Supreme Court Doubles Down on EPA and Clean Air Act

In a unanimous (8-0) decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in AEP v Conn that the state and land trust plaintiffs could not invoke a federal common law public nuisance claim against the five largest electric power companies.  The plaintiffs in the case were seeking controls on the carbon dioxide emissions from the utilities’ power plants.  Building on their 2007 decision in Mass v EPA, the Court held that Congress in passing the Clean Air Act had authorized federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and in doing so had effectively “occupied the field” thereby negating any common law claims. In a decision noteworthy for its brevity and clarity, the Court stated:

We hold that the Clean Air Act and EPA actions it authorizes displace any federal common law right to seek abatement of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel fired plants.  Massachusetts made plain that emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to regulation under the Act. (page 10)

From Dark to Light: Navigating the U.S. Energy-Climate Terrain

Keynote Address By Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Institute of International and European Affairs
Dublin, Ireland
June 14, 2011

Watch the full speech

Thank you very much.  It is a pleasure to be here. I am especially pleased to be in Ireland just a couple of weeks after President Barack Obama paid a visit to his ancestral home of Moneygall.  I thought you would be interested to know that some of the President’s opponents, following the recent controversy about whether or not he was truly born in America, demanded proof of Mr. Obama’s Irish ancestry … and I understand he responded by finishing his Guinness and reminding his opponents that he is the only president to host a Beer Summit at the White House.

In all seriousness, I want to thank the Institute of International and European Affairs for inviting me to this beautiful city to talk with all of you about what’s happening in the United States to address the issue of climate change.


Well, that about sums it up.  It has been a pleasure speaking with you and, if you will pardon me, I will now get along with my sightseeing.

I am kidding, of course. Well, let me clarify that. I am kidding about being through with my remarks, but the notion that not a lot is happening on this issue in the United States is no joke.  The renowned Irish blessing calls for the winds to be always at your back; the sun to shine warm upon your face; and rains to fall soft upon your fields. Well, for those of us who care about this issue and who want to see the United States take its rightful role in protecting the climate, it seems like the wind has not actually been at our back – but rather hitting us squarely in the face for quite some time now.

Any time you have someone winning an election to the United States Senate, as we did in November, thanks in part to a campaign ad where he uses a rifle to shoot a hole through a piece of paper representing climate change legislation, I guess you could be forgiven for feeling, well, not sufficiently blessed.

For perspective, let’s look back for a moment at what was happening on this issue in the United States just two years ago.  President Obama was just months into office after an election campaign during which he had pledged to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 percent before mid-century, and during which he promised to invest tens of billions of dollars in new climate-friendly energy technologies. 

As his secretary of energy, the President appointed a Nobel Prize winner who supported strong action to address climate change. And he built an all-star team of advisers on environment and energy issues who felt the same way.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives, just two years ago this month, passed comprehensive climate change legislation that established national limits on U.S. emissions and that authorized a new trading program to help industries meet their targets as efficiently as possible.

It was indeed a heady time for those of us who have labored on this issue over the past two decades and more.  We definitely felt as though we had the wind at our back.  But now it all seems like a distant dream … there is no getting around the fact that 2010 was a dark time for those of us who believed that the United States was on the precipice of taking serious action. 

So today, I will spend my time talking with you about why I believe things have changed so dramatically in so short a time.  But I also want to point to some signs of hope. William Butler Yeats once wrote, “When one looks into the darkness there is always something there.” And I believe this is an insight we should remember, no matter how dark things may appear to be at the present time.

John McCain joked once in a different context that it’s always darkest before the light goes completely out. (Pause.) Which is very funny – but also somewhat depressing.  In my remarks today, I intend to look into the present darkness and reflect on some of the reasons why things are so dark right now.  But I also will point out that indeed, there is “something there.”

Let us start with a closer look at why it has grown so gloomy (for some) in Washington.  In the two years since the House of Representatives voted on the so-called “cap-and-trade” legislation in June 2009, the opposition to climate action has gained the upper hand in the debate.  The 2010 U.S. elections last November brought an astonishing number of new members to Congress who publicly disavowed the science of climate change. In fact, shortly after the election, a U.S. think tank conducted a comprehensive review of the policy positions and statements of more than 100 incoming Republican members of Congress. It found that more than half of them — I repeat: more than half —are skeptics of climate change. They say they are not sure it’s really happening.  Remember: This is in the majority party that controls the legislative agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives.

So if anyone tells you that serious congressional action on this issue is possible in the next two years, I hope you will politely tell them they’re crazy.  It’s not going to happen. 

And it is not just the presence of a large number of climate skeptics that make it improbable that the current U.S. Congress will do anything.  As always in Washington, there are a range of other issues and other interests at play.  In the wake of President Obama’s effort to overhaul the U.S. health care system, for example, there is a pronounced distaste in our nation’s capital and throughout the United States for policies that could be branded as quote-unquote “big government” solutions.

We can do our level best to try and help people understand how a cap-and-trade approach leaves it to the market (and not government) to find the most efficient ways to reduce emissions, but opponents inevitably will turn this into an issue of government overreach.  And in the current political climate in the United States, attacking things in this manner is a strategy that seems to work.

There is also of course the economy – a seemingly unending challenge with which I know all of you are familiar. You understand how unemployment rates can color every political decision.  In the U.S., unemployment hovers at or near the 9 percent mark, causing members of Congress to feel their own jobs are at risk to the extent that they embrace policies that could be construed as being anti-business or, worse, “anti-jobs.”  The President’s health care law regularly is referred to as a quote-unquote “job killing,” “job destroying” or “job crushing” initiative. This is how you attack your opponents in Washington today. You accuse them of wanting to take away people’s jobs. And, once again, this is a strategy that seems to work, even if it can be argued that addressing climate change in a serious way will actually create new jobs in clean energy and related industries. 

Unfortunately, it gets even worse.  Not content merely to block legislation that could strengthen or expand U.S. efforts to address climate change, many in the House of Representatives are pursuing a strategy of trying to eliminate or curtail existing policies and programs related to this issue, however modest they may be. 

Earlier this year, the House passed a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. Ironically, this measure could have been nicknamed the “Kill Government” bill for its drastic cutbacks. While fiscal realities demand cuts to a wide range of vital federal programs, the House plan disproportionately cut funding for the climate science and clean energy programs needed to transition to the robust clean-energy economy that many businesses and the public support.

Thankfully, the U.S. Senate had its say, and the spending bill the President eventually signed into law avoided total annihilation of federal climate initiatives. While the most aggressive efforts by Congress to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its funding and authority to act on climate and clean energy may not have passed, many politically-contentious issues lie ahead that may present more hurdles for EPA. For instance, debates this summer over the U.S. debt ceiling and battles over the 2012 budget could again put EPA in the crosshairs. Many Republicans, especially in the House, are likely to stay vigilant in their anti-climate efforts.

But under our bicameral legislative system, the House does not have the last word in these matters.  The Senate, however, presents its own challenges, starting with an arcane set of rules that allows a minority of senators to block major legislation. The Democrats are in the majority in the Senate, but they don’t have the 60 votes they need to pass anything major on climate change or other big issues.  What’s more, the Democrats themselves remain divided on the climate issue, with senators from oil- and coal-producing states often siding with Republicans to block proposals that could be portrayed as trying to change the prevailing, high-carbon energy mix in the United States. 

Looking ahead, things could get worse before they get better.  The period after the November 2012 elections could be the next best chance for the United States to do something serious on the climate issue. But if the House remains majority Republican, or the Senate falls into Republican hands, the chance will probably be lost for another two years or more.

So, it’s a little dark in Washington at the moment and it is hard to see how anything substantive or serious can happen on the climate issue under the current Congress. Indeed, the challenge right now is to prevent Congress from endangering the mostly modest initiatives and programs that are in place right now to address this issue, and on which we can potentially build a more robust response in the future under friendlier leadership.

Which brings me to the shadows of hope we can see if we follow the advice of Mr. Yeats and look into the darkness. The first of these appears when we look at what’s happening at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency that is responsible for carrying out many U.S. laws related to climate change and the environment. 

With Congress unable to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, attention turned to what the EPA might be able to do under the agency’s existing authority. And it turns out the EPA can do a great deal.  One of the reasons why it can do a great deal is because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 decided that greenhouse gases meet the definition of pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  This is the omnibus federal clean air law that was originally passed in the 1970s and has been amended and expanded several times since.

In its 2007 ruling, the Supreme Court left it to the EPA to decide if emissions of greenhouse gases present a risk to public health and welfare. EPA decided they did, based on the overwhelming scientific evidence about the enormous risks that climate change poses to America and the world. Interestingly, we recently learned that the previous EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush came to exactly the same conclusion … and other senior Bush administration officials agreed.  So when opponents of the EPA decision on greenhouse gases inevitably painted it as a partisan attempt to expand government, well, let’s just say that their arguments seemed a tad partisan themselves.

What is the EPA doing to try and limit U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases? National standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks that won approval from industry and environmentalists will increase fuel efficiency to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and save consumers $3,000 over a vehicle’s lifetime. A new EPA proposal to be finalized next year aims to increase fuel efficiency by another 3 to 6 percent per year through 2025. In late October, the agency announced a sensible proposal to reduce emissions by 20 percent and improve fuel efficiency for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.  This was followed by a November announcement that will go a long way to making sure that new industrial facilities in the United States use state-of-the-art technologies to boost efficiency and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And later this year, EPA is expected to propose the first-ever greenhouse gas standards for new and existing power plants and oil refineries.

Of course, opponents of these and other reasonable EPA actions will continue to raise a ruckus, and there have already been loud cries in Congress to take away the agency’s regulatory authority and cut its funding, as I already discussed. But the fact remains that, even though its efforts are relatively mild and will not come close to achieving the broader reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that President Obama promised during his election campaign, EPA is still in the fight and is still putting forward reasonable rules and regulations for reducing the U.S. contribution to climate change.  And that is an encouraging thing to see as we take in an otherwise dark scene. 

It is also important to take notice of action actually taking place on the ground that has climate benefits. Most notably, we expect many old coal plants to shut down. While some new coal plants will come online soon, we are far more likely to see new natural gas power plants built in the future. While not “The Answer” to our climate and energy challenges, natural gas emits half the amount of carbon dioxide as coal. So this shift to natural gas, largely driven by regulations of conventional pollutants and by discoveries of shale gas that make natural gas more cost-competitive, will certainly help keep the U.S. on the downward emissions pathway that we’ve experienced in recent years. Of course, achieving bigger, brighter changes in how we produce and consume energy will ultimately require new policies, technological innovation, and broad public support.

Another shadow of hope that we can see if we look hard into the current darkness is that President Obama continues to talk about energy issues in a way that is helpful for the climate.  Yes, he recently proposed to expand drilling for oil in the United States, but he continues to frame the nation’s energy challenge (and, indeed, the world’s) as a challenge that we can meet only through an all-of-the-above energy policy that reserves a vital role for low-carbon, clean-energy sources in meeting our energy needs in the decades to come. Obama’s rhetorical commitment to climate action was again heard in his speech before the British Parliament last month, when he grouped climate change as one of the world’s principle threats to confront along with terrorism, nuclear proliferation, famine and disease.

Looking ahead to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, we can even see a faint shadow of hope (I emphasize it’s a faint one) in the histories of the leading Republican candidates for President.  A number of the leading Republican candidates (including former state governors Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) have in the past supported cap-and-trade policies.  Of course, they wouldn’t admit it now even under enhanced interrogation techniques.

But these men who are running for President on the Republican side are not your classic climate change deniers.  In fact, some of them still agree that the science of climate change is real, although they are not supporting any real action to deal with it.  I know this does not sound like much … but the fact is that these candidates will find it hard to make climate change a polarizing issue in the 2012 election given their records and past statements on the issue – and that is a good thing. 

Of course, if former Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska or another out-and-out climate change skeptic runs for President on the Republican side, then this might change.  And I expect the well-funded, highly-influential Tea Party movement to continue to mislead the public about the science and hold up climate action as a prime example of government run amuck. But in all honesty, I am not sure that running on a climate-change-denial platform is smart politics in America today.  I am convinced from a review of the polls that the majority of the American people actually support reasonable action to develop clean energy sources and take other steps to create a low-carbon economy. 

According to various credible surveys, a majority of Americans (about 60 percent) believe global warming or climate change is happening. It is important to note, however, that these numbers have trended down in recent years in sync with the recession and with the increasing political battles over climate change policy and well-funded attacks on climate science. 

One of the more interesting public opinion surveys on this topic is the so-called “Six Americas” study by Yale and George Mason universities. The project’s researchers identified six distinct subsets of the U.S. population based on their beliefs about climate change.  The six categories are: Alarmed; Concerned; Cautious; Disengaged; Doubtful; and Dismissive.  (Add the name Grumpy and you could have the climate change version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.)

Interestingly, majorities in all six of these groups said they believe the United States should make it a priority to develop clean sources of energy.  Regulating carbon dioxide emissions was supported by a majority of each group except the Dismissive.  (Nobody asked Grumpy what he thought.)  So it’s obvious that a significant portion of the U.S. population supports policies that directly or indirectly would result in reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Where support for these policies begins to decline is where researchers ask Americans what they are willing to pay to achieve these goals.  But still, public support for clean energy (and, to a lesser extent, regulating greenhouse gas emissions) is certainly a hopeful thing we can see as we look into the darkness in the United States on this issue today. And the reason why it is so hopeful is because it suggests to me that the current stalemate on this issue cannot last, especially in the face of continuing extreme weather events such as the recent flooding of the Mississippi River and Texas wildfires that have ravaged nearly 3 million acres.

These are exactly the kinds of events that climate scientists keep warning us will become more frequent in a warming world, and these types of extreme weather events inevitably raise serious questions in people’s minds about whether warming global temperatures are already wreaking havoc with the climate.  

So far, I have talked mostly about national politics in the United States, but it is important to remember that in the U.S. political system, states have an enormous degree of authority and flexibility to advance climate solutions and other policies on their own.  And the good and hopeful news is that many U.S. states have banded together in recent years to launch regional initiatives aimed at reducing emissions and developing clean energy.  This is in addition to individual states acting on their own on these issues. 

The not-so-good news is that state actions on the climate issue suffered a bit of a setback last November.  As was the case with the U.S. congressional elections, the 2010 gubernatorial elections brought to the nation’s statehouses a group of new leaders who adopted strong stands against climate action in their campaigns. This is already setting back some of the progress we were seeing at the state level on this issue in recent years.  For example, New Jersey’s new governor, Chris Christie, who is a rising star in the Republican Party, announced last month that he would withdraw his state from a very promising regional climate initiative that includes 10 northeastern U.S. states. While Gov. Christie said he accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and humans play a role, he follows the standard Republican position of opposing policy action, specifically cap and trade.

But there is still hope among the states.  During the November election, for example, voters in California overwhelmingly rejected a measure aimed at curtailing the state’s nascent efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Shortly after that vote, the California Air Resources Board formally approved the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is designed to reduce California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. A lawsuit by environmental activists opposed to cap and trade challenged the regulations on procedural grounds and may prevent the state from implementing its program on time. But the good news is California is still in the fight. And there is strong public support for what the state wants to do. California Gov. Jerry Brown also has signed into law one of the nation’s most aggressive renewable electricity standards. It requires 33 percent of the state’s electricity be produced by renewable sources by 2020.

Of course, California, as a relatively progressive state,will always provide a more hospitable climate for action on this issue. But the fact that the most highly populated U.S. state will soon be implementing a cap-and-trade system and other measures to reduce emissions has to be a positive sign.

Internationally, the Cancún climate talks showed that there are opportunities for incremental, evolutionary progress in the global negotiations on key operational issues of finance; measurement, reporting and verification; adaptation; technology; and forestry. It is important to understand that progress on these issues does not require a new legal agreement. Each of them can be advanced in tangible ways by decisions of the Parties. That is exactly what was achieved in Cancún. The Cancún Agreements are a package of decisions by the Parties. And what that package does, in large measure, is to import the essential elements of the Copenhagen Accord into the UN climate system and take initial steps to implement them.

What this represents is incremental progress – evolutionary progress – the kind of progress that had eluded us for years because we were so preoccupied with legally-binding outcomes. So we were able to move forward in Cancún on operational issues. But we were able to do so – and this is an important point – only because Parties were willing to put aside their differences on the legal issues.

I encourage the talks this year in Durban, South Africa to build on the effective, incremental approach taken in Cancún. Because the reality is that the U.S. cannot make global commitments until there is stronger consensus for action at home. And even apart from the situation in the U.S., the reality is that few if any developed countries will take on new binding commitments unless China and other emerging economies do as well. For now, we must look to coalitions of the willing to make progress in key areas, such as renewable energy and forest protection. While maintaining the international process is key to working toward the ultimate, longer-term goal of a global climate agreement with legally-binding commitments, actions taking place on the ground in individual countries right now are the most important signs of progress.

The last shadow of hope – and perhaps the most important one – that I want to talk about is the fact that there remains a strong core of business support for reasonable action on the climate issue in the United States.  The Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council includes 46 major corporations that support mandatory, market-based approaches to tackle climate change.

Starting with 13 companies in 1998, our Business Council is now the largest U.S.-based association of corporations focused on addressing the challenges of climate change and supporting mandatory climate policy. It includes mostly Fortune 500 companies with combined revenues of over $2.5 trillion and over 4.5 million employees. Many different sectors are represented, from high technology to diversified manufacturing; from oil and gas to transportation; from utilities to chemicals.

While individual companies hold their own views on policy specifics, they are united with the Pew Center in the belief that voluntary action alone will not be enough to address the climate challenge.  The bottom line: Business support for climate solutions is surely a hopeful sign amid the present darkness … and it is yet another factor that suggests to me that the current situation can’t last for long.

I would like to end my remarks by drawing your attention to something that will happen today in the United States that, at least on the surface, appears to have very little to do with the subject of my remarks.  On 42nd Street in New York City, at the Foxwoods Theater, a new rock musical based on the Spiderman comics with music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge has its official opening after several months of delays and various catastrophes along the way. 

Just months ago, many people wondered if it would ever open, given that it was way over budget and that it had gone through a number of cast changes, script rewrites and more.  The low point came when a stunt performer fell more than 20 feet to the stage after a cable snapped on the harness that held him aloft.  Fortunately, he was released from the hospital and is OK, and despite mixed reviews, ticket sales for the production have been, well, phenomenal.

I bring up the opening of the Spiderman musical because it’s a reminder that even when things are at their darkest, there can still be hope for success.  I also bring it up because of the title of the production.  It is called Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

Yeats told us, “When one looks into the darkness there is always something there.”  And right now, as I have said, we can indeed see shadows of hope in the darkness that has descended on the climate change debate in the United States. When we will be able to turn off the dark, I cannot say.  But I believe it can happen in due time. 

Now perhaps we can turn up the lights for some questions … Thank you very much.

Eileen Claussen addresses the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin, Ireland.

Pew Center Announces Partnership with EPA on New National Climate Awards Program

Press Release
May 17, 2011

Pew Center Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146
The Climate Registry Contact: Alex Carr, 778-340-8837
Association of Climate Change Officers Contact: Daniel Kreeger, 202-496-7390

The Climate Registry, Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Association of Climate Change Officers Announce Partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Jointly Administer New National Climate Awards Program

Washington, DC – Today The Climate Registry (The Registry), the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (Pew Center) and the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) announced that they will jointly sponsor a new national awards program with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize exemplary corporate, organizational and individual leadership in response to climate change.

By showcasing voluntary action on climate and energy under a unified banner, EPA, The Registry, Pew Center and ACCO are sending a strong signal that innovative and sustained leadership in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) management will be recognized in the United States.

"The co-sponsorship of this new recognition opportunity reflects EPA’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and recognizing leadership on climate change," said  EPA  Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy. "We are pleased to be partnering with three non-profit organizations that have demonstrated expertise in GHG emissions management."

An event to honor award recipients will be held in early 2012. Specific award categories will include:

  • Sustained Excellence in Public Reporting –Recognizing companies that continually raise the bar in the area of public disclosure of GHG emissions data. This would include regular public reporting and verification of corporate GHG inventories, GHG goal setting and achievement of GHG emissions reductions.
  • Supply Chain Leadership –Recognizing companies that have their own comprehensive GHG inventories and emissions reduction goals and can demonstrate that they are at the leading edge of managing carbon in their supply chain.
  • Organizational Leadership –Recognizing companies that have “mainstreamed” climate change across their operations and can demonstrate that they factor climate change into their business decisions.
  • Individual Leadership –Recognizing individuals exemplifying extraordinary leadership in leading their organizations’ response to climate change and/or affecting the responses of other organizations.

These award categories provide a legacy for EPA’s Climate Leaders program, which provided support to private sector corporations who voluntarily set and achieved greenhouse gas reduction targets, and ACCO’s Climate Leadership Awards, which recognized exemplary leadership by organizations in industry, government, academia and the non-profit community.

“Corporate leadership is essential to advancing climate and energy solutions,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “In growing numbers, companies and their employees are working tirelessly in pursuit of cost-effective solutions that reduce carbon and benefit consumers. Recognizing these great accomplishments serves to motivate and accelerate efforts throughout the business community toward a cleaner, more efficient energy future."

“The Climate Registry is delighted to partner with EPA, the Pew Center and ACCO on this important program, which will build on the work of Climate Leaders as well as our own carbon management program,” said Denise Sheehan, Executive Director of The Climate Registry. “Together we look forward to continuing to provide the tools, resources and recognition that organizations need to take their climate and carbon leadership to the next level.”

"Amongst ACCO’s primary missions is bringing together climate executives from across sectors to collaborate and establish best practices," said Daniel Kreeger, ACCO's Executive Director.  "We look forward to undertaking such a timely and important effort with our partners - The Climate Registry and the Pew Center - who have been on the cutting edge of climate response, and of course EPA, whose Climate Protection Awards inspired ACCO’s 2010 Climate Leadership Awards program and whose Climate Leaders program has been so instrumental in driving climate response."

More information is available online at www.epa.gov/climateleaders. Additional information on the award categories and nomination process will be made publicly available in the next few weeks.

About The Climate Registry

The Climate Registry provides organizations with the tools and resources to help them calculate, verify, report and manage their GHG emissions in a publicly transparent and credible way. The Registry was established in 2007 as a 501 (c)(3) by US states and Canadian provinces and today is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of senior officials from 41 US states, the District of Columbia, 13 Canadian provinces and territories, six Mexican states and four Native Sovereign Nations. The Registry is a membership organization with more than 430 members who use The Registry’s services measure and manage their emissions and share best practices with a community of members. For more information see www.theclimateregistry.org.

About the Pew Center on Global Climate Change

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change (“Pew Center”; www.c2es.org) is a 501(c)(3) organization that operates under the legal umbrella Strategies for the Global Environment. Formed in 1998, the Pew Center is an internationally recognized pragmatic voice offering credible information and analysis, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. In a highly polarized, controversial and politicized arena, the Pew Center provides a non-partisan forum for constructive engagement between business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and other experts.

About the Association of Climate Change Officers

The Association of Climate Change Officers is a 501(c)(6) non-profit membership organization for executives and officials worldwide in industry, government, academia and the non-profit community. ACCO’s mission is to advance the knowledge and skills of those dedicated to developing and directing climate change strategies in the public and private sectors, and to establish a flexible and robust forum for collaboration between climate change officers. For more information about ACCO, please visit www.ACCOonline.org.

About Those "Missing" Cost-Benefit Analyses ...

While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other air pollutants are on firm political and legal footing, attacks on them continue. Claims have been made that the costs of regulation are extreme or, contradictorily, that the government has not conducted any cost analysis of these regulations.

On the side that the costs are too high, one figure bandied about recently is that all government regulations are costing the economy $1.75 trillion annually, and $280 billion of that stems from compliance with existing environmental regulations. Those figures came from a study by two Lafayette College professors done for the Small Business Administration (SBA). Yet, as widely reported, the Congressional Research Service, and even the professors themselves have disputed the methodology of the study and its use in the current frenzy of political shots at environmental regulations. In a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the methodology of the SBA report was faulted for, among other things, allowing for double counting of costs. The Lafayette College study simply adds together other previous studies on individual regulations, regardless of the approaches and methodologies of those calculations. The CRS report quotes the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as having written that such a methodology is an “inherently flawed approach.”

More distressingly for those who care about making informed decisions about the economic impacts of regulation, that large figure is not balanced against any benefits those regulations might have. According to the CRS report, the authors of the Lafayette College stated that they were never asked to include benefits in their analysis. The authors were quoted as saying the report was “not meant to be a decision-making tool for lawmakers or federal regulatory agencies to use in choosing the ‘right’ level of regulation. In no place in any of the reports do we imply that our reports should be used for this purpose. (How could we recommend this use when we make no attempt to estimate the benefits?)” On the contrary, as we have explained before, the benefits of Clean Air Act regulations have far outstripped the costs in major studies.

As for those who say no economic analyses were ever done of these regulations, all federally promulgated regulations undergo a cost-benefit analysis before implementation. This requirement stretches back many presidential administrations, with each administration offering adjustments to the process. The basis for current analysis is found in Executive Order 12866, signed in 1993 by President Clinton, which provided a significant overhaul to the review process and, among other things, requires

Each agency [to] assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended
regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to
quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination
that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.

President Obama reaffirmed the inclusion of cost-benefit analysis in the regulatory process in Executive Order 13563 at the beginning of 2011.

Turning specifically to the GHG regulations implemented by the Administration, where regulatory requirements have been imposed the analyses required by OMB have been conducted and are readily available. Some critics have complained that there was not a cost-benefit analysis done of the EPA’s 2009 Endangerment Finding for GHGs. Such claims miss the fact that the Endangerment Finding was a scientific ruling that GHGs cause climate change, posing a threat to public health and welfare, and motor vehicles emit GHGs contributing to those risks. Since there were no regulatory requirements to reduce GHG emissions in this rulemaking, a cost-benefit analysis was inappropriate.

When it comes to actually reducing GHGs from emitting sources, such analyses would be appropriate, and federal agencies are required to include them as part of the rulemaking process. EPA has done so. The first rule on GHGs , the light-duty vehicle GHG emission standards promulgated jointly with Department of Transportation’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards, was issued with a Regulatory Impact Assessment that offered almost five hundred pages of detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis of the costs and benefits of the rules. The findings were that the GHG standard for light duty vehicles has an estimated cost of $52 billion and benefits of $240 billion: benefits outweighing costs by better than 4 to 1.

Upon the implementation of the light duty vehicle standards, the New Source Review program for stationary sources of GHGs was automatically triggered – without any regulatory action taken by EPA – therefore no separate cost-benefit analysis was legally required of this step. However, when EPA went through the regulatory process to create the tailoring rule to lower the compliance requirements for stationary sources, it was required to undertake an analysis. The Regulatory Impact Assessment of EPA’s tailoring rule is available on its website and includes an in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis of the reduced permitting costs from the tailoring rule regulation now in effect for stationary sources. As EPA continues its rulemaking for New Source Performance Standards for utilities and refineries, fully documented regulatory impact analyses will be conducted and made available for comment with the proposed rule.

Thus, despite the claims to the contrary, EPA has in the past and will continue in the future to analyze the costs and benefits of GHG regulations. It is also clear that, to date, GHG regulations imposed by the EPA under the Clean Air Act have vastly greater benefits than costs.

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow

Time to Face the Facts on EPA Regulation

A witty observer of the human condition Mark Twain wrote, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” He likely would have had a few choice quips about opponents of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation who have a lot to put up with these days. They continue claiming that new regulations are a de facto construction moratorium, a burden on the economy, the illegal act of unelected bureaucrats, and doomed to be overturned by Congress. Yet the facts themselves provide overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating GHGs this January, there were claims that these regulations would shut down entire industries and create a construction moratorium on new projects. In reality, the New Source Review program requires new sources of pollution and major modifications to existing sources of pollution, like power plants, refineries, and factories, to install the best available control technology to reduce GHG emissions. EPA’s guidelines for implementing these requirements focused mainly at increasing energy efficiency of facilities without requiring expensive add-on controls or fuel switching.

Despite these dire warnings, there are plenty of examples of how this scenario did not occur. Even before the regulations were in place, Calpine voluntarily and successfully underwent a determination of the best available control technology for its new natural gas power plant in the Bay Area. In a more recent example, one of the most vociferous industrial opponents of the regulations, Nucor Steel, came to Congress to testify at a hearing about the impossibility of compliance with the regulations, but the company had by that point already received a permit under that program for a facility in Louisiana. More permits have also been issued, and others are on the way.

Other attacks have fixated on the legality of the new regulations. Yet, in the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that EPA had the authority to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act if the Agency determined that they posed a significant threat to public health and welfare. This threat was overwhelmingly demonstrated in the 2009 endangerment finding, which documented the risks of climate change posed by GHGs. This endangerment finding was issued by the Obama Administration, but the Bush Administration had come to exactly the same conclusions. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of regulation is a hard example to be confronted with, but that hasn’t stopped opponents.

Although there has been little problem with implementation of these new requirements, it has taken the political rhetoric some time to catch up with the facts. Some on Capitol Hill have remained fixated on these regulations. This debate came to a head, as votes were taken to repeal or delay the EPA regulations. In the Senate, votes on four different permutations failed to meet the required 60-vote majority. The Baucus Amendment would have codified EPA’s tailoring rule and exempted agricultural sources from EPA GHG regulations. It failed 7-93. The Stabenow Amendment would have allowed EPA to continue work on drafting regulations, but it would have delayed implementation of existing GHG rules (except for the existing transportation standards) for two years, excluded the agriculture sector, and expanded some manufacturing tax credits. It also failed 7-93. The Rockefeller Amendment would have delayed the implementation of all EPA GHG regulations (except for car rules) by two years. It failed 12-88. The McConnell Amendment was a version of the Whitfield-Upton-Inhofe proposal that would have explicitly prohibited any GHG regulation using Clean Air Act authorities and repealed the EPA’s scientific finding about the dangers of climate change. The preferred bill of the Minority, it failed 50-50. In the House, a standalone bill (The Energy Tax Prevention Act) mirroring the McConnell amendment passed by a substantial, largely partisan majority, but with the failure of all four proposals in the Senate, it was clear that there was no hook to conduct a House-Senate conference on the legislation. For those who wanted a Congressional rebuke for action on climate, these votes should have served as an example of political opposition to repeal of regulatory authority.

In the face of those votes, opponents tried one more political maneuver: holding the federal budget hostage to the inclusion of the failed McConnell Amendment. After threatening a shutdown of the federal government to oppose regulations that have been shown not to prevent new facilities from being permitted, not to lead to economic destruction, and which were upheld by the Senate just days earlier, opponents eventually relented and withdrew their demands.

It has been tough to put up with these examples, but some opponents of the regulations are finally accepting the results. “I think this is probably the end of our EPA little session here,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “I’m not going to be pushing for another vote,” echoed Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). After everything that has occurred on this matter, and regardless of other attempts that might be made, it’s clear that the existing regulations are here to stay and the path forward for future reasonable regulations has strong economic, legal, and political foundations. In the coming months, EPA will turn to the next step in its legally-required regulatory process, proposing New Source Performance Standards for the utility and refining sectors.

Our leaders should use their energies to ensure that these regulations result in low-cost emissions reductions rather than continuing to fight battles for which the outcomes are already known. There is a real possibility for positive engagement in this process but only if one is willing to take a rational look at the challenges and potential policy tools available. For those that want to continue to fight past battles in the face of all that has happened, another Twain quote comes to mind: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow

Regulatory Reality vs. Rhetoric

First there was the warning about a construction moratorium – all new major stationary sources would come to an immediate halt because of EPA’s new source review requirements for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Soon after the alarm went out about the approaching regulatory “train wreck” that would result from a series of EPA rules impacting electric utilities. A large number of power plants would shut down, the reliability of our energy supply would be sacrificed, and consumers would face skyrocketing costs.

There was only one problem with these warnings – they were made before anybody knew what the actual regulations would require. Now that EPA has issued several of these rules, it is useful to revisit these doomsday scenarios and see if the reality of the proposals matches the rhetoric before the fact.

Letter to the Editor: EPA Is Following the Supreme Court

This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Wall Street Journal.


March 18, 2011
by Eileen Claussen

Your March 15 editorial "Carbon and Democracy" accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of ignoring democratic principles and the rule of law in its efforts to protect the public from the harm caused by changes in our climate. Let's review the facts.

It was the Supreme Court, not the EPA, that decided in 2007 that carbon dioxide meets the definition of pollutant under the Clean Air Act—a law enacted by a democratically elected Congress and signed by a democratically elected President, George H.W. Bush. Responding to the court's decision, and after a thoroughly open process with more than 380,000 public comments, the EPA determined that greenhouse gas emissions do indeed pose a risk to public health and welfare, and are therefore subject to regulation under the act.

The EPA's initial step to reduce greenhouse gases was an agreement with auto makers to improve auto efficiency, reducing oil reliance and saving a car's owner $3,000 over its lifetime. Now the EPA is beginning to require the use of proven cost-effective energy-efficiency technologies in new factories and power plants.

One can argue whether the EPA has been too aggressive or too lenient in its approach. If Congress believes there is a better response to the court's ruling, it should amend the act or enact a new law. That's how democracy works.

The EPA's actions are not the work of an "unaccountable bureaucracy," but of an agency complying with a Supreme Court decision in carrying out a democratically enacted law.

by Eileen Claussen --Published by the Wall Street Journal

An Excellent Return on Investment: Protecting Human Health through the Clean Air Act

Congress is debating whether or not to limit EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA), and many are wondering if these environmental regulations are creating a burden to our economy. EPA has released a report that answers that concern head-on, and the results are nothing short of astonishing. 

This report takes a hard look at the actual costs and benefits of the regulations implemented under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA), from 1990 through 2020. The report finds that while CAAA regulations have indeed imposed costs on society, estimated to be $65 billion in 2020, the benefits from cleaner air in 2020 will total $2 trillion – 30 times higher than the estimated costs.

Speech: The 2011 Climate-Energy Policy Landscape

Opening Keynote by Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change
tate-Federal Workshop on Climate and Energy Policy: Where Do We Go From Here?
Hosted by the Pew Center and the Georgetown Climate Center
Washington, DC
February 24, 2011

I want to welcome all of you to our 2011 workshop on state and federal climate and energy policy. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is delighted to be working with the Georgetown Climate Center – and two of our favorite alumni in Vicki Arroyo and Kate Zyla – to present what we hope will be a very engaging and informative program over the next two days.

You know we established the Pew Center in 1998 as a nonpartisan, independent organization to provide credible information and help spur innovative solutions to climate change. For those of us who have been working on this issue for so many years now – and I am certainly not the only one in the room about whom this is true – right now could be a very discouraging time indeed. President Obama did not even utter the words “climate change” in his State of the Union address in January. In contrast, in his 2010 address he was effusive in praising the U.S. House of Representatives for passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

We have traveled a difficult road on this issue over the past year … a road jammed by partisan fighting over health care and the legislation on financial reform … and a road torn up by the poor state of the U.S. economy. It’s been hard to move forward in these conditions.  Then in November, congressional elections brought a whole new group of climate change deniers and doubters to the halls of Congress.

Any time you have someone winning election to the Senate thanks in part to an ad where he uses a rifle to shoot a hole through cap-and-trade legislation, well … I guess you could be forgiven for feeling a little bit down and out.

But I am not here to give you a woe-is-me address. Well – not an entirely woeful address.  And the reason why I won’t do that, and the reason why none of us should accept the argument that it’s impossible at the moment to move anywhere on this issue, is because the stakes are simply too high.

Before I get into the meat of my remarks though I know the Academy Awards will be broadcast in a few days and I was looking at the list of films that are nominated this year, and I noticed that a lot of these films have something in common. A lot of them tell stories about people overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed.  And I thought they actually hold lessons for those of us working on climate change and energy issues.

  • For example, there is The King’s Speech … the story of King George the Sixth overcoming a debilitating stammer so he can unite his people to enter World War II.  The moral for the climate fight: It takes hard work and determination to communicate in ways that mobilize people. And for those of you who have seen the movie, there is also this: when you’re feeling really down, unleashing a string of profanities can be excellent therapy.
  • Another Oscar contender is the film The Fighter, about boxer Mickey Ward and his half brother, Dickie … and Mickey’s unlikely road to the world boxing title with Dickie’s help.  The lesson: don’t ever count yourself out. And, if you’re a parent, please think twice before giving your children rhyming names.   
  • Of course, there is also True Grit … about a young girl’s venture into hostile Indian Territory to find the man who killed her father. The lesson for those of us pushing for climate action: stay the course, and follow your journey to its end. And, if by any chance you’re staffing up for this work, don’t overlook the gruff, hard-drinking, one-eyed man in the cowboy hat who dropped his resume off the other day. He might be able to help you out.

So maybe there is something in the culture right now. Maybe we need these stories about people taking on big things, overcoming big challenges in their lives. And maybe those of us working on the climate change issue should take note. We may feel unlucky from time to time, but we cannot let it get in the way of our work to help shape solutions to the climate challenge facing this country and the world.  The simple fact is that the evidence of climate change continues to pile up in front of us. We ignore it at our peril.

2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record. Nine of the 10 warmest years have happened since 2001. Last year, Russia faced the worst heat wave and droughts in its documented history. Unprecedented flooding in Pakistan left 2 million people homeless and millions more requiring emergency aid. There was also unprecedented seasonal flooding in Australia.  And nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere was dealing with a massive heat wave last summer.

Each of these events, every one of them, is consistent with what scientists say we should expect in a warming world.

Even the record cold and snowfalls that much of the United States has been dealing with this winter can be seen as a glimpse of what we’re in for as atmospheric greenhouse gases increase and the climate becomes more unstable. It simply defies common sense to ignore the link between man-made climate change and these numerous extreme weather events. I am not saying climate change caused these particular storms and bitter cold, but this is exactly the kind of thing scientists say we should expect more of in the years to come. Add to that the declining sea ice in the Arctic, receding and disappearing glaciers, and the many other signs of irreversible change, and it’s hard not to feel that we are loading the dice. I have three young grandchildren, another is on the way. And it is hard not to wonder about the world they will grow up in.

What kind of world will it be?  To what extent will their generation have to pay for the things we didn’t do today? 

This is what’s at stake. And this is why we need to persist in our work on these issues. Over the next two days, we will be talking about many important topics, from transportation and land use to adaptation to what it will take to build a clean-energy economy here in the United States and around the world. We will also be talking about the varying yet complementary roles of the state and federal governments in addressing these issues.

I want to use my remarks here this morning to share what I believe is a realistic outlook of the challenges we face and draw your attention to a few small signs of hope. Because while the politics can look bleak, there are a few indications that action on this issue might still be possible in the months and years ahead.

The first positive sign I want to point out is the commitment of this White House to clean energy as a priority for the United States. In his State of the Union address, the President set a goal for the nation: to get 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. He may not have used the words “climate change” in making this proposal, but the implication for the climate is clear.

The White House knows full well that public support for renewables and other alternative energy sources remains strong. A recent Gallup poll found that more than 80 percent of voters favor clean energy legislation … although voter support does drop, sometimes below 50 percent, when people are asked to consider the costs of shifting to cleaner sources of energy, however manageable those costs might be. 

Adopting a clean energy standard would obviously be a big deal and a significant step forward. But is it politically possible?  My guess is no – not right now.  Not to say that there isn’t real interest in a CES – but realistically, the chances of such an initiative passing the Senate are very small – and probably zero for getting through the House.  Still – it’s useful to set a goal – and start the conversation. 

This takes me back to the lesson from The King’s Speech that I mentioned: It takes hard work and determination to communicate in ways that mobilize people.  Even in the face of considerable opposition, those of us who believe in the need for action on this issue must continue our efforts to connect with the public. We must continue to make our case. And we must continue to connect our cause to other related causes for which there is considerable public support.

This is why we should all be pleased that the White House has placed clean energy issues front and center as it continues to develop its “Win the Future” innovation agenda for the nation. As the Obama administration very rightly points out, China leads the world right now in clean energy investment, and we have a lot of work to do just to keep up, let alone overtake China as the world’s clean energy leader.

And the White House’s commitment on these issues is not all talk; it’s not all about photo opps and messaging.  One unmistakable sign that the Obama administration wants to see real action on climate and energy issues comes from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Remember the message from The Fighter? Don’t count yourself out. Well, EPA is making an effort to stay in the fight despite some very long odds, and some very tough opponents in the opposite corner of the ring. 

Even as he talked about reducing “unnecessary” government regulations in his State of the Union address, the President made a point of saying that he – quote – “will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.”  This was an obvious shot across the bow to those members of Congress who have stated their interest in depriving EPA of the ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Let’s be clear here.  The Supreme Court in 2007 decided that greenhouse gases meet the definition of pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The Court left it to EPA to decide if emissions of these gases presented a risk to public health and welfare. And EPA decided they did, based on overwhelming scientific evidence underlying the risks of climate change. It’s not just the Obama EPA that feels this way. We recently learned that the previous EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush came to exactly the same conclusion … and other senior Bush administration officials agreed.

In fact, EPA’s recent actions on this issue aren’t all that different than the step-by-step plan spelled out by the agency under President Bush, a plan that was described at the time by the Administration as “prudent and cautious yet forward thinking.” Today’s actions are largely the same, and yet they’ve come under attack by a vocal contingent in Congress. 

What regulatory road is EPA headed down? The initial rules requiring mandatory reporting of emissions, substantially improved fuel economy for cars and vans, and best available control technology for large new and modified sources are a good start. Later this year, EPA is expected to propose additional stationary source controls, with a focus on the electric power and oil refinery sectors. And even in these cases, EPA’s actions are extraordinarily modest.

And so they may be pulling some punches, but the fact remains that EPA is staying in the fight. Of course, opponents of these and other reasonable EPA actions will continue to raise a ruckus, and there have already been loud cries in Congress to take away the agency’s regulatory authority and cut its funding. Indeed, the budget bill passed by the House of Representatives last week would repeal EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, although it leaves regulations of automobiles intact. 

The House budget also proposes major cuts in climate-related programs at EPA and other agencies. EPA funding was reduced 30% overall, including the Global Change program, with even larger cuts to the greenhouse gas reporting program. NOAA’s Climate Service program was zeroed out as well. Among the many Energy Department programs with reduced funding, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy face a 40 percent cut. And for a high-profile hit, funding for the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, recently held by Carol Browner, was eliminated. Looking internationally, nearly all funding for U.S. commitments under the UNFCCC process was slated for elimination, including funding for the IPCC and the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change.

It’s not a pretty picture, and I cannot honestly tell you how it will be resolved.  Certainly there will be cuts, certainly there will be policy riders to appropriations bills, and certainly there will be attempts to legislate away EPA authorities directly.  But those seeking these changes will not have an easy ride, and I would guess that many of these attempts will fail.     

So – sticking with the ‘fighter’ theme – on the budget front, we’re probably only in round 2 or 3 of a 12 round match.

More positive signs come from the world of business.

As all of you know, the White House right now is making a very deliberate effort to build business support for its policies. The President’s recent address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was just one part of this effort. It came, you will recall, shortly after he appointed Jeffrey Immelt of GE to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. GE and its CEO have been leaders in the American business community on the issue of building a clean-energy economy, so the Immelt appointment makes sense. And it’s a reminder to the American public that there is considerable support among U.S. business leaders for reasonable action to promote clean energy industries and jobs, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil – and, incidentally, reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, too.

There remains great interest in the business community in clear and certain U.S. energy policy. “Certainty.”  You hear the word again and again today in conversations with business leaders. Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was on NPR last month and in simple, eloquent terms he stated that businesses need to know the regulatory rules of the road to have a better idea of what types of investments will pay off down the line. He clearly articulated the need for government to engage proactively with business to create public-private partnerships to spur innovation and create jobs in clean energy and other sectors.

So this idea that all of business is some scary villain standing in the way of action on these issues is inaccurate.  In fact, the business world appears to be taking a lesson from the third film I mentioned, True Grit.  Many of these companies started on their journey years ago to reduce emissions, increase efficiency, and pursue business opportunities in the clean energy sector. And they aren’t about to be dissuaded from staying on the trail.  It may be tough sometimes, and the political winds may be blowing against them at the moment, but they are intent on pursuing this to the end. 

Up to now, my remarks have been mostly Washington-centric, and I apologize. That’s what you get for coming to the nation’s capital to talk about climate change. But, of course, all of the action (or inaction) on this issue does not happen in Washington, and so let’s take a look at the picture at the state level. The news from the state capitals on this issue in recent months has been decidedly mixed. While regional climate initiatives continued to push forward in the past year, the November elections brought to the nation’s statehouses a group of new leaders who adopted strong stands against climate action in their campaigns.  In the State of Montana, a bill was introduced that would overturn the laws of science and nature and simply declare that carbon dioxide does not cause global warming. 

But this is another case where we should remember the story of Mickey The Fighter and not count ourselves out. Because there was an important bright spot in the elections. I am talking about the overwhelming defeat in California of Proposition 23. This measure, as you know, would have suspended a 2006 law intended to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Shortly after the vote, the California Air Resources Board formally approved the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is designed to reduce California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. While further legal challenges are pending, California is still in the fight. And there is strong public support for what the state wants to do.

Yes, Californiawill always provide a more hospitable climate for action on this issue. But the fact that the most highly populated U.S. state will soon be implementing a cap-and-trade system and other measures to reduce emission has to be a positive sign. It is a sign that the issue is not going to quietly disappear into the night. Much of the financial support for the “No on Prop 23” campaign came from the venture capital and tech industries in California. These companies understand the market opportunities that clean energy and energy efficiency provide, and despite the millions of out-of-state dollars poured into the Prop 23 campaign, they were willing to invest in making those opportunities real.

And, of course, California is not alone among the states in advancing serious measures that reduce emissions. Here at this workshop over the next two days, we will all learn more about what’s happening on this issue in states across the country.

For instance, Maryland has new energy laws to increase renewable energy production and create more incentives to purchase electric vehicles, which are especially well-suited to the state’s compact land use. And Maine has recently adopted laws to expand energy efficiency and boost clean electricity generation with the aim of preserving the Pine Tree State’s scenic landscape for its many vacationers.

As they have since the dialogue began way back in the 1990s, many U.S. states are taking the initiative, advancing solutions, and providing a learning laboratory for the rest of the country so we can see what works in practice. And that is definitely a positive sign.

The final very small positive sign I want to talk about is what’s happening outside the United States. The agreement reached by international negotiators in Cancún in December fills in many key missing elements of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, including a stronger system of support for developing countries and a stronger transparency regime to better assess whether countries are keeping their promises. The Cancún Agreements also mark the first time that all of the world’s major economies have made explicit mitigation pledges under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the continuing international talks must be a comprehensive binding climate treaty. That’s the goal of the journey we started on this issue way back in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio.  But in Cancún we saw countries agreeing on incremental steps that will deliver stronger action in the near term and keep the world on course toward someday (we hope) agreeing to binding commitments.

So to recap, I see four small but positive signs amid what I acknowledge is a very challenging environment. They are: 1) the White House’s continuing commitment to doing something on this issue in the face of very strong political headwinds, in part through common-sense steps at the EPA; 2) support for reasonable action on energy and climate issues among U.S. business leaders; 3) some progress on these issues in California and other states; and 4) continued progress in the international climate talks.

I don’t want to be a Pollyanna here.  I understand as well as anyone else that all of these small positive signs I have mentioned are positive only when you compare them to all of the negative things that are happening out there today.  We are like all of the leading characters in the movies I have mentioned.  In a very difficult fight.  On a journey in hostile territory with the odds sometimes appearing overwhelmingly stacked against us.  Facing enormous challenges in communicating, getting our message across, getting more people on our side. 

I cannot promise a Hollywood ending to this drama we’re in but I can say this: all is not lost.  And getting to a place where we are confident about the prospects for action on this issue that we all care about so deeply is going to require each and every one of us to recommit ourselves to this fight.  To recommit ourselves to staying the course in our journey.  And to recommit ourselves to communicating in more compelling and more coherent ways about what’s at stake here, and about what we can and must do. 

Think about transportation. With gas prices rising and oil now exceeding $100 a barrel, it’s hard to argue against realistic solutions that can lessen our oil dependence while reducing greenhouse emissions. The Pew Center just last month released a report that showed it’s possible to get to a cleaner, more secure transportation system that could deliver up to a 65-percent reduction in emissions from the sector between now and 2050.

Solutions are out there. We can meet the challenge of building clean energy industries and creating clean energy jobs. We can reduce U.S. and global emissions of greenhouse gases. But we are going to need true grit to get this done.

Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoy the conference. 

Hearing on the Energy Tax Prevention Act: Truth vs. Fiction

Last Wednesday’s House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on the Energy Tax Prevention Act lived up to its billing as being the first clash between the new majority and minority on the committee. For eight hours, the Members opposing regulation argued that EPA was overstepping its authority in regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They asserted that such action would kill jobs and harm the economy. Members supporting regulations argued that EPA is required to act and is doing so in the interest of public health.

The Energy Tax Prevention Act, a draft proposal jointly released by Rep. Upton (R-MI), Rep. Whitfield (R-KY), and Sen. Inhofe (R-OK), would prevent EPA from regulating GHGs, remove GHGs from the Clean Air Act, and specifically repeal all actions related to climate change, including the scientific Endangerment Finding, the Tailoring RuleNew Source Review regulations, reporting requirements for GHG emissions, and proposed New Source Performance Standards. The lone exemption is the Clean Car rule, which would remain untouched.

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