Lobbyists for Washington's most powerful industry groups admit they probably won't be able to stop President Obama's climate-change agenda. But with a new coalition launching Thursday, they're nonetheless seeking to shape — and slow down — that agenda with both inside-the-Beltway lobbying and state grassroots work.
"We're not trying to stop EPA. That boat has sailed," said one industry official involved in the coalition to be named Better Energy Future. It includes more than 70 organizations, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
"The goal here is to work on the mechanics of how they move forward with this, make sure they take the time that should be required for the largest regulatory regime in the history of this country."
On Capitol Hill, though, the boat has not yet sailed. House Republicans plan to bring to the floor in early March legislation that would require congressional approval of Environmental Protection Agency regulations slashing carbon emissions from the nation's existing power plants. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act — a legislative tool used just once successfully since its creation in 1996 — to stop EPA's draft rules on new power plants.
"I think it's important for everyone to express their voice," said the industry lobbyist when asked whether political-messaging efforts on Capitol Hill could muddle the lobbying push by the new coalition. "EPA is moving, and frankly the chances of Congress doing anything to change that are pretty slim."
Plans for the coalition will be announced at the Chamber Thursday morning by leaders of several major industry groups, including Jay Timmons, president and CEO of NAM; Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy; and officials from the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the National Mining Association, The Fertilizer Institute, the Portland Cement Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"Up until this point, the companies that belong to these associations and the associations themselves have been getting involved in this issue," said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "But the partnership is going to make this a much more focused and targeted effort, and you'll see a much louder voice, with a bigger megaphone, emerge."
In interviews, industry sources involved noted that the law EPA is using to regulate carbon emissions from power plants — the Clean Air Act — eventually will require the agency to regulate carbon from other corners of the economy. The Obama administration so far has focused almost exclusively on rules for coal-fired power plants, but the law (unless it's changed) does require EPA to eventually promulgate similar carbon rules for other types of power plants, such as those fired by natural gas, and also other sectors, like petrochemical facilities, refineries, and manufacturing plants.
"The reason why it's such a broad and diverse coalition is because they all understand they're next," said a second industry lobbyist involved in the effort.
Proponents of EPA's climate rules agree with this basic premise, too. "It may take years, but the more we can cut carbon pollution and reduce the threat of climate change, the better off we'll be in the future," said David Di Martino, a communications consultant working with a broad coalition of national environmental groups defending EPA's work.
Di Martino expressed skepticism at the notion that the new industry coalition was not going to try to scuttle EPA's rules altogether. "Maybe some of the member companies with reasonable positions on climate change are having an influence," Di Martino said. "However, there is no question that this new coalition is out to weaken any kind of sensible safeguards against carbon pollution [from] power plants."
Some leaders of the coalition say they may encourage EPA to allow some sort of voluntary approach, a regulatory route environmentalists would surely balk at.
"Rather than a top-down approach, we're hoping that EPA will let industry become an equal partner in this effort," said Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation. "A number of different industry sectors involved in the coalition have been trying and working on this to varying degrees, and what we want to show is that if we take this approach, it could either work in conjunction with or in some cases even supplant an enforcement-based regulatory approach."
The White House is committed to finalizing EPA's carbon rules for power plants before Obama leaves office. It's much harder for a future president to undo final, rather than proposed, rules. Indeed, the timeline is probably Obama's biggest obstacle, and that's not lost on those leading the industry coalition.
"This shouldn't be forced because the administration only has three years. That's not a good enough reason to get things wrong," the first industry lobbyist said. "And I think EPA appreciates that. They've been very cautious to their potential legal liability as far as how the specifics of these rules are written."
The industry coalition will focus on grassroots efforts in energy-intensive states throughout the country, including encouraging states and other organizations to write comments to EPA and the White House about how to craft the rules. EPA's rules for existing power plants, due out in draft form in June, will eventually require states to write implementation plans.
"States need to appreciate this is coming and need to be prepared for how they're going to implement it," said the first industry lobbyist.
To be sure, lobbying inside the Beltway will continue. To wit: Chamber President Tom Donohue met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Tuesday to talk about, among other things, her agency's climate rules. In a statement, a Chamber spokesperson declined to provide details other than to say they discussed "ways to work together on areas where there is common ground."
Meanwhile, McCarthy will be touting her agency's climate agenda in two separate MSNBC shows on Thursday.