How Campaign Ads Could Finish Off the Climate Bill

>As the first national election following the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling approaches, keep an eye out for corporate ads attacking climate bill supporters.

Reuters reports that the environmental lobby is preparing for an onslaught of ads funded by corporations wishing to slow down climate legislation. The bill already faces long odds, with Senator Lindsey Graham recently declaring cap-and-trade "dead" and carbon traders hunting for new professions. The Court's ground rules for political ads, however, could provide a mortal blow to cap-and-trade -- if not a bill in general.

Even before the Supreme Court's ruling, which allows corporations and unions to spend money directly to help elect or defeat candidates for office, the energy industry spent ten times more on political donations than environmental interests -- including the Service Employees International Union, which supports cap-and-trade as a generator of green jobs.

Major carbon emitters in the oil and gas industires have long had a strong presence on the Hill via trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman met with these coalitions and others on Tuesday in their attempt to craft a Senate climate bill.

As election season approaches, oil and coal companies could fund attack ads on vulnerable legislators who have supported emissions reductions or cap-and-trade. However, such a move could carry its own risks. 

"Nobody wants to wander out alienating the public and legislators and making things worse, and that risk is out there for companies who move too aggressively," Josh Zeib, a lawyer and lobbyist with the firm Bracewell and Giuliani, which handles energy industry clients, told Reuters.

Whether or not these companies choose this approach, the mere possibility of their doing so may convince waffling politicians not to jeopardize their seats by voting for a climate bill. Since the Supreme Court has given corporations a big stick, all they may need to do is speak softly.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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