A little over a year ago, venture capitalist John Doerr — of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byer (KPCB) — and General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt asked, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, how the U.S was going to catch up to China in the world of green innovation and renewable energy technology?
“Not through protectionism or massive government intervention but through the power of good old home-grown innovation,” they wrote.
Unfortunately, Immelt and Doerr, among others, have not exactly lived up to those words. Instead, they have been lobbying for the kind of government innovation they so publicly denounced – energy policies that would financially benefit their companies at the taxpayers’ expense.
As The Daily Caller previously reported, KPCB’s Doerr has been influential in creating an artificial market for green technology, while helping to steer stimulus dollars through the Department of Energy into KPCB-backed companies. In other words, Doerr seemingly gamed the system to personally profit from the stimulus.
But the cronyism isn’t just happening at KPCB. Nor is Doerr the only major player when it comes to CEOs lobbying the government for green-technology investments and legislation.
Outside of the Silicon Valley-firm, businesses have teamed up with environmental groups to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). The effort was spearheaded by Immelt and Duke Power CEO Jim Rogers.
Their goal, according to USCAP’s website, is to “call on the federal government to enact legislation requiring significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.” But like it is the case with Doerr and KPCB, the members at USCAP have tried to use climate change and the war against fossil fuels as an excuse to lobby the federal government for policies that directly benefit them financially.
But the story of USCAP isn’t nearly as successful as that of KPCB.
Last summer, USCAP welcomed what it saw at the time as its first major legislative victory – the passage of cap and trade legislation in the House. Indeed, the CEOs of the member companies of USCAP had a very significant influence on the legislation, known as Waxman-Markey. They even claim responsibility for helping draft certain provisions in the bill.
At that time, USCAP was comprised of high-profile members like General Motors, Chrysler, Deere & Co., Caterpillar, BP, Lehman Brothers, and AIG. According to Myron Ebell, director of Energy and Global Warming Policy at the Competitive Energy Institute, their lobbying efforts on behalf of Waxman-Markey were purely for financial reasons. “Rogers [CEO of Duke Power] knew he could make a lot of money if cap and trade was institutionalized,” Ebell said in an interview with TheDC.
The irony is, however, that, for most, membership in USCAP was downright counterproductive and the financial profits never materialized.
Take Deere, for example. Just last week it was announced that the company gave up its membership in USCAP. “We came to the conclusion that Deere had other opportunities to be involved in climate change initiatives,” the company’s spokesman, Ken Golden said in a press release.
What is significant about Deere’s membership in the first place — and Caterpillar’s too, for that matter — was that it was essentially lobbying for legislation — cap and trade — that would not only hurt its business, but legislation that its shareholders did not want.
Before Deere left USCAP, other members had been dropping like flies. First, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and BP all left the organization for various reasons. Caterpillar and Xerox followed next, then Deere. Which begs the question, why were these companies members of USCAP in the first place?
According to Tom Borelli at the Free Enterprise Project, there are only two reasons why a company like Deere and Caterpillar would join USCAP, and neither have anything to do with creating a better product for consumers or being held accountable to shareholders.
The first is that lobbying for climate-change legislation was part of a larger public-relations strategy. But the second, and most important, is that these companies decided it would be better to join forces with those pushing for cap and trade so they wouldn’t be targeted by any future legislation and would instead receive some of the expected major cash flow. In other words, it was an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ strategy.
“Everyone wanted a seat at the table,” Borelli told TheDC. “And yes, it’s good to have a seat, but not if you’re dessert.”
Hence the reason Deere and Caterpillar got out of USCAP, said Ebell. “It’s very likely they realized Waxman-Markey was harmful to their business.”
“Businesses joining USCAP was the politically fashionable thing to do,” said Ebell. “Some of them never even did any economic analysis or cost-benefit study… it was all about transferring wealth from the consumer to big business and big government.”
For example, General Motors, which has been a member of USCAP since May 2007, received $50 billion in government investment (i.e. taxpayer money) in 2009. Then, they turned around and used it to lobby for climate change legislation and promote cap and trade in the hopes of reaping major profits.
Likewise, Chrysler received $15 billion in bailout money from the federal government last year, after being a dues-paying member of the USCAP since 2007. Chrysler too, then lobbied for Waxman-Markey.
But these companies were following GE’s Immelt, who like Doerr, has been instrumental in weaving the web of the green industrial complex.
Consider this. Deere’s CEO Bob Lane sits on the board of directors at GE. So does Connoco-Phillips CEO Jim Mulva. Thus, because two members from GE’s board, representing two multi-billion dollar companies from different energy sectors – oil and manufacturing – joined USCAP, it gave the appearance of wide-industry support for Waxman-Markey.
The union was short-lived, however, when Lane and Mulva realized the downfalls of cap and trade and pulled out of USCAP. The same thing applies to Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens, who sits on Obama’s economic advisory board. Owens lobbied for the legislation, and then withdrew his company’s support once the bill’s consequences became known.
“These boards of directors are like a club,” said Borelli. “Lane and Mulva greatly contributed to passing Waxman-Markey. So Immelt goes laughing to the government bank, Lane is now retired and rich and Mulva is close to retiring. Nobody is going to hold them accountable for their actions.”
“Waxman-Markey absolutely would never have passed the House if it wasn’t for big business,” said Ebell.
“The CEOs didn’t do their homework,” said Borelli. “They thought they could just ride this short-term wave.”
Though some say climate-change legislation is not going to happen anytime soon, there is still a concern with the upcoming lame-duck session. There is a real worry that Congress might push through some kind of energy-oil cleanup bill during the lame-duck and merge it with the Waxman-Markey bill in the House.
But such are the policy consequences when big business gets cozy with big government. CEOs make bank and escape any kind of accountability, while unpopular legislation like cap and trade gets passed. In the case of USCAP though, a lot of the CEOs did not even know what exactly they were lobbying for and the billions in profits never materialized.
Instead, USCAP was destroyed by the very thing it was lobbying for. “And now its game over for USCAP,” said Ebell.