Special interests battle for climate-change ground

The climate battle will be waged in the ornate setting of the U.S. Senate this fall, but for now the fight is taking place in humbler locales like local libraries, college campuses and county fairs as supporters and critics struggle for hearts and minds beyond the Beltway.

On the heels of campaigns against the climate change bill launched by oil companies and other opposing interests, unions and environmental groups kicked off a 22-state swing with a rally in Cleveland on Thursday to sell the bill’s environmental and economic benefits.

More may be riding on their ability to rally a grassroots base, with four Democratic senators reportedly pushing for a more modest energy bill that doesn’t include a carbon cap but would mandate more renewable energy production. Because few Senate Republicans are likely to support a cap-and-trade bill, keeping Democrats unified is thought to be crucial to passing climate legislation.

The calendar is another potential obstacle. A climate bill will compete with a dozen spending bills and a controversial healthcare reform package for floor time before the legislative year ends.

The pro-climate-bill campaign that started Thursday continues the theme Democratic pollsters have said is the best way to sell the legislation — not just as a climate protection bill but as a mechanism for creating millions of new green jobs.

The tour’s official moniker is the “Made in America Jobs Tour” and is being supported in part by the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups that joined forces to push a climate bill and build support for pro-organizing legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act.

Clean energy is the “cornerstone of the new industrial economy,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, in a news conference.

“A clean energy economy is a surefire way to put our country back to work,” said Maggie Fox, president and CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection, which is also sponsoring the pro-climate tour.

Rallies are planned in Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa and 18 other states and will continue through September when the Senate begins again to debate the climate bill.

House-passed legislation seeks to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050, but the measure faces opposition from a number of business groups who fear higher energy prices will cost millions of jobs.

Some Senate Democrats have also expressed concern about job losses, despite some governmental studies that found the overall economic impact of the climate bill will be relatively modest, at least in the short term.

Ten senators said any climate bill should include additional measures to protect the manufacturing base from having to move jobs overseas due to higher domestic energy costs.

Four other Democrats — Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — have said the climate bill should be set aside in favor of a narrower energy bill that includes a national renewable energy standard, according to Bloomberg news.

Stoking popular opposition to a carbon cap are various fossil fuel, farm and industrial groups that have mounted their own grassroots campaigns.

Energy Citizens, an alliance of the American Petroleum Institute, American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers and others, are sponsoring rallies to activate farmers and employees in the sector against climate legislation. They plan rallies in 20 states.