Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Industry-Backed Congressional Reps Target EPA

Much of the country is projected to become several degrees warmer if emissions trends continue. Graphic from U.S. Global Change Research Program.With the federal government looking for places to cut spending, Republicans in Congress seem increasingly intent on targeting climate legislation.

The GOP-controlled House just last week passed a budget that would, among other things, greatly limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

And recently, Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) each introduced legislation that would tie the federal government's hands when it comes to carbon pollution, while Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced a companion bill shortly thereafter.

Perhaps it should be no surprise then that all three — Inhofe, Barrasso and Upton — received a large chunk of their campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

For Inhofe, who has publicly said that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," the oil and gas industry is his largest contributor, giving more than $1.2 million since 1989. His third-largest individual donor is Koch Industries, the Wichita oil and gas giant that has been recruiting Congressional Republicans to stand up to greenhouse gas regulations.

For Wyoming's Barrasso, oil and gas are the fourth-largest industry contributor, giving nearly $180,000. Foundation Coal, which has since merged with Alpha Natural Resources, is Barrasso's largest individual backer.

Upton used to support stricter environmental regulations. In 1990, he backed the Clean Air Act amendments. But he has since moved in the opposite direction, accepting more than $250,000 from the oil and gas industry, and he recently hired an energy aide with a ConocoPhillips past.

What's more, Politico reported that Upton and Inhofe staffers in January met behind closed doors with lobbyists from the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and others who were seeking an "all-out push to block federal and state climate rules."

The resulting legislation is the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011," which would "amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas due to concerns regarding possible climate change."

According to an analysis performed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the Energy Tax Prevention Act would also "repeal California's authority to regulate vehicle emissions, hamper EPA's efforts to offer amendments to the Montreal Protocol, and prohibit EPA from limiting carbon emissions from stationary sources, cars and trucks," Reuters reported.

But while deregulating CO2 emissions might satisfy some oil industry donors, the move would do nothing to abate global climate change, which most scientists agree stems largely from man-made carbon pollution.

"It is clear that impacts in the United States are already occurring and are projected to increase in the future, particularly if the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise," wrote the United States Global Change Research Program in 2009.

So how would climate change impact the home states of these three congressmen?

In the Midwest, Upton's home turf, heat waves would become more severe and longer-lasting, Climate Science Watch reports. When it rains, it will likely rain harder, and flooding will become more common.

"The June 2008 Midwest flood was the second record-breaking flood in the past 15 years," the report noted.

Inhofe's home state of Oklahoma is projected by 2100 to see the average yearly temperature climb 10 degrees if current emissions levels remain constant. Droughts will become more common and soil will become less productive, according to reports.

"In the southwest United States, water resource issues will become a major issue," said Michael Wehner, one of the authors of the Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States report, in a press release.

Barrasso's home state of Wyoming might see a fate similar to Oklahoma's if carbon emissions remain constant — severer weather and harsh dry spells.

"Pests will spread northward and milder winters and earlier springs will encourage greater numbers and earlier emergence of insects," the report noted.

"The good news is that the harshest impacts of future climate change can be avoided if the nation takes deliberate action soon. This can be done through a balanced mix of activities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and adaptation to the otherwise unavoidable impacts," said Evan Mills, a Berkeley Lab scientist who worked on the Global Climate Change Impacts report, in a statement.

When all is said and done, it's not members of Congress or their staff working in offices on the Hill who would have to face the brunt of a changing climate. It's the children of their constituents who will know whether it was all just a great hoax.


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Money File: Koch Brothers and the Media