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Coal Industry Well Positioned for Climate Bill Battle

Acquiescence on the Left, Pressure from the Right Shape Climate Bills

By Dave Levitan

Mar 23, 2010

The White House's elation over the passage of health care reform won’t erase the facts that not a single Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the bill and that the insurance industry provided massive opposition after failing to get all it wanted during negotiations.

These facts should be remembered as the focus on Capitol Hill shifts toward another of President Obama’s goals: a comprehensive climate and energy bill.

The immediate reactions to the health care vote’s effect on this next legislative battle have been strikingly . Some argue no one on the Hill will for another protracted and bitterly partisan battle, while that the president and his allies appear to be hitting their stride and will ride that momentum toward climate legislation. There is some trepidation coming from the White House itself, with presidential advisor that “there is no doubt that [the president] has pushed a lot of his political chips in the middle of the table.”

Either way, there is an interesting parallel between the two political struggles: Just as the insurance companies — and to a lesser extent, the pharmaceutical industry — were powerfully positioned to first influence the writing of the legislation and then to attempt to block health care reform, the coal industry and other polluters are in the same spot when it comes to a climate and energy bill.

There does appear to be a major difference in the two opponent industries in each of these fights, though: The coal lobby is better positioned, with the influence it can wield directly in key electoral geographies.

“I think the coal lobby has done a bang-up job of aggressively fighting against these bills, forcing the Democrats to weaken them,” said Kieran Suckling, founder and executive director of the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity.

Messaging Success

The best evidence of their success is that from the White House to Congress, the coal industry is being supported toward a future of further growth and profitability. For almost as long as President Obama has been speaking about the need for energy reform and climate change mitigation, he has included the term “clean coal” in his speeches. Sometimes he gets more specific and touts carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

And this isn’t just the president. There have been generous provisions for CCS research and deployment in every major piece of proposed climate legislation, from the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act () that narrowly passed the House last year to the framework of the upcoming Senate bill.

At the same time, policymakers on both sides of the aisle are fighting to restrict the EPA’s ability to use the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-burning utilities.

“We have seen every successive climate bill get weaker and weaker,” Suckling said. “And the initial descriptions now that we’re getting of the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is hitting a new low, and we believe it is completely unacceptable. It has become a race to the bottom.”

Lobbying when it comes to

Lobbying when it comes to our habitat, should be banned immediately.
Because it's a threat to national security.

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