Wards of the state lobbying Congress for climate change

Tom Borelli Senior Fellow, FreedomWorks
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In the good old days, corporate icons were synonymous with American lifestyles. General Motors captured that theme with its 1970s classic TV ad, “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.”

Times have changed. Instead of celebrating the American way of life, corporate giants like GM are acting as agents of the Obama administration to undermine the American Dream.

GM and its auto industry competitors Chrysler and Ford are lobbying for climate-change legislation. The Detroit Three—one viable and two on life-support—are members of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP)—a lobbying coalition comprised of environmental special interest groups and corporate titans. General Electric, DuPont, Deere and Honeywell are also USCAP members.

What’s particularly appalling about GM and Chrysler participation is that the American taxpayer is footing the bill for this lobbying charade. Not only were taxpayers forced, through government action, to bail out and take a majority ownership stake in the “failed two,” but now these companies are using our money to lobby against our interests.

While Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner does not seem to have a problem with this use of corporate assets and public funds, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) does.

Barton wrote to the troubled automakers this month and questioned the judgment of using taxpayer money to fund its membership in the coalition saying, “Given that recent U.S. Treasury reports indicate American taxpayers presently own more than 60 percent of GM, I question the propriety of GM’s continued membership and participation in USCAP.”

Barton added, “I write to ask whether it is in the interest of the American public and U.S. taxpayers for GM to continue to support lobbying by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) after the taxpayers rescued GM, and whether financial support for this organization could be put to better use in the interest of taxpayers and your company.”

AIG, a recipient of $85 billion of taxpayer funds, ended its membership in USCAP last year following a similar complaint by Barton.

The auto industry’s assault of its customers is not restricted to lobbying for cap-and-trade. The automakers’ trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, recently wrote to the congressional leadership to voice its opposition to a Senate resolution that would block the EPA’s backdoor effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The auto industry fears the bi-partisan effort being led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to prevent the EPA from regulating emissions under the Clean Air Act would jeopardize their agreement with the Obama administration that established a combined fuel economy and greenhouse gas standard for cars made during the 2012-2016 model years.

For business reasons, the industry prefers a single national standard for emissions regulation to a series of patchwork standards from different states. California and 13 other states, for instance, were planning their own state specific emissions standards.

To date, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) from auto-producing states have not yet decided to join 40 other Senators that have signed Murkowki’s resolution.

While the leadership at GM and Chrysler has changed, the legacy of bankrupt ideas remains the same. In their world, a deal with Obama takes precedence over challenging EPA’s backdoor power grab.

Of course having 50 different regulations is bad for business, but its not clear Murkowski’s resolution would cancel their deal. The National Automobile Dealers Association disagrees with the automakers and that trade group strongly supports Murkowski’s effort.

But more important, the auto executives don’t seem to fear the serious economic consequences of EPA regulations on their business. Rising energy prices would create havoc on their production costs and those of their suppliers. Slower economic growth and higher unemployment would also harm sales.

It’s bad enough that our economy is reeling from terrible management decisions by businesses deemed too big to fail. Now adding insult to injury, companies such as GM and Chrysler that were bailed out against the will of the people are using taxpayer money to lobby for legislation that would reduce Americans’ standard of living and export jobs overseas.

This is another reminder of the threat posed by the “bailed out nation.” Do these CEOs really believe in cap-and-trade and EPA greenhouse gas regulations or are they doing Obama’s bidding because he holds their purse strings?

Perhaps the next ad campaign from GM will be, “Al Gore, Climate Change and Chevy Volt.”

Dr. Tom Borelli is Senior Fellow and Free Enterprise Project Co-Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research.