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Lobbyists see profit in ‘going green’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

President Obama has promised that passing laws to enhance "green" living would create millions of new jobs. Little did he realize that the growth would start with a surge in federal lobbying.

Congress' drive to pass legislation to reduce global warming has inspired a multimillion-dollar lobbying increase by energy executives and environmentalists who hope to shape the legislation to their favor.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, 7,811 federal lobbyists were hired in 2008 to pressure Congress on energy and environmental issues, up 6 percent from 2007. Lobbying fees totaled $389 million in 2008, a 43 percent increase from the previous year.

President Obama and leading Democrats on Capitol Hill want to limit the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Their chief plan, called cap-and-trade, would require companies to hold permits for each ton of carbon they emit - up to a given limit - and then obtain or purchase additional allowances for each ton above the cap.

Lawmakers have not said how they plan to allocate those allowances, and that's where the lobbying action has been most intense. Efforts began in earnest Tuesday in the House to devise a comprehensive plan.

"Companies know the stakes are high, which has increased the number of interested parties seeking representation," said David Hoppe, a lobbyist at the firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates.

Industries are launching million-dollar campaigns and meeting with key lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the bid to shape the House bill. The Senate is drafting its version and will release it later this year.

The coal industry launched an $18 million TV advertising campaign promoting clean-coal technology and is asking Congress to invest in new technologies that reduce emissions from coal-using enterprises, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an alliance of industries that produce electricity from coal.

The coalition increased its communications budget this year to $40 million, a fivefold increase from 2008, and contracted Quinn Gillespie & Associates for $480,000 and Keelen Group for $40,000 to lobby Congress on its behalf, said Joe Lucas, a spokesman for the coalition.

Mr. Lucas said Congress should not punish the coal industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"There is never an environmental challenge that technology can't solve," Mr. Lucas said. "The current challenge is not an exception."

The oil and gas industry is also seeking provisions in the bill to minimize the costs a long-term cap-and-trade plan could have for producers.

Although the industry doesn't favor the auction of all carbon emissions credits, called a 100-percent auction, "it can live with it if credits are distributed in a fair and equitable way," said Lou Hayden, a senior policy analyst at the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade association for oil and gas companies.

Individual API members, such as Chevron Corp., are leading their own campaigns to customize a cap-and-trade plan that's favorable to oil.

Chevron wants Congress to set one standard for carbon emissions from stationary sources, such as refineries, and a separate standard for automobile emissions, said Peter Robertson, vice chairman of the board of directors for Chevron.

The company spent $9.9 million on lobbying in 2008, a $900,000 increase from 2007, according to filed reports.

The natural gas industry wants a tax provision to finance clean energy technology slipped into the bill.

The industry said $100 million could be raised to finance new green technologies if utility customers were charged an annual $2 fee for 10 years, said Charles Fritts, vice president of government relations at the American Gas Association, a trade group for natural gas utility members and customers. An independent board approved by the industry would collect the money and allocate it to the most deserving research and development projects, he said.

Mr. Hayden said API does not disclose how much it spends on lobbyists or its strategy, but "A lot of policymakers on Capitol Hill, including new [members], have reached out to us to know the impact the climate change and energy proposals will have."

Meanwhile, industries specializing in renewable energy sources see this bill as an opportunity to cash in on the shift from carbon-intensive sources.

"Historically, we haven't been a major part on this country's energy infrastructure, but this bill can go a long way for the solar industry," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "So, we've launched an aggressive lobbying campaign."

The solar trade group, which represents 900 companies, doubled its operating budget this year to $9 million, increased its staff by 25 percent and tripled its roster of lobbyists. It spent $1.45 million on lobbying in 2008, according to filed reports.

The wind-power industry has put advertisements inside Metro subway cars and Capitol Hill publications and on CNN.com, as well as stepped up its lobbying efforts, said Rob Gramlich, policy director for American Wind Energy Association. The industry spent $950,000 on lobbying in 2008.

If Congress enacts Mr. Obama's proposal to auction all emission permits, renewable-energy producers might get the money they want.

Mr. Obama is counting on the proceeds from the auctions to finance energy projects and tax breaks to middle- and lower-income workers. He expects to generate $646 billion between 2012 and 2020 from auctions.

But the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of major businesses and environmental groups, wants a "significant portion" of the carbon-emissions allowances to be given without charge to companies and industries at first, to reduce the immediate economic shock.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, said he based his energy and climate change bill draft closely on the partnership's proposals.

The complexity of the issue and the number of parties involved have undermined past efforts to overhaul energy policy and deal with climate change, said William Kovacs, the top energy policy specialist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"The allocation system will never happen, and it's very unlikely a bill will even pass," he said.