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The conspiracy behind the climate change bill — revealed!
Among the odder aspects of Annie Leonard’s conspiracy theory about the influence of Wall Street over climate legislation is the fact that we already know perfectly well who is exerting influence over climate change legislation. There’s no mystery, no surprise. What’s the phrase that conveys the opposite of a conspiracy? Because that’s what we have here: the usual suspects, operating in the usual manner, in plain view of everybody.
The Center for Public Integrity has put some hard numbers around the story, assembling a public database of all the lobbyists working on climate change and the organizations that employ them. The search interface, unfortunately, doesn’t provide any aggregate statistics, but I pulled some approximate numbers from the chart up top. Here’s what they tell us:
Fully 65.6% of climate change lobbyists are working at the behest of **energy producers and consumers**, a group composed of manufacturers, utilities, power companies, oil and gas companies, the transportation industry, mining and coal companies, and alternative energy producers.
Another 13.5% of lobbyists represent **advocacy groups**, a catch-all for environmental organizations, unions, and the mysterious “other.”
The remaining 21% is a hodgepodge of groups — waste management firms, universities, building contractors, etc. — most or possibly all of whom have some indirect financial stake in the legislation. **Wall Street and the financial industry** represent 4.4% of the lobbying pie, just below the alternative energy crowd and just ahead of city, county and public agencies.
Mystery solved! In addition to the handful of organizations doing straight-up advocacy work, the interest groups vying to influence the legislation are the ones who stand to make or lose money in a carbon-constrained economy. Moreover, the intensity of their lobbying is roughly proportional to the dollars at risk. Unsurprisingly, energy producers and consumers are working the hardest to shape (or defeat) the bill, and Wall Street, alongside a number of other players, is also doing some little bit.
One thing to keep in mind is that the mere existence of lobbyists doesn’t tell us much about what they’re lobbying for. Within the broad categories I’ve outlined, conflicts abound. For example, GE, Duke Energy, and other members of the USCAP coalition are included in that big 65.6% chunk; these business are lobbying in favor of climate change legislation. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are pushing in the opposite direction. Divisions exist even among fossil fuel producers: natural gas could do very well at the expense of coal under a carbon pricing scheme.
That’s another funny thing about the non-conspiracy: at least Wall Street is lobbying *in favor of climate change legislation*. In fact, the finance industry has no obvious complaint with most of the items on environmentalists’ wish list for a climate change bill (allowance auctions, aggressive near-term reductions, an upstream cap, etc.).
None of this is to suggest that all this lobbying, by Wall Street or otherwise, is a good thing. It’s not. But there’s no reason to go hunting around for villains. We don’t have a stronger climate change bill because climate change legislation is going to raise the price of energy, and a vast array of interests is aligned against such a rise. Although I think Waxman-Markey is certainly a good enough bill — historically unprecedented, actually — it does bear the mark of painful compromise. Wishing otherwise won’t make it so, and killing the current compromise certainly won’t help the environment.
**UPDATE:** Meet the Wall Steet climate change lobby.