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Groups Use Cap-and-Trade as Key Vote

As the House prepares to vote Friday on climate change legislation, two groups representing tens of thousands of small businesses are upping the ante, saying they will use the cap-and-trade energy package vote to score lawmakers.

The National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors will “key vote— the bill, making it part of the organizations’ public scorecard on how lawmakers vote on priority legislation.

“Our members are adamantly opposed to the bill,— said Brad Close, the NFIB’s vice president for federal public policy. “We don’t really see anything that’s good in there for small business.—

The credit card bill is the only other legislation this Congress that the NFIB has labeled as a key vote.

The decision comes as several trade associations have been largely forced to the sidelines as member companies continue to disagree about whether to support the cap-and-trade energy package.

Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have been largely absent from the last-minute lobbying effort against the bill from Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), according to lobbyists.

“A lot of bigger groups’ members are split, so you can’t lobby it at the association level,— one Democratic lobbyist said. “The crux of the story for big business is the participation of companies in [the United States Climate Action Partnership] that sidelines these trade associations.— USCAP is an alliance of business and environmental groups who are pushing for legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions.

NAM is evaluating its position on whether to make the bill a key vote, spokesman Hank Cox said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been ardently opposed to the climate change legislation, has taken heat from member companies like Johnson & Johnson and Nike, which are in favor climate change legislation.

Still, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, Bruce Josten, sent a letter to the House on Wednesday laying out the group’s problems with the climate change legislation, including the lack of an international component and the fact that the refinery sector is not being treated equitably on carbon allocation credits.

The chamber declined to comment beyond Josten’s letter.

Yet even USCAP, whose principles were largely adopted in the Waxman-Markey bill, has had trouble corralling member companies to support the bill that will set pollution levels and create a private marketplace for the sale of carbon credits.

Manik Roy, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s vice president of federal government outreach, said he doesn’t expect any public endorsement from USCAP until the manager’s amendment and all final negotiations are finished. While Pew and other USCAP members have been supportive, some member companies like Shell have remained silent.

Differences of opinion among members have also tied the hands of industry-specific groups like the American Chemistry Council.

“We have members who on the overall structure [of the bill] are on different pages,— said Marty Durbin, the ACC’s vice president of federal affairs. “We’re not going to be in a position to say cap-and-trade is the appropriate way to do it, nor can we say it about a carbon tax.—

Because of the split, the ACC’s focus has been limited to issues like lobbying on the emissions allowance piece of the bill, arguing that the legislation must protect the international marketplace.

The National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors doesn’t have such a difference of opinion among its members, but it still isn’t lobbying full-bore against the climate change bill. “Sometimes when you are in a crisis-management mode, you tend to expend less energy on something that you know is not a viable piece of legislation,— said Jade West of the NAW.

While the NAW is making the bill a key vote, it hasn’t gone so far as to activate its grass roots on the bill, like it has on health care and “card check.— The NAW labeled the stimulus bill, budget resolutions and the Lilly Ledbetter bill as key votes this year.

“We’re laying down markers,— West said. “There is not an intense business lobby on it right now because there is a perception, I believe, that this is only the first step in a long process and there’s a much better chance of defeating this in the Senate.—

Trade groups’ muted opposition may just be a matter of time, according to former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), now at Johnston & Associates.

“Industry groups have yet to sort of circle their wagons because they haven’t thoroughly analyzed the bill yet,— said Johnston, who represents groups such as the American Petroleum Institute. “When the bill gets over to the Senate and some time goes by and people will really analyze it, the chamber and the NAM and others will likely come out more strongly.—

The Senate is expected to take up climate change legislation in late July, with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) using the pending House bill as a starting point for her markup.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also set a Sept. 18 deadline for other committees with jurisdiction over climate change legislation to submit their proposals.

“People have already started shifting their focus to the Senate,— said one contract lobbyist with energy clients.

Matthew Murray contributed to this report.

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