Coal-mining pals Inhofe, McConnell tie up climate-change bill

By Carol Eisenberg

June 5, 2008 at 5:10pm

The nearly nine-hour detour from a Senate debate on climate-change legislation yesterday - after Republicans insisted the 492-page bill be read aloud -offers a case study in how special interests influence the political process.

Leading the opposition to the bill, which would cap the production of greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming, is Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe.

Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee famously derided global warming as “the second greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” after the separation of church and state.

But the former real-estate developer and insurance executive did not come by such views in a vacuum.

He is a top Congressional recipient of campaign contributions from coal mining interests, both in Oklahoma and nationally, as well as from the gas and oil industries. Since 1989, he has received $1.6 million from the energy/natural resources sector — and just shy of a $1 million from the oil and gas industry alone, according to data compiled by the website,

How that informs his positions is an open question.

But there is no doubt Inhofe has gone on the offensive against those who have sounded alarms about how carbon emissions are altering the earth’s temperature. In 2005, he demanded six years of tax and membership records from two groups of state and local air-pollution control officials after they testified that clean-air legislation he proposed was too weak, according to a Business Week piece. “Inhofe is to the right of Attila the Hun on climate change,” the Rev. Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network, told Business Week.

In the debate this week, Inhofe went so far as to argue that “everything” in the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, featuring his former Senate colleague Al Gore, has ”been refuted many times” by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But he is not the only big-time recipient of campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industries involved in the debate.

The No. 1 Congressional recipient of the coal mining industry this past election cycle was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, according to data compiled by McConnell was the one who insisted yesterday on the reading of the climate-change bill in its entirety. Later, he said the move was payback for Democrats moving slowly on President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Both men say that imposing mandatory caps on carbon emissions would raise already-high energy prices, while the bill’s supporters counter with studies that show modest cost increases if there is an expansion of alternative energy sources, including solar, wind and carbon-free nuclear power, as well as energy efficiency and conservation.

By Thursday afternoon even advocates of the bill - written by Sens. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, John Warner, a Republican from Virginia and amended by Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California - acknowledged there was little chance of passage this year.

“The unfortunate thing about some of the obstruction and delay that’s happening is that time is of the essence, and it’s important to very rapidly scale up clean energy technology,” said Daniel Dutcher, a project director for the Clean Energy Group, which is not involved in lobbying efforts. “When we have these kinds of arguments and they spend nine hours to read a 400-page bill, that’s one day out of the process that might not be fatal, but might be emblematic of the larger issues we’re facing.”

Still, backers say they hope to build enough support to pass a bill in the next Congress when both potential successors to President Bush - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain - support mandatory emissions cuts.

To hear Sen. Inhofe’s remarks on Al Gore’s film, click the arrow:

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  • #1.   aydede 06.05.2008

    global warming is the greatest hoax!!!!

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