THE INFLUENCE GAME: Firms exact climate price
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Utilities, steelmakers and oil industry lobbyists have tried to ease the pain of President Barack Obama's push to curb global warming, and they've gotten an early return on the millions of dollars they've spent influencing Congress.
Lawmakers determined to get a deal on climate change are going along with valuable concessions to polluters. It's part of the political trading necessary when powerful industries are involved.
The firms, many of which depend on coal , the biggest source of heat-trapping gases , hold heavy sway on Capitol Hill, where they have spent millions working to change policy and contributing to politicians' campaigns. They have a long history of halting environmental initiatives that threaten their profits, and their stance on the climate change measure , a key element of Obama's agenda , can't be ignored.
They'll accept a costly new "cap and trade" system that would set a ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions and essentially tax them, then allow companies to either reduce their pollution or buy credits from firms that have met the targets. But only if Congress makes it worth their while , by giving them at least some of those permits for free.
The companies, backed by many sympathetic lawmakers whose support will be crucial to a final agreement, say they're not looking to help themselves but instead trying to cushion the blow to their customers, workers and communities of complying with a costly new emissions limit.
"Utilities will end up paying a king's ransom to comply with this statute whether they are allocated credits or not," said Scott Segal, a lobbyist whose clients include power producers Duke Energy and Southern Company as well as oil refiners. "It's a way to give them the wherewithal to achieve the objective of the statute."
But some environmentalists portray the lobbying as legislative blackmail.
"They've basically said, 'You want to pass something? Write us a check,'" said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "They know that investing a few thousand bucks now (on lobbying and campaign donations) could mean literally tens of billions of dollars later."
The "check" would come in the form of free permits to emit greenhouse gases. The allowances would be hugely valuable in the cap and trade system, where firms would essentially buy and sell pollution permits to meet emissions limits.
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