First, we ban all the lobbyists

Let business be business, says the Journal. Climate change is Congress' problem.

Published June 7, 2006 6:24PM (EDT)

Alan Murray picked an odd way to lead off his article in today's Wall Street Journal opining that green activists should stay out of corporate boardrooms, and leave policy on such hot-button topics as climate change to the politicians: "If you are awake at the end of Al Gore's movie, 'An Inconvenient Truth,'" he wrote, "you'll be called to action."

I say odd, not because a backhanded swipe at Gore or his movie comes as any surprise in a Journal opinion piece, but because there was a far better hook available to bolster his main point. Just this morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit began hearing opening arguments in a case that bears directly upon Murray's thesis.

We've mentioned the case before. A group of conservation-minded land trusts and a handful of states are suing five power companies, demanding that the court require them to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions over the next 10 years. The basic argument: C02 emissions cause climate change. Climate change will wreak havoc on the environment. Power companies emit more C02 than anyone else, and should be held responsible. For a far more detailed presentation, check out the opening brief by the plaintiffs.

Last September, a District Court judge threw out the suit, on the grounds that the problem of deciding what to do about climate change belonged not to the courts, but to the government. The power companies applauded this decision, noting in their reply brief that "Congress has repeatedly legislated on the subject of carbon dioxide emissions and global climate change. It has chosen each time to mandate further study, technology development and international negotiations rather than unilateral, mandatory emissions controls ... Ultimately, plaintiffs seek relief in the wrong forum. Congress can craft a national response to the issue of global climate change, and the President can negotiate treaties establishing an international response. Indeed, just last year, Congress debated various proposals, and the President conducted multilateral negotiations on climate change. Plaintiffs cannot short-circuit the democratic process and ask federal courts to create emissions standards that Congress has chosen not to enact."

Short-circuit the democratic process?! It hurts too much to laugh. The gaping hole in both Murray's "let business stick to what they know best -- business" thesis and the power companies' "let Congress come up with the right plan" is the refusal to acknowledge how business has already short-circuited the democratic process. Corporate influence has a huge bearing on why the Bush White House and Congress have taken no action.

So let's get this straight: Corporate lobbyists routinely wine and dine politicians, convincing them to sacrifice the long-term interests of the nation and the world for the short-term quarterly profits of chronic polluters. But the people, whether as shareholders or as litigants, shouldn't dare to try to advance their own interests. I say fine, let business stick to business. But first: Ban anyone on a corporate payroll from setting foot in Washington. Second: Pass comprehensive campaign finance reform that eliminates corporate influence on election campaigns. Then maybe, just maybe, we might start to see some real government.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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