In a press conference this week, President Obama has dropped his support for a federal cap-and-trade program for reducing US GHG emissions, noting that the program “was a means, not an end” and that he will “be looking for other means to address this problem.” These statements were most likely in response to Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives, and the new majority has said they are willing to cooperate on energy issues.
Republicans have stated their willingness to pursue clean-coal technologies and nuclear power to address electricity production, but their opposition to cap-and-trade is strong and unwavering. In the future, we will look at how effective those two methods are at cutting carbon emissions, but for now, Obama must adapt to this new environment of a semi-hostile House while still holding on to his promise of cutting GHG emissions by 17% in ten years.
At least one member of Congress sees the long-term investment opportunities in businesses taking corporate responsibility seriously. A new bill, the Federal Employees Responsible Investment Act (FERIA), would add a sustainability option to federal employees’ retirement and investment choices. This option would provide an index based on “strict financial criteria, in addition to having strong corporate governance, sustainable environmental policies and practices, solid workplace relations, positive community involvement, safe products, and respect for human rights around the world.” The argument supporting this new option is that with these policies, sustainable businesses offer lower risk without sacrificing company profitability.
These options have been labeled socially responsible and sustainable investments (SRI), and they are, in fact, quite profitable. Most large SRI mutual funds outperform S&P 500 by about 6%. SRI assets have also grown to a remarkable size, encompassing about 11% of investments in US financial markets as of 2007.
In the past, we’ve looked at how consumers want to patronize companies that focus on some kind of social or environmental cause. When you take into account that one third of US states have already adopted these SRI choices for their employees, having this bill passed is a no-brainer.
While the Senate discusses details of a new Cap-and-Markets bill (formerly Cap and Trade), the EPA moves forward with plans to regulate greenhouse gases under the clean air act. Expectations are that the EPA will announce limits by the end of April. The EPA will use the “tailoring rule” to set emissions limit for emitters of 75,000 metric ton per year or more. The idea is to avoid overwhelming federal and state agencies with work by focusing on the larger emitters.
This is a natural step and comes a year after they formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare on April 18, 2009. The progression of the EPA has run lock step with the congressional action. The EPA moves forward and seems to galvanize legislative action. Once again, this seems to be the case.
The Senate would like to regulate Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) instead of the EPA. They have included language in drafts of the Senate bill to stop the EPA from regulating above and beyond the legislature. This is sensible since there should be one rule and not many. We shall see shortly. On April 11th, Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said “Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman will unveil their proposal later this month.”
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly emphasized that Congress should move forward on developing acceptable climate legislation. Due to the necessity of immediate action, however, the EPA is looking at using the existing Clean Air Act to develop a carbon trading scheme that will serve to provide a national framework for clean energy innovation and adoption. The US EPA has outlined several methods, like phasing in proposed regulations or excluding small business and certain industries for a time that will help businesses move into a future of mandated carbon monitoring and accounting.
There has been strong resistance—much of it centered around the EPA endangerment finding that CO2 is a public health hazard and motions to regulate it. Certain states have complained that the EPA relied too heavily on reports by the U.N.’s climate science panel which included a few potential exaggerations. However, the debunking of climate science that has arisen in response to possible scientific reporting errors around the research has since been shown to be unfounded. EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy affirms that the science behind the endangerment finding “came from an array of highly respected, peer-reviewed sources from both within the United States and across the globe, and took into consideration hundreds of thousands of comments from members of the public, which were addressed in the finding.”
On April 1st, the agency took the first step by finalizing its first rules on automobile GHG emissions. The agency also raised fuel efficiency standards for the fist time since the 70’s. This motion is supported by a strong push among those in the auto industry to set a national standard from which they can build. About the same number of states support the EPA as are against EPA regulation of carbon emissions. It would be interesting to see which of the same entities would resist if Congress could manage to pass something. Texas for instance, with its high number of oil refining and other industries, will be heavily impacted by mandatory emissions reductions—no matter where they originate.
President Obama said recently, commenting on new health-care legislation and the American people’s willingness to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat that “We’ve already been there. We’re not going back.” Responding to stirrings to repeal the new legislation, with confidence that policy he has brought to fruition will reveal itself in positive changes to the lives of many; he believes that the American people will be unwilling to give the wheel back.
Directly after passage of the bill there was a wave of media implying that a climate bill was all but dead due to the “aggressive” push to pass the health-care legislation and the need to be gentle on freshly-bruised political egos. However, though the political process is tumbling with who, what, and how to manage emissions, while also dealing with ongoing and scientifically backward debates about whether climate change is even happening and if we have anything to do with it—a price on carbon and system for GHG emission reporting and control are moving forward at a steady pace. What we are seeing is an unstoppable process that will happen regionally if it does not happen nationally.
Many common threads run through Health Care and Climate Change, and their crossing is creating a new picture. As the tapestry emerges, human and environmental health are being revealed as integrally dependent. An underlying ethical shift is bringing consumers’ deeper quality-of-life needs to the forefront, as well as revealing the under-workings of the systems that drive the waste of resources, including human lives. For example the health costs reduction from Acid Rain Reduction program is estimated at $123 billion so far.
The 2010 Worldwatch Institute report, State of the World: Transforming Cultures, From Consumerism to Sustainability, examines the driving forces of wasteful consumption and states that shifting the culture of consumption is key to coping with climate change. Noting how culture is created and supported in media, the report points out that, currently, there is a massive global and interdisciplinary push toward sustainability. The report states: “A host of social movements are starting to form that directly or indirectly tackle issues of sustainability. Hundreds of thousands of organizations are working, often quietly on their own and unknown to each other, on the many essential aspects of building sustainable cultures— such as social and environmental justice, corporate responsibility, restoration of ecosystems, and government reform.”
Has the endless squabbling over broader American access to basic health care impeded necessary political action on climate change? Maybe on the national level but not in the broader sense. Does the necessity to overhaul a broken system of basic human health care take away from a global movement that is bringing back “humanity” and emphasizing sustainability and environmental stewardship? Don’t think so…looking at the bigger picture, an ethic toward maintaining a livable future for more people is emerging.
Posted by email@example.com | Posted in Congress, Greenhouse Gas, News | Posted on 19-02-2010
Looking at the past, it is easy to see the places where we made significant or life-changing decisions. While caught in the throes of daily existence, however, few maintain the ability to act from this broader, deeper vision. Clear vision of the present is further muddled when we multiply this tendency from the individual to an entire culture, divide response along political lines, add massive amounts of new or newly-revealed information, and subtract the rapid-response mechanism of a single, decisive mind.
Unfortunately, in looking at climate change, there is no “after-the-fact.” The science says that we must act immediately and that the bigger our mess, the slower our response; the more severe will be the outcomes we face. We have reached a point where the intimate link between human rights and environmental protection has emerged to the forefront and we know we are hurting ourselves with our actions. Our ability to justify a failure to respond for lack of crystal-clear present vision does not serve us. Though accepting the cost of transition is difficult, we must see a bigger picture and start acknowledging the cost of inaction.
This is what comes to mind as I read about the flush of senators who have jumped on the disapproval bandwagon to deny the EPA’s finding that GHGs are a threat to human health. When looking at the cost of waiting versus acting it is obvious to act. I am interested to see what they will say when they look back at the effect of waiting.
It reminds me of people saying smoking is not harmful to your health. If we had acted earlier then millions may not have died. I do wonder how these elected officials can be oblivious to the damage that is being done to people today. I must remember to never underestimate the power of people to ignore things that contradict their short-term financial interest.
It is now six minutes to midnight. As total annihilation from nuclear war fades to the background and climate change takes center stage as the primary threat to our existence, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists offered this symbolic gesture of hope. They have turned back the Doomsday Clock one minute, primarily because countries are cooperating to reduce their nuclear arsenals, as well as making unprecedented efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. Noting that one key to this “new era of cooperation” is the changed US orientation toward international affairs, they also noted a shift in world opinion that nuclear weapons are no longer a useful tool for conflict resolution. Phew…
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski is working doggedly to block the EPA from regulating GHGs and the January 31 Deadline for the unprecedented cooperative international effort to develop climate change targets is getting bumped, but still, dialogue is open and there is reason to be hopeful.