Climate Compass Blog
While Congress continues to debate health care, the business community this week continued to lead on climate change. On Tuesday, we joined 6 other NGOs and 22 companies to launch a new full-page ad supporting comprehensive clean energy and climate change legislation. Fourteen members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) signed on to the ad, which ran in The Washington Post, The NY Times and USA Today. For several of these companies, this was the first time they have stood up so publicly to support capping carbon. Other ads from similar coalitions are running in papers all across the country.
I also want to give props to Honeywell for joining the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP). Honeywell is a $28 billion manufacturer of all types of goods from aerospace to home heating and cooling. By joining USCAP, they further demonstrate the diversity of industries that are committed to tackling climate change through the Blueprint for Legislative Action.
Earlier this week, the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) convened key regional stakeholders and leaders from around the world for its Jobs and Energy Forum and announced a hopeful, forward-looking economic and environmental vision. The setting could not have been better suited to highlight the urgency with which these new initiatives are needed by both the Midwest and the nation as a whole. Detroit has been hit as hard as anywhere by the economic slump; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the greater Detroit metropolitan area hit 17 percent in August, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, in her remarks, noted that Michigan has lost close to a million jobs in a little less than a decade. Against this backdrop, many of the participants discussed the need for a new energy paradigm that addresses our economic, security, and environmental concerns. Even as the U.S. Senate prepares to tackle energy and climate legislation this fall, the Midwest made clear this week that it intends to move forward regardless of what happens in D.C.
LOS ANGELES -- Sub-national leaders from over 50 countries gathered last week in Los Angeles, California as part of Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2nd annual Global Governor’s Climate Summit. Topics ranged from public health impacts of climate change to technological solutions to the role of youth leadership and education. The summit kicked off with a surprise appearance by Harrison Ford, announcing the establishment of a new collaboration convened by Conservation International called Team Earth, which will focus its first effort on global deforestation. Forests emerged as a recurring theme of the discussions here. Motivated by concern that deforestation must not be excluded from the negotiations of a climate treaty this time around, 11 governors from the U.S., Brazil, and Indonesia signed a memo addressed to their nations’ presidents, pressing for a robust deforestation policy mechanism to come out of Copenhagen.
Leaders from across the globe also expressed growing concern about preparing their citizens to adapt to climate change. It is clear that leaders on the local level are worried about the impacts that are already being felt by their citizens and are anticipating their growing role in implementing policies to address adaptation, in addition to greenhouse gas reductions. Some have even begun to classify jobs in climate adaptation as “green jobs” and are working to expand the number of these jobs in their jurisdictions.
Another overarching takeaway is the sense that local and regional governments embrace their important role in combating climate change, repeatedly referring to policies implemented at sub-national levels across the globe as examples for national action.
What have the courts figured out that Congress hasn’t yet gotten its arms around?
In a potentially far reaching decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the federal courts have once again stepped into the breach and ruled that states and private landowners can sue the five largest electric utilities for climate-related damages they contend were caused by the utilities’ carbon dioxide pollution (Connecticut v. American Electric Power Corp. et al. 2nd Circuit 2009). The appeals court overturned a district court opinion that dismissed the case on the basis that it presented a “political question” that should be decided by another branch of government (Congress or the Executive Branch). The Appeals Court held that until Congressional or regulatory action occurred, common law protections against damage from greenhouse gas pollution are a legitimate basis for a court suit. The case was sent back to the District Court for further proceedings.
Together with the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision (Mass. v EPA), that has set EPA down the path of regulating greenhouse gas emissions, these court cases underscore a growing recognition by federal courts that the threat of greenhouse gas emissions represent a genuine threat and warrant legal review.
From a practical standpoint, this case cranks up the pressure on both Congress and EPA to act. Case-by case litigation would be disruptive, expensive and problematic given the scope of the challenges we face. The Court’s decision recognizes that these common law public nuisance cases may be preempted by Congressional or executive branch action. It should be increasingly clear to all that the best way forward would be for Congress to pass comprehensive climate legislation.
Regardless of how enthusiastic one is about the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill passed by the House of Representatives in June, passing the bill in six months through a body that had never before wrestled with climate action was a major accomplishment. (For the record, the Pew Center was enthusiastic about the achievement, while seeing some room for improvement in the bill itself.) This week, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced their climate bill. It takes nothing from the House’s accomplishment to recognize that passing a bill through the Senate will be a steeper climb.
First, there’s the math. House passage requires a simple majority, which Waxman-Markey just managed, at 219 – 212. Passage through the Senate will essentially require a supermajority of 60 votes, because of the filibuster. (If you aren’t familiar with the filibuster, you don’t really need to be. Just trust me, it takes 60.)
Second, the rules of the House give the Speaker a great deal more control over the chamber’s agenda than the Senate gives its leader. Speaker Nancy Pelosi very adroitly defined the process by which her chamber hammered out a workable balance of competing objectives. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be herding cats.
We can get climate change legislation through the Senate, but it’s going to be a completely different animal. I’ll explore the hows and whys in future posts.