The Guest Blog

Tamminen: Does God Want a Climate Bill?


In the same summer that something (or someone?) is punishing the eastern half of the US with record heat and all of its predictable consequences, Congress raised a white flag last week in the battle to regulate one of the primary contributors to the problem—carbon pollution. But there’s still time for voters to demand that elected officials tackle another main contributor to the nation’s energy, economic, and environmental problems—carbon lobbyists.

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The Center for Responsive Politics reports that just one third of lobbyists in general come from government agencies or political careers, but a recent analysis by the Washington Post discovered that three quarters of lobbyists for oil/gas interests were hired from such government posts. Over 400 industry lobbyists once worked in the legislative or executive branches, including eighteen former Congress members and dozens of former federal inspectors, who now work for the companies they were previously paid by taxpayers to oversee.

The case can be made that if you want to push your agenda in Washington, of course you would hire former regulators because they understand the system. But what real or perceived conflicts of interest does it present to the current officeholders if they believe they will be the next ones to board the carbon-fueled gravy train, especially when the companies that are causing some of the biggest problems today are the ones doing so much of the profligate spending?

Transocean , for example, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP , had spent nothing on lobbying before the Gulf disaster, but recently began spending like the proverbial drunken sailor on lobbyists, PR firms, and influential law firms. BP, already a big DC spender, increased its lobbying after the spill, pouring cash into firms with former Reagan and Clinton appointees. Both companies were aided by the American Petroleum Institute, which ramped up its lobbying efforts too—more than $2.3 million in the second quarter of 2010 alone. (Track the Gulf oil spill here.)

It’s no wonder then, despite overwhelming and ubiquitous evidence of the terrible price we’re paying for remaining hooked on fossil fuels, that Congress abrogates its duty to deal with these issues yet again. It is equally evident that the solution lies not in cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, more regulation of the oil industry, or improved technology on smokestacks. It lies in reforming a political system that is unworthy of a nation whose two major political parties continually bathe themselves in self-righteous sermonizing about values, patriotism, and higher moral ground for anything they do (or choose not to do). (Also read: 10 Environmental Disasters Worse Than BP Oil Spill)

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Which brings me to the question of this blog—does God want a climate bill? For those in Congress who insist they are guided by the Almighty (and which politician has not closed a speech with “God bless America” to at least imply a divine hand in whatever policy position he/she just propounded?), would they not want to alleviate the suffering caused around the world by climate change, massive oil spills, and oil wars? If they can’t get effective legislation passed over the well-funded objections of legions of lobbyists, wouldn’t the righteous thing be to simply cast the money changers out of the temple, so to speak, so that our divinely inspired lawmakers might get on with their duties free from such interference?

I do not mean to trivialize religion or any sincere beliefs in the role it plays in our lives, but in the same week that Congress capitulated, a report comes from the Middle East that the Jordan River is now too polluted to safely perform baptisms where John the Baptist once anointed Jesus. Whether it is the heat wave, the Gulf disaster, or a polluted river between Jordan and Israel, perhaps our leaders can find some kind of inspiration in all of this to take actions that would prove we are somehow more enlightened than these self-inflicted wounds would suggest.

Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a partner at Pegasus Sustainable Century Merchant Bank and the Cullman Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. (Cracking The Carbon Code is a registered trademark of Terry Tamminen).