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Tally of interests on climate bill tops a thousand

Agriculture, higher ed, natural gas, you name it. Everyone’s got a lobbyist

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More than 460 new businesses and interest groups jumped into lobbying Congress on global warming in the weeks before the House neared its historic vote on climate change legislation, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of just-disclosed lobbying records shows.

The surge in the 12 weeks leading up to the June 26 vote meant that about 1,150 different companies and advocacy organizations were promoting their vision of how the nation should tackle climate change, a more than 30 percent cumulative jump over the 880 companies and associations that were storming Capitol Hill on the issue as the year began. Some 190 of the interest groups that were lobbying in the first quarter of the year did not continue their lobbying in the April-June time period.

It’s impossible to say with certainty how much money was spent on lobbying the climate bill, since businesses don’t have to detail expenses for separate issues they are pushing in Congress — like climate, health care, the economic stimulus, or taxes. But so many groups were lobbying climate that even if the issue consumed only 10 percent of their efforts, the cost would have been more than $27 million in just the second quarter-from April through June.

From turbines to teaching

The interests were wide-ranging. It’s no fluke that farm interests took center stage as the vote approached, considering that nearly 20 companies and organizations that produce or promote biofuels — including refiners and would-be refiners of plant matter from corn to wood chips to algae — started lobbying climate legislation for the first time. But they were joined by a host of others. American Superconductor of Devens, Massachusetts, pushed for the electricity grid modernization in the bill — a move that would enhance the market for its superconductor wires, which the company says can carry ten times the power of traditional copper cables and potentially double the power capacity of wind turbines. Electric grid investment also was a primary goal for PickensPlan, the advocacy project of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, which joined the lobbying fray in the second quarter. Pickens had sunk millions into the Texas wind power he touts as an important domestic resource, but electricity from the rural plains isn’t going anywhere without more wires. In fact, Pickens last month postponed his power plan due to financing problems.

Numerous religious groups, from Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America , to the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, have been lobbying on the bill over the past year. In the second quarter, another advocacy group joined in: the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, concerned about possible subsidies to “faith-based” organizations for energy system retrofitting.

About 30 higher education institutions and associations — from Ivy League to community colleges — also joined in lobbying on the climate bill in the final weeks before passage, most with an eye on federal money that might be available for climate-based educational programs or research. The Exploratorium — a San Francisco-based, interactive science museum — along with four other science centers, said in a letter to the climate bill’s authors, “we see few more important issues for our future as a species” than global warming; the organizations wanted to be sure that institutions like science centers and natural history museums also would be eligible to compete for climate education grants.

“The closer we got to finishing the bill, the more intense the frenzy to get little pieces into the bill,” said a senior Congressional staffer. The aide believes the integrity of the legislation held up, nevertheless, even as the measure ballooned from the initial 648-page draft to the 1,428-page mammoth passed by the House. The main goal — reducing the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent by 2020 — remained intact, the source said. “It worked out okay, but sometimes at the end of the day you felt like you had been pawed by a lot of people — all your good friends who just wanted to help you out on this piece of legislation.”

A corn-fed force

What did all these groups get for their lobbying dollars? In the case of agriculture — with nearly 80 total businesses and interests groups lobbying — it’s pretty clear, due to the high-profile showdown forced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who threatened to deep-six the bill. To gain his votes and those of other committee members, the climate bill’s authors, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and his global warming subcommittee chair, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., agreed to enhance the benefits farmers would gain for participating in the nation’s effort to cut greenhouse gases. And the legislation gave some protection to the makers of ethanol, the fuel alternative distilled mostly from corn, despite opposition from critics who claim it’s not as green as portrayed.

Agriculture-based alternative fuels were especially well represented among the new lobbying entrees. For instance, there were lobbyists from technology firms claiming they can make fuel from new sources, with at least four separate companies touting the promise of algae (Algenol Biofuels, PetroAlgae, Kai BioEnergy, and Aurora Biofuels). There were also companies like sugar maker Florida Crystals, which operates the largest biomass power plant in North America, and was pushing for greater support of biomass power development.

But the biofuel lobbying powerhouses remained the companies that refine ethanol from corn, especially POET Biorefining of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In 2007 POET overtook agricultural giant and longtime industry standard-bearer Archer Daniels Midland as the nation’s leading ethanol producer, and its first foray into lobbying on climate was the second quarter of this year.

Leading the charge for POET was the new interest group it helped create with several other ethanol makers last fall, Growth Energy. Retired four-star general and former NATO commander Wesley Clark is the group’s public face, but there’s also a team of lobbyists behind the scenes. In addition to its chief executive Tom Buis, a long-time fixture in the farm lobby, and former Iowa Republican congressman Jim Nussle as special adviser, the group paid $30,000 to Kountoupes Consulting last quarter. That brought on board former Clinton administration congressional liaison Lisa Kountoupes, who also had been a staffer to Energy and Commerce chairman emeritus John Dingell, and Melissa Shannon, former legislative aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Since the House vote, Growth Energy has added even more Washington firepower, hiring Anne Steckel, former aide to Illinois’ Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the majority whip, and Ted Monoson, former aide to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). With what is widely seen as a tough battle coming in the Senate over the climate bill, Growth Energy’s CEO Buis says there is plenty of work ahead, beyond the changes made at the behest of House Agriculture committee chairman Peterson.

“What he did was stand up for all of rural America and say ‘We’re gong to be impacted by this and we want some of these issues addressed,’” said Buis. “Did he get them all addressed to satisfy everyone? I think that obviously Senator [Tom] Harkin [D-Iowa] and the Senate Agriculture Committee are going to be addressing other concerns. Because if you look at the Senate, it’s going to have to address ag issues, because I don’t see how you get to 60 votes without it.”

It’s a gas, naturally

Even so, it’s still energy interests and heavy energy users that dominate the lobbying scene. Leading the pack were manufacturers, with about 200 companies and advocacy groups, followed by the power companies and utilities, with some 130. Coal and coal utility interests were seen as making out well in the House climate bill, especially regarding provisions requiring the federal government to initially give away carbon emissions “allowances” that likely will eventually be worth billions of dollars. But not all energy interests gained in that deal, which likely will slow the move to low-carbon forms of electricity generation. Enter a new interest group: America’s Natural Gas Alliance, representing more than two dozen producers of natural gas that are independent — that is, not affiliated with a larger oil company. The alliance, which represents about 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production today, argues that they should be fueling a much bigger share of the nation’s electricity production since natural gas is the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel. The coal industry has argued that such fuel-switching could be costly, but ANGA is plying the Senate, the White House, and Obama administration energy and environmental officials with maps showing how new drilling techniques mean the nation can rely more heavily on natural gas without fear of the price spikes that have previously plagued the fuel.

ANGA’s argument is being aided by a team from Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, including Joel Malina, a former political aide to New York Democratic Representative Nita Lowey, and Jack Howard, who was on the White House staff of both President Bushes. Howard had also been a senior adviser to GOP House Speakers Dennis Hastert and Newt Gingrich, as well as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Rod Lowman, who spent 17 years in Washington defending the plastic industry against environmentalist critics as president of the American Plastics Council, is now pushing the benefits of natural gas as president of ANGA. “The principal question we’re getting, quite frankly, is ‘Where have you been?’” says Lowman. “The utilities and the coal industry have been at this for a very long time.” Because “most of the deals had been cut” in the House by the time ANGA started lobbying on May 1, he says the group is focusing its sights on the battle on the other side of the Capitol. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, says that battle will begin September 8. “The Senate will be looking at those emissions allowances, looking at offsets, looking at renewable energy standards — all those things will be revisited — and we want to make sure we are a part of that discussion,” says Lowman. “We will be a part of it.” And so, apparently, will more than 1,100 others.

David Donald, M.B. Pell, Dan Ettinger, Joe Kokenge, Josh Israel, Te-Ping Chen, and Sarabeth Sanders contributed to this article.