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On April 17, Sen. Byron Dorgan invited representatives of 14 trade associations across the energy market into his office to chat about climate change. The Senate is expected to consider global warming legislation in June, and Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, got a strong turnout. The presidents of the National Mining Association, American Petroleum Institute, and Electric Power Supply Association all came, along with senior officials from the pipeline, refining, and natural gas industries. After discussing the time line and outlook of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, the leading global warming bill of the moment, Dorgan gave the associations an assignment: Talk among themselves and come back to him in a few weeks with a business-friendly approach to address climate change, and he might carry it. That Dorgan, a moderate Democrat from a coal state, not to mention chairman of the energy subcommittee of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is inclined to play broker is a potential boon for an industry trying to shed its reputation for obstructionism in the climate change debate. The coal industry knows it doesn’t have much time to waste. That’s one reason why coal producers, utilities, and railroads have melded two of their top coalitions to take a national stand in favor of clean coal technology coupled with possible carbon emissions caps. The formation of the group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, is a tacit admission by the industry that it’s time to think compromise on climate change. “Supporting legislation that could include a cap and trade program really was … a quantum leap,” says Stephen Miller, ACCCE’s president. But the coalition has got a lot of ground left to cover. At the Dorgan meeting, some attendees all but ruled out a speedy agreement on what a business-friendly climate change bill would look like, lobbyists say. And ACCCE’s membership spent more than two months haggling over the precise wording of a 12-item statement of principles, “changing the word �glad’ to �happy’, and �happy’ to �glad,’” one lobbyist says. In Congress, he adds, the debate has moved past generalities and on to bills and amendments. “Nobody wants to talk about principles,” he says. SUCH CHOICES ACCCE was formed out of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and the Center for Energy and Economic Development, two state-based coal advocacy groups that had spun off from the National Mining Association in the 1990s. Miller, who is also the former CEED president, says the new group was created because the coal producers, generators, and transporters feared that federal efforts to strictly tie energy production to pollution limits would decimate the coal-fueled power industry. Making the case that the country shouldn’t reduce carbon emissions at coal’s expense would take a lot of money, Miller told ACCCE’s would-be backers. Forty mining, railroad, and power companies came up with more than $35 million in addition to the approximately $8 million in funding for the two original groups. Along with the broad funding, however, came policy differences. Some big coal producers, like Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Consol Energy, had already shifted toward supporting some form of carbon caps. Peabody, which is one of two companies heading ACCCE’s policy committee, believes the high price of energy means that “we have room to make an additional investment [in pollution controls] with no regrets and still have coal flourish,” says Fred Palmer, the company’s chief lobbyist in Washington. That was hardly a unanimous opinion. The other company in charge of setting policy, Southern Co., is renowned for its obstinacy on climate change issues and fiercely fought carbon caps prior to the release of ACCCE’s principles. It did not return calls seeking comment. ACCCE isn’t the only organization working to get its members singing in harmony. At the National Mining Association’s April 3 meeting in Washington, the board officially voted to support the principle of carbon emissions caps, a position President and CEO Kraig Naasz says the organization had been publicly inching toward for a year and a half. The vote was another milestone in what Naasz calls the process of “refining our policy objectives from the 30,000-foot level to the 10,000-foot level to the ground level.” CATCHING UP Even if ACCCE and other coal industry mainstays can maintain a solid front in favor of some form of carbon cap, their members have some catching up to do. In the summer of 2007, the Senate considered a climate bill put forward by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Industry response was tepid, but in hindsight, the bill’s emphasis on incentives over mandates makes it seem a more industry-friendly starting point than this year’s crop of legislation. A Senate staffer involved in pitching the bill to the companies says coal missed an opportunity. “They could have been much more influential in the debate had they pushed for members to endorse Bingaman-Specter when it was introduced,” he says. “I would be first to agree that not everybody came thronging around saying, �let’s do this,’” says Peabody’s Palmer. “But [Peabody's lobbyists] were there.” Miller, however, prefers to accentuate the positive. “I don’t believe this issue has gone so far down the track that a reasonable piece of legislation can’t be the result,” he says. With only six weeks to go before the Senate is slated to take up Lieberman-Warner, ACCCE’s member companies are beginning to discuss specific legislative strategies and persuading smaller coal companies and associations to support ACCCE’s platform. “I don’t have a grand master plan in mind,” Miller says. “The only way I know how to do this is to have transparent, honorable discussions with the membership.” Even if it takes a while, some senators seem relieved that the coal-powered electricity industry is finally coming around. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have both praised ACCCE, says David Hoppe, part of the Quinn Gillespie & Associates team hired to help the coalition get its legs on the Hill. And following the formation of ACCCE, Dorgan issued a statement congratulating the group for having “affirmatively said they want to play a constructive role.” For an industry that questioned the existence of climate change until a few years ago, that’s quite a switch. “I remember distinctly in 1991, 1992, everyone said it was inevitable that we would regulate carbon,” says Peabody lobbyist Palmer. “Well, maybe that’s finally right.”
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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