The Heat Is Online

Firms Lobby White House To Impose Cuts

Energy Executives Urge Some Gas-Emission Limits on Bush

The New York Times, August 1, 2001

With President Bush continuing to oppose international or domestic restriction on gases linked to global warming, among the losers are energy companies that favor government action and have already spent millions on voluntary efforts to cut emissions.

Given little credence by the White House despite large expenditures on lobbying and longstanding ties to administration officials, these companies are shifting their focus to Congress, where several bills that would impose emissions restrictions are being debated or prepared.

But in that effort, the companies face formidable opposition from other energy concerns and trade groups that are fighting against any limits.

"There's an enormous amount of lobbying going on," said Rob Long, vice president for government affairs at the National Mining Association. "It's a three-ring circus."

Among the companies that want the United States to embrace some form of greenhouse-gas limits are oil producers including the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and BP, as well as power-generating companies like Cinergy, AEP and Entergy, all of which have moved to reduce their own emissions.

Another company holding this view is the Enron Corporation of Houston, whose chairman is Mr. Bush's friend Kenneth L. Lay. Enron was the largest contributor among energy companies last year to the Republican Party.

Most of these businesses share Mr. Bush’s view that the Kyoto Protocol could hurt

the United States economy and that it unfairly requires emissions reductions only of big industrial nations. But many officials of these companies said Mr. Bush had blundered by rejecting the agreement outright instead of trying to repair it.

"What businesses want is policy certainty," an environmental expert for a large international energy company said. "Bush has injected only turbulence."

For all their wealth, power and influence, though, these companies say they have been cut out of discussions at the White House. The only ideas that have risen to the highest levels there are those of companies staunchly opposing limits on emissions, according to lobbyists, government officials and executives.

The Bush administration denied last night that it was excluding any options or ideas in trying to develop an approach to global warming. A White House spokeswoman, Claire E. Buchan, said: "We are taking this issue very seriously. We're listening to constituencies who represent all perspectives."

In contrast to executives of companies seeking limits on the gases, people representing companies opposed to restrictions, including Exxon Mobil and many coal companies, said they thought that their message was resonating.

Fredrick D. Palmer, executive vice president for legal and external affairs at Peabody Energy of St. Louis, one of the world's largest coal producers, said it was not really necessary to lobby the Bush administration on the issue, because Big Coal's interests and the administration's views were in sync from the start.

"We don't need to be talking to the White House to know what they want," Mr. Palmer said. "I understand the importance of fossil fuels to the American people. Dick Cheney understands that. The president understands that."

For the moment, the two corporate camps — which have dominated the discussion, with environmental groups largely locked out — have turned to Congress, where an array of influential members from both parties is hoping to seize the initiative in policy making.

Senator James M. Jeffords of Vermont, the independent and new chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said that global warming is his top priority. Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, has joined with Senator Robert C. Byrd, the veteran Democrat from West Virginia, a leading coal-producing state, in introducing a bill aimed at controlling emissions. Mr. Stevens has recently expressed deep concern about the apparently growing damage in his state from climate change.

The energy industry now is focusing its efforts on the energy legislation moving through the House. But company executives and lobbyists are also meeting with members of Congress and administration officials to shape the discussion over a variety of impending emissions measures and proposed changes in regulations.

In mid-August, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make recommendations to the White House on how to reduce releases of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury from power plants.

And Mr. Jeffords plans to hold meetings with industry, environmentalists and agency officials in September to seek a consensus on a bill to control the three pollutants, along with ways to limit carbon dioxide, the dominant greenhouse gas.

The one thing so far that unifies the energy industry is its opposition to the Jeffords emissions bill in its current form, mainly because it stipulates that old power plants install the latest technology to clean up emissions within five years. Power producers say that the timetable is too stringent and that such a change would disproportionately hurt the Midwest, where most of the power is generated by older coal-fired plants that are targets of the legislation.

Beyond that, the industry separates into distinct camps. For energy companies willing to accept some limits on warming gases, one goal is to firm up a market for tradeable credits earned by companies that make sharp cuts in emissions or plant or protect forests, which absorb carbon dioxide.

For such credits to have value, a limit on emissions must exist, the company officials say. Aware of corporate resistance to mandatory limits, some energy industry executives and lobbyists have proposed that the government sponsor a voluntary program to reduce emissions. Once enrolled, companies would have to meet mandatory goals on reductions of greenhouse gases.