climatechangehomeWhatever happened to the clean-up of politics that was promised by the Obama Administration.

Didn’t he promise to rid Washington of the secretive, sleazy and all encompassing world of lobbying?

Well if he did, he failed. The lobbyists are busier than ever. A new analysis of lobbying records by the Center for Public Integrity has found a “surge” in lobbying activity in the run up to the Climate Bill in Washington. 

The lobbyists were all over the Bill like a bad rash. “The closer we got to finishing the bill, the more intense the frenzy to get little pieces into the bill,” a senior Congressional staffer says.

According to the Center, over 460 new businesses and interest groups lobbied Congress on climate change in the weeks before the House neared its historic vote.  This huge spike in activity in the 12 weeks leading up to the vote at the end of June meant that about 1,150 different companies and organizations were lobbying about climate change. This represents a 30 percent jump compared to the beginning of the year.

The Center argues that “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”.

So who was lobbying?

Lobbying disclosure records show that Big Oil was flexing its muscles. Exxon spent nearly $10 million lobbying in the first quarter of 2009, with Chevron just under $8 million and BP just over $3.5 million – that’s over $20 million by three companies. Big Coal was there too, persuading the federal government to give away carbon emissions “allowances” that likely will eventually be worth billions of dollars, and will slow the switch to a low carbon economy.

The Center reports how the independent gas producers are also cranking up their lobbying efforts with a new interest group: America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) that represents about 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production today. ANGA’s President is Rod Lowman, an ex-Plastics lobbyist.  “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.”

The biofuels lobby – which are relatively new as a political force – was there too with some 20 companies and organizations that produce or promote biofuels lobbying on climate legislation for the first time.  But the main biofuel lobbying powerhouses remained the companies that refine ethanol from corn, especially POET, the US’s largest ethanol producer, which has formed a new lobby organisation called Growth Energy, whose public face is former NATO commander Wesley Clark. Its goes to show that in Washington is still who you know, not what you know.

A senior Congressional staffer told the Center that despite all the lobbying, the main goal of the Bill — reducing the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent by 2020 — remained intact.

The problem with that is that everyone knows that 17 per cent is nowhere near enough. So all the lobbyists are squabbling over something that is fatally flawed.