The Climate Lobby: a Booming, Changing Industry

As cap-and-trade has risen as a policy idea, so too has the industry now devoted to shaping it: according to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity, the climate lobby has grown 300 percent in five years, with $90 million and 2,340 lobbyists comprising it in 2008. But beyond its size, the face of the industry has changed.

Once dominated by industry and environmentalists, a new specimen has been introduced into the ecosystem--banks. Financial firms, en masse, are now a major player in the climate lobbying landscape, motivated by a desire to make lots of money off cap-and-trade. Their potential plans include selling carbon emission credits for direct profit, offering them to borrowers to increase the desirability of their loans and lowering default risk, and opening carbon credit trading floors.

Along with a slew of other interests such as cities and counties looking to shape the distribution of federal revenue from climate reforms, this has begun to change the game.

"Everyone lobbying has an interest," one environmental lobbyist tells The Atlantic. "Now, all of a sudden, you have an economic intermediary in there...who sees this as a business proposition."

No longer does the climate lobby express a debate between "let us emit" manufacturers/energy producers/transportation companies and "reduce emissions" environmentalists; now, financial firms account for a flexible interest that is looking for ways to make money off any new cap-and-trade system, pushing for the basic tenet of a freer auction system that will allow them to acquire more credits and trade them more freely.

Now, according to the Center for Public Integrity, only 45 percent of the climate lobbying industry is made up of the traditional energy/manufacturing cluster. Financial, insurance, and investment firms, largely absent from the landscape in 2003, now employ about as many lobbyists (130) as alternative energy companies.

That's not to say banks are doing particularly well at the moment, and it seems anachronistic to imply their formidability in any sector. Then again, it's about opportunity, and where there's money to be made, financial firms perhaps can't afford to be shy.