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Everyone loves to hate lobbyists —after all, they seem to embody the special interests and shady dealings that underline the modern perception of politics. A lobbyist for Big Tobacco is about as loved as a killer of puppy dogs. But his station as 'most despicable political figure' could soon be supplanted—by the Climate Lobbyist. This newish breed lobbies against measures to fight climate change on behalf of the likes of oil, electricity, and coal firms. And their numbers are growing. There are now estimated to be around 2,340 climate lobbyists in Washington—more than one for every four members of Congress.The Climate Change Lobby
With Obama asking Congress to send him legislation that places a cap on carbon emissions, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid aiming to have a global warming bill ready by the end of the summer, those 2,340 voices will undoubtedly make the going rough for both.
That number's up 300% from just five years ago—a disheartening, meteoric rise. The figure comes from an analysis published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit group focused on ethics. And, in keeping with our stereotypical view of lobbyists, they're politically influential, and make a crapload of money:
Lobbying expenditures on climate change last year topped $90 million. About 130 businesses and interest groups spent more than $23.5 million on lobbying teams solely focused on climate, but that vastly understates the money devoted to the effort. More than 95 percent of climate lobbyists work on other issues such as tax and health care for their clients as well, and they don't have to report how much they're being paid on global warming specifically.
Meet the Climate Lobbyists
The PCI has some grim news about the forces fighting climate change legislation:
The nation's largest and most powerful industry groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — are now leading voices against climate action.
And that's not all. The lobbyists include a wide swath of influential figures, both Democratic and Republican alike. Seems that there's one surefire way to inspire bipartisan cooperation. Too bad it involves the wrong kind of green.
The ranks of the lobbyists include a who's who of ex-members of Congress, from former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, to former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Livingston, a Louisiana Republican.
And in defense of climate change-fighting legislation? A ragtag (by comparison) group of lobbyists for environmental orgs and 130 lobbyists for the alternative energy industry. If that number sounds meager, just consider that in 2003, there were only five.
Other Voices in the Climate Chorus
Now, to be clear, not all of those thousands of lobbyists are working strictly to derail any attempt at climate change legislation (though some pretty much are)—many have other ambitions, like making a cap and trade bill more friendly to the financial services industry. And respected environmental groups like the NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund see this as a positive thing. As Eileen Claussen, president of Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says,
When giants such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Alcoa, and DuPont are on record favoring cap-and-trade legislation, "it moves the politics on this issue to a new place."
So not all Climate Lobbyists are bad—don't go lumping them all in with the Big Tobacco goons yet. But no matter the lobbyists' specific intent, the boom in the climate lobby will no doubt make the road to passing key legislation complex (as booming lobbies surrounding key legislation always do), to say the least. It is difficult, after all, to focus amidst 2,340 screaming voices.