Derrick Z. Jackson

Changing the climate on Capitol Hill

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / November 17, 2009

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THE OBAMA administration announced over the weekend the official death of a binding global climate change agreement it hoped to achieve next month in Copenhagen. During Obama’s meetings with leaders from Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, administration officials made it clear that it was “unrealistic’’ to expect any legally binding agreement to be negotiated in the next three weeks.

It is “unrealistic’’ because Obama remains hamstrung on climate change at home.

The very forces who scream that the Environmental Protection Agency should not regulate the activities of big business are the same ones still successfully applying a chokehold on Congress and the ability of Obama to be effective on the global stage. In a twisted version of “Think Globally, Act Locally,’’ Big Oil, Big Coal, and the biggest representative of American industries, the US Chamber of Commerce, continue to buy paralysis.

As a result, Obama sounded defensive in remarks he made in Japan. Although he said that the United States “has taken more steps to combat climate change in 10 months than we have in our recent history by embracing the latest science, by investing in new energy, by raising efficiency standards, forging new partnerships and engaging in international climate negotiations,’’ he tailed off in a way that was hauntingly remindful of the Bushspeak that earned the United States its retrograde image on global warming.

“America knows there is more work to do, but we are meeting our responsibility, and will continue to do so,’’ Obama said. “All nations must accept their responsibility. Those nations, like my own, who have been the leading emitters, must have clear reduction targets. Developing countries will need to take substantial actions to curb their emissions . . . Each of us must do what we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet and we must do it together.’’

There is still reason to believe that Obama does not ultimately intend, as President Bush did, to use the emissions of emerging industrial giants China and India and the fossil fuel burning of developing nations as an excuse not to take leadership in a climate change pact. The most optimistic example is the way that Obama has turned loose EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to reverse many Bush-era rulings, enforce laws that had been ignored, and pursue regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

But energy and natural resources companies have lobbied Washington to the tune of $300 million in the first nine months of this year, above the pace of last year’s $387 million. Oil and gas companies and electric utilities accounted for more than two-thirds of the spending. Their lobbying to keep fossil fuels burning without any care for the planet swamped the lobbying by alternative energy concerns, which so far this year amount to $23 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Chamber of Commerce, America’s single-biggest lobbyist, spent $35 million in the third quarter alone and $65 million for the year, fighting meaningful climate change and health care legislation.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe were among the top six recipients of energy campaign contributions in 2008.

While energy companies are balancing their campaign contributions much more than during the Bush years, when as much as 75 percent of their contributions went to Republicans, they are still giving the majority of their cash to that party. Such cash allows the likes of Senator David Vitter of Louisiana to spout off, “I am a cynic about the so-called science of global warming and man’s impact on it.’’

Until Obama shuts down business as usual against climate change at home, he will never be able to change the climate abroad.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at

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