Challenges to US climate plans

C&I Issue 5, 2010

US plans to curb emissions of greenhouse gases have come under fire in recent weeks after a spate of announcements from industry groups, oil majors and three US states. A total of 16 groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the US National Association of Manufacturers and the states of Texas, Alabama and Virginia, have filed court challenges against the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ‘endangerment finding’ in December that greenhouse gases endanger human health (C&I 2009, 8, 5).

And in a further blow to the government’s green agenda, three major corporations – BP, ConocoPhillips and heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar – declared they are pulling out of the US Climate Action Partnership (CAP), a lobbying organisation calling for mandatory reduction of GHGs.

CAP’s A blueprint for legislative action provided a model for the climate bill, passed by the US House of Representatives in June 2009, which calls for a cap and trade system. This legislative approach is favoured by President Obama; however, the bill has yet to be agreed by the Senate.

Oil majors BP and ConocoPhillips both say they remain committed to a federal legislative approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, ‘House climate legislation and Senate proposals to date have disadvantaged the transportation sector...,’ says Jim Mulva, ConocoPhillips chairman and ceo. ‘We believe greater attention and resources need to be dedicated to reversing these missed opportunities.’

Meanwhile, the EPA’s future role in curbing emissions has also been called into question by groups challenging its ‘endangerment finding,’ which paves the way for it to impose standards. According to NAM president Jon Engler: ‘We are challenging EPA’s “endangerment finding” determination and focusing on whether they asked the right questions, sought the right information and are meeting their burden under the standards set forth in the Clean Air Act.’

‘When the EPA recently declared carbon dioxide a toxic substance, they put countless businesses, farms and even churches in their crosshairs, and began a process that will not only devastate our state’s strong economy, but also raise energy prices for the rest of the nation,’ declared Texas governor Rick Perry.

According to Myron Ebell, director, energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, ‘the DC Circuit Court of Appeals will roll all of the appeals into one and ask for briefs from some or all of the plaintiffs’. The CEI filed a notice of intent to sue, along with two co-plaintiffs, on 16 February.

Springing to the EPA’s defence, a coalition of 16 states and New York City is asking the appeals court to allow it to intervene in the lawsuit. For its part, EPA says that it is ‘confident the [endangerment] finding will withstand legal challenge’. It accuses ‘special interests and other defenders of the status quo’ of attempting to stall progress towards a green economy.

Nuclear investment adds support for climate bill

Also in February, US President Obama announced $8.33bn in loan guarantees to build the first US nuclear power plant in almost 30 years. The money will help to build two new reactors at a plant in the state of Georgia. The news could bolster support for the stalled climate bill, by appealing to Republicans opposed to cap and trade, and in the South and Midwest states where major utility players are based, news agency Reuters reported. US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said that further loan guarantees to at least half a dozen projects are planned.

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