The last time Congress considered implementing a cap-and-trade regime, the measure was doomed by near-unanimous opposition from business and division among environmentalists, many of whom felt it was too weak. But now a bevy of new voices have been added to the mix. A report from the Center for Public Integrity calls attention to the explosion of special interests flooding Capitol Hill on the issue of climate change. The number of environmental lobbyists has jumped more than 300 percent in five years, and they are coming from nearly every sector of the economy.
Included are public transportation and alternative-energy companies that stand to benefit from revenues generated by cap-and-trade, and the financial firms that would do the actual carbon trading. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front that supports mandatory emissions caps as long as it means continued "robust utilization of coal," is making its voice heard, along with big manufacturers of low-carbon equipment, such as GE.
Will this profusion of lobbying help or hinder the swift action that is needed on climate change within the next three to five years? K Street's presence worries some top climate experts: NASA's James Hansen is concerned that "special interests will dilute and torque government policies" and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri fears that the lawmaking process will slow down just when it needs to speed up, saying that if no new regime is enacted by 2012, it will be too late. Leading environmental groups, however, have joined industry in jumping on the cap-and-trade lobbying bandwagon, opting not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good (and politically palatable).
Democratic leaders in both chambers have vowed to pass a climate bill by year's end. Let's hope that the key negotiators, with public opinion behind them, can sift through a mountain of lobbyist advice and pass something that works.
-- Malcolm Kenton