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Lobbying Surprisingly Strong on 'Pipe Dream' Carbon Tax Bill

Photographer: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Kerry VanKirk, 68, laments about the amount of flyash that comes from the exhaust stack of the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. Close

Kerry VanKirk, 68, laments about the amount of flyash that comes from the exhaust stack... Read More

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Photographer: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Kerry VanKirk, 68, laments about the amount of flyash that comes from the exhaust stack of the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania.

Bloomberg BNA — Pronounced dead-on-arrival upon its introduction in 2013, the carbon tax bill authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is attracting a healthy bit of lobbying, suggesting both industry and environmental groups are looking down the road to a resurrection of legislation that failed in the Senate in 2010.

A total of 36 companies and organizations reported lobbying Congress in the first quarter of 2014 (Jan. 1 through March 31) on the Boxer-Sanders bill, and 10 lobbied on a yet-to-be introduced climate bill being readied by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and other House and Senate Democrats. Some of those groups lobbied on both bills.

Among the publicly traded companies actively lobbying on the Boxer-Sanders legislation were Arch Coal Inc., Calpine Corp., Duke Energy, Xcel Energy Inc., Peabody Energy Inc., NRG Energy Inc. and TECO Energy Inc. Public interest and environmental groups that disclosed lobbying on the climate legislation included the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association.

Industry groups that lobbied were the American Exploration & Production Council, the Public Power Council, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Ground Water Association.

Boxer and Sanders introduced their Climate Protection Act in February 2013, touting it as a simpler alternative to Democrats' economywide emissions trading approach, which failed to gain enough support to be brought to the Senate floor in 2010. Their bill would apply only to the several thousand coal, oil and gas producers, requiring them to pay a $20 per ton carbon fee, which would be increased 5.6 percent each year, compounded over a 12-year period.

No Significant Senate Action Seen

The Senate hasn't debated significant climate legislation since Boxer's Climate Security Act of 2008 was brought to the Senate floor in June 2008. Boxer's bill, which proposed an economywide emissions trading system, was defeated on a procedural vote of 48-36, short of the 60 votes needed to debate amendments and move toward final passage.

In the House, Waxman, who co-authored a climate bill that passed the House in 2009, has worked since 2013 along with other Democrats on a draft bill to apply a carbon tax to industrial facilities. Waxman, who is working with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and other Democrats on the measure, has thus far offered only a range of carbon prices—$15, $25, and $35 per ton. Those amounts would be increased between 2 percent and 8 percent a year.

The tax would be applied based on the emissions of each site, as reported to the Environmental Protection Agency, which collects annual greenhouse gas emissions data.

Companies lobbying on the rules were identified by Bloomberg BNA through a search of lobbying records using the keywords “S. 332” (the Boxer-Sanders bill number), “discussion draft” as well as names of individual senators working on the legislation.

Bill Called Pipe Dream

Environmental advocates and some in Congress argue that a significant climate change bill—one that includes mandatory emissions caps, such as the Boxer-Sander's carbon tax bill—will essentially remain a pipe dream until Congress strengthens campaign finance laws to curb large donations from corporations and wealthy individuals.

A Democratic aide with the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Bloomberg BNA that Waxman has no plans to introduce the legislation.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who introduced a bill Feb. 5 to provide federal matching funds for small donations made to candidates but only if they forego large “special interest” donations, said April 23 that voters recognize “big money politics” as a threat to democracy and the environment.

Sarbanes said there is increasing recognition that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has since unleashed a tidal wave of corporate spending and influence on federal election campaigns.

Only One Republican Has Signed On

Sarbanes' Government by the People Act of 2014 has more than 140 cosponsors in the House. But he has thus far attracted only one Republican, a Sarbanes aide said April 23: Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).

The bill would provide taxpayers a $50 refundable tax credit for individuals who donate to candidates ($100 for those filing jointly). Candidates who foreswear large donations would be eligible for federal matching funds equal to six times the total they raise in those small individual donations.

Sarbanes was joined at an April 23 press conference by representatives from the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Friends of the Earth in touting a Sierra Club report critical of industry influence in public policy, particularly climate change and other environmental issues.

The report, “Polluting Our Democracy and Our Environment: Dirty Fuels Money in Politics,”was issued by the Sierra Club and Oil Change International. It concludes that the Citizens United ruling, which overturned long-standing limits on campaign spending, led to more than $73 million in campaign contributions from oil companies in the 2012 election. It said the mining sector and electric utilities each contributed $22 million in the 2012 cycle.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2012 election was the most expensive in history, with a total of $6 billion spent by campaigns, outside groups and independent organizations. Contributions from outside groups, including Super PACs, accounted for $970 million of that total. Spending for President Barack Obama's re-election accounted for $874.6 million, according to CRP, and spending for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, totaled $844.6 million.

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