.

Similarly, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said that he has had close relationships with electric utilities and industrial companies for years, so they easily gain entrance to his door now that global warming regulations are looming.

"In fact, I'm initiating most of the calls," Boucher said.


Corrects Rep. Fred Upton's first name in the third paragraph.

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