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Regulation of Coal Power Emissions: Advocates, Fence-Straddlers and Nay-Sayers

Karl Ostrom, PhD, Co-Executive Director, Network for Business Innovation & Sustainability (NBIS) – June 9, 2014


The Obama administration proposal calls for a reduction in coal plant greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The plan offers each state the opportunity to construct its own pathways to this goal; e.g., renewables, switching from coal to natural gas or other new technologies. EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy states, “…we will turn climate risk into business opportunity, we will spur innovation and investment and we will be a world-leading clean energy economy.”

Negativity toward the EPA proposal gets a lot of press. In my review of responses, I am adding balance by highlighting the positive support for effectively addressing climate change that is coming from within state governments and a wide range of businesses.

The Advocates: Responses from States, Businesses and NGOs Who Are Addressing Climate Change but Welcome Federal Action to Strengthen Impact –

KC Golden, Senior Policy Advisor, Seattle’s Climate Solutions: “By providing flexibility for emitters and states to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency rather than just pollution control equipment, the EPA is forging a true partnership with the states and with public and private providers of climate solutions. These federal rules will support innovation and investment in the clean energy transition, building healthier local economies and good, sustainable jobs. …” (See Ceres on Rules attracting documented investor support)

“Northwest states will be able to comply with the federal rules in ways that drive new investment, new job creation, and deeper carbon pollution reductions by developing state climate plans that improve energy efficiency and tap our abundant renewable energy supplies….”

Utilities from Minnesota, Colorado, and Northeast Cap & Trade states welcome the stronger policy:

“Minnesota has a jump on other states to meet the 2030 goals. (Utilities)Xcel, Great River Energy, and Minnesota Power say they can meet them.  The proposed EPA rules require investments in energy efficiency and renewable and lower-carbon energy such as natural gas — policies that have been in place in Minnesota for years.” (Star Tribune)

Colorado government and utility officials said the state is well-prepared to comply with the federal rule — a key step for the nation to begin to address climate change. A combination of investments in low-carbon technology, greater efficiency in generating electricity, and shifting coal-fired power plants toward natural gas has set the state on course to meet tighter standards by 2030. (Denver Post)

NE Cap & Trade States — these 9 states are enjoying the “Best of Two Worlds – cutting emissions and accelerating growth that is stronger than the rest of the country! (New York Times)

The 800 business who have signed the Ceres “Climate Declaration,” including Seattle’s Brooks Running, K2 Sports, Microsoft and Starbucks.

The American Sustainable Business Council news release for 6/2 is headlined, “Business Leaders Applaud EPA’s Proposed Power Plant Rules As Good for Business and the Economy.” The ASBC represents a membership network of more than 200,000 businesses nationwide, and more than 325,000 entrepreneurs, executives, managers and investors. The news release directly quotes a sample of C-level officers regarding their support for the new regulation.

The proposed rules were applauded for mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, while opening the door for innovation and job creation. Last year, a national, scientific poll of small business owners commissioned by the ASBC, found that 63% of small business owners support EPA efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. It also found that 62% of small business owners oppose continuing subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies. The small business owners in the survey were 47% Republicans, 27% Democrats and 14% Independents.

The Cautious Responders

Cautious responders doubt that the proposed cuts in emissions are enough to make a significant difference and assert that mitigation responses need to be technological rather than regulatory and international rather than unilateral in order to be effective.

A headlined article in the June 2nd Washington Post, reads: “Why The EPA’s New Power Plant Rules Are a Diversion from Serious Climate Policy.” Jonathan Adler argues that a 30% reduction by the United States acting alone is not sufficient to mitigate global warming. Furthermore, he believes that there is no evidence supporting the value of regulations; that, if anything, they are often barriers that need to be removed and suggests that incentives need to be more creative; such as, “offering prizes.” He indirectly admits that his bottom line is ideological, his libertarian leanings, meaning that in general, the least government is the best government because it releases innovation. He chastises those on the left for believing in regulations and those on the right for being deniers of climate change.

A 6/3 article in the New York Times, “ A Paltry Start in Curbing Global Warming,” byEduardo Porter, also argues that the proposed cuts are inadequate, saying that they are a digression from serious climate policy. “Rather than a bold stride into the vanguard of the battle against climate change, the new proposals offer just enough progress to shuffle along with a world that unfailingly falls short of delivering what is needed.”

The Nay Sayers

The Nay Sayers bring together a confluence of those who deny climate change, those who believe in a magical free market that solves problems independently of policies, and those cynical of businesses, states, or nations thinking that they can address a global problem. Unfortunately, this confluence includes the US Chamber of Commerce and the Association of WA Businesses, who often speak as though they are the sole voice of business.

Informed responses to the “Cautious Responders” and “Nay Sayers” can be found in several well-constructed and data rich articles. An analysis of how the so-called “free market” is embedded in its environmental and socio-political context is included in “New Challenges Reshape Corporate Social Responsibility.” Regarding the importance of the proposed Rules for catalyzing the advance of multilateral climate negotiations, see 6/4 article in Washington Post on U.S. leadership and the inspiration of other countries. The best articulated answer that I have seen to the deniers of climate change is in an article recently referenced by Jon Talton of the Seattle Times, “Climate Consensus, the 97%.”

The Time is Urgent for Business to Step Up to the Climate Challenge

The descriptive facts of our planetary societal and environmental crisis are clear. As Jeffrey Sachs puts it, this is “Our Last Chance for a Safe Planet.” Responsible businesses are called to move from incremental to Breakthrough Strategies. John Elkington, who coined “the triple bottom line,” proposes that 2015 to 2025 will be the Breakthrough decade. NBIS is targeted toward this strategic acceleration of sustainable business practices.