Senator Lieberman: Industrys Bag Man on Climate Change

Climate Progress is happy to introduce John Passacantando as a new guest blogger. John is one of the top climate activists of the decade, having recently stepped down as Greenpeace USA’s executive director. You can read about his legacy (so far) here. I have known John for a long time, and he is not one to pull punches, as you’ll see. Welcome, John!

Why do crooks rob banks? Because “that’s where the money is,” according to the infamous 20th century bank robber, Willie Sutton. Today’s cash source for crooks is not the banks, but the American public. With every new revelation of million dollar bonuses and payoffs to big corporations, Americans feel like it’s the bankers who are robbing us blind.

Just in case the financial loss wasn’t distressing enough, some members of Congress are now supporting plans that would give big energy companies the next round of publicly financed bailouts, in the name of combating global warming. The leader of this approach is that perennial friend of corporate welfare: Senator Joe Lieberman.

Here’s the background: To reign in climate change we must limit the amount of carbon entering our economy from the oil, coal and gas industry. Capping carbon encourages users to conserve by making the cost of using it more expensive. President Obama promised to implement a carbon cap. This carbon cap is regulated by selling pollution permits to producers and importers for the amount of carbon they bring into the economy.

Those permit sales amount to trillions of dollars over the life of the program. The money received from the permit system can be spent in different ways. It can be largely handed back to the American people, which is what President Obama is advocating in his proposed budget. This would ease the financial burden for American families who are hit with higher energy costs.

The other way the money can be spent is by sending it to different industries, interest groups and even foreign countries. The theory behind this concept is to try and put the money into good causes — even drive some of the climate solutions that we need, like developing new energy efficient technology.

The problem with the latter approach is explained in a recent report released by The Center for Public Integrity. The report explains that “more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year [2008]… an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.”

I ran Greenpeace US from 2000–2008, I know about thirty of those lobbyists are from environmental groups who are pushing for various ways to genuinely solve climate change. That leaves 2,310 others who are primarily interested in one thing: scooping up the loot.

So now the giant money grab fest is on. Duke Energy, General Motors, Shell, Excelon, Conoco Phillips, Chrysler, BP and many more want us to give them the carbon permits. Free. These corporations argue that they will pass the savings along, helping out real folks. We are talking about utilities and oil companies here. The last believer in benevolent CEO’s is probably Jim Cramer in his Mad Money World.

The President’s budget director, Peter Orszag, said that giving away permits would be “the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States.” While the American people could use a bailout, we do not need a welfare program for energy companies.

Enter corporate bag man, Senator Joe Lieberman. Sen. Lieberman is assigned to feint concern for the little guy, while attempting to deliver trillions of dollars worth of public assets to these companies. Consider what he told the Washington Post last week:

The 25-member U.S. Climate Action Partnership, that includes major corporations and a handful of environmental groups, has its own plan that would give away 40 percent of allowances to local coal-intensive utilities that would then keep rates low. How fast those allowances would be phased out is something on which the group cannot agree.

[JR: See also “NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan”.]

That approach has the support of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), co-sponsor of three earlier cap-and-trade bills that failed to win Senate approval. Lieberman plans to form a bipartisan group of senators with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored two of those earlier measures.

“I see myself as a coalition builder,” Lieberman said. “I don’t think you can have a 100 percent auction. For fairness and the political viability of a proposal, we have to give assistance to the industries most affected by the major change we’re proposing.”

[JR: McCain’s vote may well ultimately be needed to pass a climate bill, but the 2008 campaign showed McCain “is not serious about clean energy and he has increasingly walked away from the global warming issue.” Giving away the store beforehand is simply a losing negotiating strategy.]

When the big energy CEOs start talking about looking out for us, we grab our wallets. When Sen.Lieberman talks, you hold your wallet even tighter. He has repeatedly tried to deliver boondoggle global warming legislation, directing cash to all sorts of corporate constituencies. Lieberman has consistently built his efforts around greenhouse gas emission reductions that wouldn’t do enough to solve the problem.

For a generation, some of our largest corporations paid flacks to deny mainstream science and convince the public that global warming wasn’t happening. Fully documented at Major papers — like The New York Times and The Washington Post — dutifully reported the industry’s manufactured debate. Policy bogged down. Now, the stalling is over. We’re going to get real climate legislation. Of course, the big corporate company line shifts to meet the needs of this new day. What are they saying? It’s like something out of a bad 22nd century Western — Give us your money, or we kill the planet. If they don’t get the public’s cash, they say they won’t support cutting greenhouse gases, plain and simple.

Climate change cannot be solved by paying off utilities or major corporations. Sure, AIG wants bonuses and Duke Energy wants free pollution credits. However, we the people get to say “no.” We need a plan that supports the little guy financially, while also taking steps to save the planet.

We need Congress to reject this next round of corporate giveaways, and support a plan that returns the auction money to the American people, like President Obama’s budget proposes.

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