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Wall Street Extorts Kyoto Protocol: Lehman, Enron and other Cap-and-Trade Coincidences

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Recently, in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse, I read a speech by Gunther Verheugen, the E.U.’s Industry Commissioner, revealing his surprise that lobbyists drive E.U. legislation. He gasped, “Very often, and this is something that really shocked me…during the process I have found in how many cases European legislation is triggered by interest groups.”

This reminded me of something written by my colleague here at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Marlo Lewis:

A cap-and-trade scheme is essentially a carbon cartel….By restricting the supply and raising the price of fossil energy, cap-and-trade creates windfalls for the lucky holders of emission credits. Notably, companies caught engaging in illegal market manipulation – Enron, [and electric utilities] American Electric Power, Cinergy, Entergy, and Calpine – have been among the most aggressive lobbyists for the Kyoto Protocol or kindred emission trading schemes. Among the most influential lobbyists for Kyoto-style policy are Wall Street firms that expect to make commissions on the purchase and sale of carbon-trading credits.

Verheugen has stumbled upon the world’s second-oldest profession, that which seeks to make a fortune off of governmental policy rather than through competition. Each of us arrives at this realization on our own schedule. My eyes were opened when, having left my law firm in the late 1990s to serve as director of federal government relations for that same little energy company called Enron, I was informed that my top priority was to ensure a treaty capping (and trading) greenhouse gas emissions.

Long story short, I expressed my wonderment to headquarters, which expressed its own shock in response, and I left after a few weeks. It turned out that Enron had purchased companies on the relative cheap, which, if Enron were successful with its Kyoto gambit, would prosper – possibly even as much as they were telling Wall Street that they already were. This proved to be very typically Enron.

Of course, in internal memos, Enron famously argued that the Kyoto Protocol was “precisely what [Enron has] been lobbying for” and that “this agreement will be good for Enron stock!” Not good enough, apparently.

When Enron’s drama unfolded in 2001, the pressure group for rent-seeking businesses called the Pew Center on Global Climate Change quickly airbrushed its Web site of praise for the company, specifically Pew’s erstwhile poster boy for climate “responsibility,” Ken Lay. Lay and Enron were founders of Pew’s Business Environmental Leadership Council, a green-tinted coalition that was pushing the Kyoto agenda.

Lay was also a favorite and longtime trustee at a similar outfit known as the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment (run by John Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz). An embarrassing e-mail emerged in which Heinz staff pleaded with Lay, “Simply stated, your background, expertise and experience make you uniquely qualified [to run our] global-warming [initiative].”

This was a sufficiently serious endeavor that soon after I left Enron in 1997, Lay and BP boss John Browne met in the Oval Office with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Lay’s briefing memo reveals that they clarified what Enron needed from the treaty at the upcoming December Kyoto negotiations. Just the week before, a unanimous U.S. Senate had voted instructing Clinton not to agree to the pact.

The rest is history, if often misreported. The Clinton administration disregarded the Senate and agreed to Kyoto on December 11, 1997, and signed it – yes, signed it – on November 12, 1998. Score: Lay and Browne 1, Senate 0. However, then as now, and every year in the interim, the Senate has refused to bind the U.S. to such an agreement.

With that bit of history out of the way and as Lehman Brothers lies in ruins, let us take notice of certain coincidences. For example, as Lehman melted down, observers spotted the web of climate-specific similarities connecting that company’s priorities and activism and Enron’s. Like Enron, the bank was a strong promoter of carbon pricing, and its recommendations on the subject had begun to be adopted by governments around the world. Lehman was also the banker for Gore’s private equity firm, Generation Investment Management.

As it happened, one of Lehman’s managing directors, Theodore Roosevelt IV, was also the Pew Center’s chairman, as Lay was their star before him. Roosevelt is also a board member of Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. In fact, like Lay, Roosevelt sits on the boards of many environmental pressure groups pushing the climate change agenda in which Lehman had heavily invested itself.

Political correctness and other pressures to “go along” are one thing. But aggressively tying one’s corporate fate to such things as carbon (energy) rationing is another matter entirely. So far, the track record of such companies is not good.