How the Influence Industry Killed Climate Change Legislation

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Colorado wildfires have caused about $450 million in damages over a few short weeks. Towns and cities from coast to coast have experienced massive heat waves. Meanwhile, record high temperatures have caused the kinds of droughts that make crop pollination damned near impossible. One crop biologist recently told Bloomberg News that current conditions are “like farming in Hell.”

And it’s not even August yet.

This weather can be blamed on a shift in the climate triggered by human actions from years ago. And with Congress virtually ignoring the problem today, you can only imagine how much more you’ll be sweating tomorrow.

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Republican Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 18, 2009, during the markup of legislation on global warming and climate and energy strategy. Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. is at center, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., listen as left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking Republican Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, right, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 18, 2009, during the markup of legislation on global warming and climate and energy strategy. Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. is at center, and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., listen as left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The country’s best opportunity to mitigate climate change came three years ago, soon after President Barack Obama took office, with a friendly Democratic Senate and House of Representatives. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (otherwise known as Waxman-Markey, after its sponsors) passed the House – barely.

It later failed in the Senate, punted along until it was eventually abandoned in July 2010. Since then, our elected officials have largely ignored the heat-trapping gases causing enormous disruptions across the planet.

The 2009 bill saw lobbying efforts unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Environmental groups pushing for the legislation, including the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund, spent a record $24.6 million lobbying in 2009, employing nearly 500 lobbyists in their hefty effort.

But even that kind of cash was grossly outmatched by the oil and gas industry, which also had a record spending year in lobbying: $175 million and 807 lobbyists. No wonder the bill didn’t stand a chance.

No piece of legislation since Waxman-Markey has been anywhere near as comprehensive in lowering carbon emissions. And smaller efforts have been decimated by the oil and gas industry’s influence on Capitol Hill. Take a recent vote to end $24 billion in tax breaks for big oil companies. 43 Senate Republicans and four Democrats filibustered to block the bill. All told, the 51 senators in favor of ending subsidies had received a paltry $5.9 million in career contributions from oil and gas. The 47 who protected the subsidies got $23.5 million.

That kind of money could seduce even the sturdiest senator.

One sign of hope? Last week, former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-Va.) announced a new initiative “urging conservatives to stop denying that humans are contributing to global warming.” And a post on a conservative listserv revealed that the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has been secretly meeting with environmental activist groups to discuss a carbon tax to address climate change and deficit reduction.

Such a conservative-progressive alignment would be excellent news, if not for AEI’s less-than-excellent history of denying climate change. Back in 2007, the think tank reportedly offered $10,000 to scientists willing to distort evidence of global warming. According to the Guardian newspaper, at the time AEI had received $1.6 million from ExxonMobil, more than 20 members of its staff had once worked for the Bush administration, and the vice-chairman of its board of trustees was a former ExxonMobil head.

So it seems environmentalists shouldn’t hold their breaths (or maybe, with the decline in air quality, they should) waiting for legislation anytime soon, so long as big oil companies can outspend and outmaneuver them. And given the way the influence industry works – a heady mix of campaign donations, lobbying expenditures, manipulated think tanks, and deep and complex personal relationships – unless we all stand together in protest or cut way back on our own, individual energy gluttony, big oil looks like it will continue to increase profits with the help of Washington, at the expense of our planet’s present and future.

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  • Gregory

    you mean people pay for others to distort facts, no!!!!!!!

  • Jay

    Mr. Moyers,

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  • Arianna

     Mr. Toups,
    The Internet may be lawless, but common good manners should have kept you from besmirching this site with your commercial advertisement cloaked as a comment to Mr.  Moyers.  For shame!  Perchance you’ll do the right thing and take it down before Mr. Moyers or his staff must. 

  • Jay

    Ms. Editrix,

    There is no law against being gauche, on or off the Internet.  Alas.

    If the post is deleted by Moyers’ staff, it will at least first have been read and digested in the spirit in which it was offered.  

    Mr. Toups 

  • moderator


    Please see our comment policy. It clearly states that “advertisements… will not be tolerated.” If you have any other questions about our policy, you can send an email to

    thank you,
    Sean @ Moyers

  • Drayton Toups

    Everyone wants to talk, no one wants to do…not even a little bit. We can make the difference, but it’s hard to get it out there without besmirching this site and many others with our story. If that one person hears our story, it will be worth it. That one person will recognize the position we find ourselves in and understand our unique solution. So, there you go, no product name, no business name, just a person.

  • Drayton Toups

    We find ourselves with a solution to many of today’s problems. We would be shirking our responsibility to each other and our earth to NOT besmirch (can you tell I found my new favorite word?) as many venues as humanly (and humanely) possible. It’s like “Horton hears a Who”. We have to be loud, bold, and yes, sometimes even offend Ms. Manners good taste. If it get’s the attention of the right person, every single person on this earth will benefit. Yeah. It IS that big of a deal.

  • Bob Carnein

    The best opportunity to mitigate climate change came, not three, but thirty years ago, when Jimmy Carter tried to lead us on a road to sustainable energy. Then St. Ronald and his pals made that into a joke and put us right back on the track we’re on today.

  • Billy Howard

    Too little too late. Our time to act to curb the temperature rise was during the Clinton era. Atmospheric carbon rates leapt over 400ppm months ago. Many considered our tipping point to be 350 while still others said the point of no-return for irreversible warming was 300ppm.

  • Anonymous

    Thinking it is too late to do anything about global warming is almost as wrong as denying it exists. It is true that we should have acted when we first knew about this huge threat, and even when we only knew about the much smaller threat from pollution. It is also true that there is so much momentum in the system that it may now be almost impossible to prevent the planet from warming up more than a degree C more than it already has. But it is also true that if we don’t get serious now, the planet will warm even more than that. I think it may already be too late to prevent worldwide famine at some point in the future, maybe in my lifetime. At some (unknown) atmospheric greenhouse gas level, a mass extinction will be inevitable, and if we push it far enough, Earth could become a lifeless planet like Venus. It’s not too late to keep things from getting even worse. It’s more important than ever to do whatever we can to fight global warming.

  • Anonymous

    As a life long teacher of science, I am always saddened by the news of Human Caused Climate Warming. 90% of what is written has nothing to do with science.

    Let me conduct a simple lesson. Science is a serious process of identifying truth by identifying phenomena, forming hypotheses as to possible cause and then comparing the hypothetical explanation to data. The current IPPC released climate crisis does not fit these criteria. Notice that what this group did was use computers to create imaginary phenomena, then to generate imaginary causes, then to predict solutions. In so far as they made predictions for the first thirty years after they first published, the predictions have not come true. The public is fooled by rash headlines made by news media hungry for readers and followers.

    Now we have reached the point where everything is blamed on AWG (some call this Al Gore Warming) If those who accept the non-existing consensus would investigate, there is a remarkable similarity between man-caused-global warming statements and statements from an earlier part of history in which crop failures, weather events, etc. were blamed on witches.

  • Chunx OfEarth

    I don’t want you anywhere near my child when it comes to imparting science. You are a threat to the future of humanity.

  • Cautious Guy

    I too am a teacher of science. The basic ideas under-girding the global warming phenomenon are straight-forward, and depend only on basic physics and chemistry your students can comprehend. The combustion of enormous quantities of coal, oil and gas have short-circuited the carbon cycle. All of nature works in cycles. It required millions of years for natural processes to sequester the carbon in what we call fossil fuels, the remnants of once living things. Industrial civilization has moved those same carbon atoms into the atmosphere as CO2 in the space of a couple hundred years, a blink of the eye on geological time scales. The earth’s systems have been unable to keep up, resulting in an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. The electromagnetic absorption spectrum of atmospheric gases has been studied for centuries, and the IR absorption spectrum of CO2 is well-documented. If it were not for the existence of the green-house effect of CO2, water vapor and other polyatomic molecules in earth’s atmosphere, the planet would be a frozen ice ball. But the steady increase in CO2 we are now experiencing is too much of a good thing. If we don’t find a way to reverse course, the increased overall temperature of the planet’s surface will drastically alter all of its ecosystems, including the ones that feature homo sapiens. Actually, the topic of global warming provides an excellent framework for teaching students about many aspects of science, perhaps the most important being the interconnectedness of all living things on this beautiful, delicately balanced, life-sustaining spaceship we call “Earth”. For the sake of your students and our future, I implore you to foster critical thinking, not political parroting.

  • themnax

    as long, and only as long, as combustion, and its nonrecyclable waste producing alternative, favored by greed gratifiying centralization of power generation, (nuclear fission, in case that isn’t abundantly obvious) is used, to generate energy and propel transportation, and the population of the so far, only species on our planet doing so, continues to increase, global warming, will continue to be a fact of life.
    my propisition, and that i think, of most sensible people, is that harmful methods of achieving our technological gratification, are not essential, to achieving it. if solar or wind alone, as oil, coal and nuclear interests claim, cannot do the job, then certainly the COMBINATION of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, wave and tide, can. we might also consider a wide range of measures to reduce human fertility. not in place of, but in addition to.

  • Anonymous

    Huh? ‘Imaginary phenomena?’ ‘Non-existing consensus?’ ‘The predictions have not come true?’

    – Science predicted arctic ice melt. (It’s happening faster than many of the worst predictions, levels are on course for half in 15 years and zero in 50 years – nasa.

    – Science predicted: glaciers would recede. This happening all over the world…. also faster than science feared.

    – Science predicted the earth and oceans would warm. They are, and they are continuing to. Ocean rate of temp rise and surface have doubled in the last decade, and Environment Canada reports an overall rise of 3-5ºc in the last century, and worldwide, the 9 hottest years in record keeping have been in the last 10, with the 10th being 1998.

    – Science predicted increased frequency and average intensity of storms, droughts, rain, and snow. Anyone not locked in a room in the last few years can see this is absolutely the case, and the stats back it up.

    Do your homework instead of reading oil-lobby funded propaganda- read the NASA site, read science sites, read all-time weather and storm records – my god, if you really are a science teacher, then read actual SCIENCE material.

  • Guest

    FYI – it’s almost impossible to read your post without separate paragraphs…

  • Anonymous

    FYI – it’s very difficult to read your post without separate paragraphs…