2003 CEI works closely with White House and Congress on Energy Policy Act

The following series of emails ranging from March 31 to August 1, 2003 follows employees of the free-market, “public policy group” Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in their efforts to change climate-related language in the Energy Policy Act of 2003. The majority of the organization’s outreach is led by then Director of Global Warming Policy at CEI, Myron Ebell. As was touched upon by The Washington Post, these emails show the degree of CEI’s involvement in the legislative drafting process. In this instance, CEI created, distributed, and implemented their strategy before the language even made it to committee. With the help of acting government officials and like-minded organizations, CEI successfully brought the proposed language in line with their position and to the Senate floor. While this bill did not get passed, the targeted language and supported issues in 2003 are reflected in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

I. The CEI press release of March 31, 2003 represents the organization’s first public stance on the pending legislation’s title. Therein, CEI warned of a “climate czar”, giving in to “global warming alarmism”, “pointless annual reports”, and “early action credits” that are friendly to big business. CEI lamented that “the climate section looks like a Lieberman or Kerry campaign document.” Despite many aspects of the proposed bill running contrary to CEI’s mission, they felt confident that “the climate sections should be dropped when Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) marks up the bill in committee.”

This press release was sent to a variety of government offices including the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). This email, along with many others included in this post, are regularly sent to one CEQ official and then forwarded along to multiple other CEQ or other agency employees. In this instance, CEQ’s Associate Director of Congressional Affairs Debbie Fidelke is the original recipient who then forwarded it to three others.

II. Before CEI published its press release, Ebell leaned on his relationships within the CEQ to formulate a forward-looking strategy. In an email forwarded to CEQ’s Chief of Staff Phil Cooney, Ebell decided who “would be best to blame” and planned a meeting to “plot strategy” with a group closely related to, and partially funded by, CEI: the Cooler Heads Coalition (CHC).

III. Shortly after formulating a plan, Ebell sent a list of “talking points and action items” to CHC. This is, again, received by CEQ and disseminated to at least three other CEQ officials.

IV. Three days later, on April 2nd, Ebell drafted a form letter addressed to Chairman Domenici to be signed by CHC’s “members and allies.” Ebell wrote of their “simple message” against the enactment of the “climate title.” Having arranged “meetings with staffers”, Ebell was confident that there was an “opportunity to get [the title] fixed before it becomes the Chairman’s mark.”

In the penultimate line of the letter, CEI warned Domenici that if the climate title remains unchanged their “time and resources will instead be diverted to exposing the shortcomings of that objectionable concoction.”

This document was, again, distributed to multiple CEQ officials.

In just two days CEI sent its final letter to Domenici. CEI successfully gained 18 organizations’ signatures, ranging from the National Center for Public Policy Research to the U.S. Business and Industry Council to Frontiers of Freedom.

V. In the midst of preparing and distributing the letter to Domenici, CEI met with CEQ’s Associate Director of Energy and Transportation Bryan Hannegan and John Peschke of the majority staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Ebell wrote that they “made [their] views known” in their “useful” meeting with the staffers. Ebell “informed” them, among other items, that CEI would “assemble a conservative coalition to oppose the Senate energy bill if it included a climate title with the three obnoxious provisions.”

VI. April 8th, five days after Ebell’s meeting with Hannegan and Peschke, he distributed an update on the drafting committee’s meeting. Ebell reported that Domenici was open to a rewrite or omission of the title. While there were a list of alternatives, Ebell prefered no climate title above all else. After advising conservatives to avoid “baby steps on climate action”, Ebell gave “full credit” to the “pleasant, capable, and conservative” offices of Domenici and a list of their other “strongest allies”.

VII. April 9th, a day later, Ebell wrote to the Cooler Heads Coalition that Domenici “agreed to rewrite the climate title.” At that point, there was still hold-out from Senator Gordon Smith (referred to as “the problem”) who supported the Bingaman substitute without language that “caters to global warming alarmism.” To combat Sen. Smith’s difference in opinion, Ebell asked for a list of Senators to be contacted “as soon as possible.”

Later that day, Ebell reported that Domenici and committee Republicans decided not to include any climate title in the energy bill. In Ebell’s corresponding update he lauded the Republican’s move as a “great decision.” Ebell warned of “a lot of work ahead,” wary of a Democratic rebuke from Lieberman, Kerry, McCain, Bingaman, and others, while rallying support behind Domenici. Ebell concluded by asking for “thank yous” to be sent to Domenici’s staff and John Peschke (the same staffer Ebell met with on April 3rd).

VIII. After the insiders were updated, CEI sent out a public release congratulating Domenici’s work and and mentioning their open letter.

IX. April 10th, the day following the Republican’s decision to omit a climate title from their version of the draft bill, both parties of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee met. Ebell wrote to CEQ and others that there was “no consensus” on climate change so “[t]herefore [Domenici] was not going to offer any climate title.” Ebell also flagged Bingaman’s amendments that were due to be circulated over recess.

X. The committee’s bill was formally introduced on the Senate floor on April 30th as S. 14: “The Energy Policy Act of 2003”. From that point until July 31st, the date when both the motion to commit and its corresponding cloture motion were withdrawn, CEI remained active in communicating with White House and Congressional officials. In that period, CEI relied on its many methods of persuasion in focusing on the passage of the Act by posting press releases, publishing editorials, targeting Senators, organizing its network, and keeping CEQ abreast of their activity. The following four emails are a sampling of that activity.

For instance, in a May 4th email Ebell sent a warning to his listserv, concerned about the multiple efforts in the Senate to address global warming. When it came to the climate title in the energy bill, Ebell made his opinion clear: “Let it Die”.

A month later, CEQ received a mock energy coupon from CEI. Ebell employed sarcasm to warn of Senate Democrats’ efforts to “criminalize” carbon.

As was the case when the bill was being drafted pre-committee, CEI did not focus its work solely on public outreach, but also concerted its efforts directly to elected officials. Both their “Talking Points” and “Action Alert” were widely distributed in the few days leading up to the cloture vote. CEI’s Talking Points were forwarded by CEQ’s Debbie Fiddelke to Bryan Hannegan less than twenty minutes after CEI sent the initial email. Seemingly well received, Hannegan then forwarded the message to a personal email account.

Released a day after the Talking Points, a target list stayed CEI’s course. Vying for passage of the Act shielded from Democrat-led amendments, Ebell declared “a vote against cloture is a vote against affordable energy.” Ebell listed eleven Senators that deserved attention and asked for any “contacts in Arizona” to help McCain “feel the heat.” After imploring the White House to echo CEI’s stance, Ebell concluded his “Action Alert” by focusing on the expanded renewable fuels mandate: “It’s do or die for ethanol. Think of those poor starving stockholders in ADM.”

XI. Contrary to CEI and Ebell’s efforts, the cloture was unsuccessful. In lieu of the Energy Policy Act of 2003’s passage, the FY 2003 omnibus energy bill passed and Senate Democrats resuscitated the Energy Policy Act of 2002 (S. 517). While S. 517 did not garner much support, CEI targeted that proposal in a very similar fashion as they did the Energy Policy Act of 2003: complaining about a climate czar, Kyoto-style climate alarmism, and a potential carbon emission registry. When this bill failed CEI swiftly shifted its focus to other climate-related legislation such as the Climate Stewardship Act, the Clear Skies Initiative, and amendments to the Clean Air Act, to name a few.

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