Tigercomm has produced a brilliant report on “the physics of U.S. politics” and the clean energy industry. I was going to write about the report, but Tigercomm President Mike Casey’s own writing is so good that hacking it up and summarizing it didn’t seem sensible. (I guess Mike has had a lot of practice storytelling as head of a cleantech PR firm.) I’m including the first part of the report below, or you can read the whole thing here.
In addition to the written report, I invited Mike onto our CleanTech Talk podcast to discuss the core points he’s trying to impress upon people and some of the fascinating history he dug up. You can listen to the podcast discussion below before or after reading Mike’s important thesis.
We’re the people we’re waiting for
Worn down by Joe Manchin? Take a number. Want to do something about him and his kind? Look in the mirror.
By Mike Casey
Researcher assistance from: Jamie Meckley, Phoebe Lease, Nat Schub & Alex Petersen
Before publishing this paper, I had to change its subhead, from “Angry about Joe Manchin? Take a number,” to what you read above. Many working for the clean economy transition are now relieved by the senator from West Virginia because his change of mind has enabled the hugely significant climate bill to become a reality. But it would be a tragic mistake for us to put our feet up, figuring all’s well that ended well. Let’s be clear: This bill almost didn’t happen. It’s smaller than it could have been. And it has significant giveaways to the fossil fuel interests that Manchin favors. Happy as we are with winning, it would be crazy to feel satisfied with how we got here. We were under-built for the moment, and it kept us political beggars.
We got lucky.
For a moment, let the reality of what we were facing sink in: Putin’s reminding us of the cost of relying on petro-states while the accelerating climate destruction crisis is already bringing deadly heat waves, disruptions to food production, elongated wildfire seasons and even the first waves of climate refugees. Yet our ability as a nation to address humanity’s greatest existential threat was almost immolated by the Supreme Court’s West Virginia v. EPA decision and one corrupt, empowered senator with a coal business side hustle.
As Leah Stokes of U-C Santa Barbara said (before Manchin’s change of heart):
“Over the last year and a half, I’ve dissected every remark I could find in the press from Senator Joe Manchin on climate change. With the fate of our planet hanging in the balance, his every utterance was of global significance. But his statements have been like a weather vane, blowing in every direction. It’s now clear that Mr. Manchin has wasted what little time this Congress had left to make real progress on the climate crisis.”
How did we get here? The source of the answers lies several decades upstream of this moment.
We’re disrupting several sectors with decades of practice in weaponizing government to protect market share. Pretending that’s not so doesn’t change reality.
I’m working my way through “Master of the Senate,” Robert Caro’s exhaustive, third tome on the life of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. It contains a roughly 50-page section detailing how several Texas oil and gas barons get then-Senator Lyndon Johnson to block a second term for New Deal reformer Leland Olds at the Federal Power Commission, the predecessor of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The oil and gas industry bankrolled Johnson’s political ambitions. It provided him vacations, business opportunities and even free flights on their corporate plane. The industry didn’t want Olds enforcing the Natural Gas Act of 1938, thereby fettering their ability to price-gouge natural gas customers in large Midwestern and Northeastern cities. Millions of industry dollars were at stake.
To keep their favor, Johnson formed a special committee to review Olds’ nomination, then lulled Olds into complacency about his prospects. All the while, the industry lobbyists secretly compiled a dossier on Olds’ past writings and work as a labor organizer. Summarizing a long, ugly story, Olds was the victim of a strategically choreographed ambush. Committee members red-baited him with aggressive questions, supported by planted news stories painting Olds as a communist. Truman was forced to replace Olds with an industry-compliant successor, who undid years of Olds’ pro-consumer reforms. The oil and gas barons enjoyed a windfall of tens of millions of dollars. I’ll bet they spent less than 1 percent of that amount engineering the ambush itself.
Consider that this all took place 70 years ago! Seven decades is a long time for this polluting incumbent to advance its ability to weaponize government to protect profits. As Steven Mufson of The Washington Post reports, “Republicans threaten Wall Street over climate positions. Read Robert Kaiser’s So Damn Much Money, documenting the rise of modern lobbying, or the The Polluters, the definitive history of chemical industry lobbying (Ross & Amter, 2012). The pattern they present is clear and consistent: As polluting industries mature past 50 years, they embed lobbying and disinformation to manage marketplace threats.
That’s what we face.
Most clean economy companies’ approach to elected officials doesn’t mesh with political reality.
In nearly 20 years of serving clean economy companies, I’ve met tons of smart, inspiring people. But I’ve met fewer than 10 who’ve ever worked professionally in politics — actually getting paid to put politicians into office, working to keep them there, or kicking them out. By contrast, mature industries make investments in recruiting political talent as part of their government affairs (also known as “public affairs”).
Our pronounced lack of experience is a sign of our immaturity in public case making. It’s also produced a collective mindset grounded in wants, not reality. We want politics to be a meritocracy, so we don’t treat it as the full-contact pressure game it’s always been.
In election cycles now costing $14 billion, the ACPA and SEIA political action committees raise and spend $320,000 and $200,000, respectively. For context, the ACPA spending total is a bit over 2 one thousandths of a percent of current election cycle spending.
If the history of lobbying and government tells us anything, it’s that politicians rarely lead, but they almost always respond to perceived political danger. And we provide none of that.
That means we’re political beggars. Is it any wonder that Joe Manchin and dozens of senators and governors treat us accordingly?
For more, read the full report here.
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