The Center for Public Integrity released a report last week finding that the number of lobbyists seeking to influence federal policy on climate change has expanded more than 300 percent in five years. The report also finds that special interest industry lobbyists outnumber public interest environmental advocates 8-to-1.
That’s right. The most important environmental legislation in our lifetime is likely to come before Congress this year, and the overwhelming majority of meetings that Members of Congress have with advocates will be with folks interested in either watering it down or gumming it up.
Significantly, the report identifies the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) as the “leading voices against climate action.” While most climate change junkies would not be surprised that these groups oppose any action on climate change, there’s more to the story. Industry folks are suiting up to fight a series of lobbying battles, on several fronts. One of these fronts is an effort to make sure that any federal climate change law includes a provision that preempts current or future state laws or policies on climate change.
Indeed, NAM is clear about its position that state laws must go, stating that the “successful U.S. greenhouse gas emission policies” will “preempt all state climate change/global warming laws.” Be clear that it’s not just cap-and-trade programs they’re talking about. It’s everything, from state building codes designed to promote efficiency to renewable portfolio standards. This would be a radical departure from how environmental laws have traditionally worked in the United States, where federal law has left states free to exceed federal standards to protect their environment and their citizens. (See CPR’s report, Cooperative Federalism and Climate Change, for more on how “cooperative federalism” should work in the climate change context..)
Climate change is a global problem, and solving it will require action from all levels of government – a cooperative and not a preemptive approach. Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP is one of the top industry lobbyists mentioned in the Center for Public Integrity’s report, and he argues for preemption by suggesting that state or local legislation won’t make much difference. “The notion that any one state or group of states could make a material contribution to solving the problem of global climate change is farcical,” he says. Scott Segal: meet California. As Newsweek reported this past week,
California, with its 37 million people, emits 20 percent less CO2 per dollar of GDP than Germany. It generates 24 percent of its electrical power from renewable fuels like wind and solar, compared with only 15 percent in Germany and 11 percent in Japan. It also has the world's largest solar-power plant (550 megawatts in the Mojave Desert), the largest wind farm (7,000 turbines at Altamont Pass) and the most powerful geothermal installation (750 megawatts at The Geysers north of San Francisco). Although California isn't immune to the economic crisis—its finances are on the brink of collapse, which could translate into growing support for those who argue that green measures cost jobs—its green accomplishments put it at the head of the pack. If California were a country, its economy would rank as the world's 10th largest and could lay claim to be one of the world's greenest.
Farcical? Only if you think progress made by 37 million people is ridiculous.
California is not the only state to have taken aggressive action. Ten Northeastern states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that began operating last year. The Western Climate Initiative, which involves seven states and four Canadian provinces, is set to launch in 2012. These states are leading the way, and other states – such as Florida – want to follow. Preempting them would severely undercut their current efforts as well as dampen future innovations.
Of course, there’s more at work in the climate change battle now taking shape. Industry isn’t just interested in preempting state and local laws, they’d also like to make sure that the federal law is relatively toothless. What a one-two punch that would be – a weak federal law that preempts stronger state and local laws! And, of course, it’s not just the number of lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill that matters, it’s also the PAC money that their organizations bring to the table. The upshot is that on this most important of environmental issues, public interest advocates are outnumbered and outgunned by industry lobbyists. One thing the environmental advocates have going for them – and a big thing it is – is that preemption’s a lousy idea, and it doesn’t take much examination to figure that out. Let’s hope Members of Congress and their staff can see beyond the dust cloud that the stampede of industry lobbyists is working to kick up.