This is a guest post by Dave Anderson, cross-posted from Energy and Policy Institute
A senior energy official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently warned that there will be “hell to pay” if the Trump administration tries to rescind the EPA’s science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions.
In typical U.S. Chamber fashion, Christopher Guith dismissed current concerns about climate change as based on “religion” — not “scientific facts” — while speaking at a January 26th event in the coal state of Kentucky. Guith is the senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.
But Guith conceded that carbon dioxide emissions are likely to ultimately be regulated under the Clean Air Act. He also said that “soccer moms and soccer dads” will make the Trump administration pay if it goes after the EPA’s endangerment finding.
Guith’s comments belie the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s official policy priorities for 2017, which include plans to, “Oppose EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act, including the endangerment finding.”
His remarks came last last month during a question and answer session on the future of energy policy under the Trump administration at an event hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Guith’s comments were captured by a representative of the Energy and Policy Institute who attended the event.
The U.S. Chamber’s position on climate has put the powerful trade group at odds with some leading members who support EPA limits on carbon dioxide emissions, including board member Florida Power & Light. Other board members, including Peabody Energy and Southern Company, oppose EPA action on climate change.
The U.S. Chamber is also a top contributor to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which counted Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt among its leading members before he was nominated by President Trump to serve as the next EPA administrator. Pruitt and other RAGA members sided with the U.S. Chamber on legal challenges targeting the EPA’s endangerment finding and, more recently, the Clean Power Plan. His bid to lead the EPA has been backed by the Chamber.
Transcript: “hell to pay” if Trump targets EPA’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions
Audience Question: You mentioned the endangerment finding earlier. There’s some thought that revisiting the science behind the endangerment finding, which you probably know was highly dependent on the IPCC models, and that enough time has now passed to potentially argue that the models the IPCC came up with have flaws and need to be revisited. Is there any momentum behind that thought?
Guith: I think there absolutely is momentum, but the one thing I’ll say is that rescinding the endangerment finding, and this is something Ted Cruz talked about quite a bit when he ran for president.
I think people here can appreciate how much political capital that would cost. It’s not … climate has never been, well at least in the last 10 years, about scientific fact. It’s been about religion.
And if you are going to go out there and say, “We’re going to pull this back,” I mean there is going to be hell to pay, not just from those people out there who are protesting those plants.
There’s going to be hell to pay from, you know, soccer moms and soccer dads all throughout the country. People who probably voted for Donald Trump. [emphasis added]
And I don’t put that past them, but what I will say is that will turn into a huge, huge buzzsaw, when perhaps a more elegant solution of slow-rolling the implementation would be only slightly more onerous that actually rescinding that, but would take much less political capital.
Transcript: Carbon likely to be regulated under the Clean Air Act
Guith: This goes back to my point about Congress actually repealing the Clean Power Plan. I firmly believe that sometime in the next 10 years we are going to see another stage of Clean Air Act Amendments, and that’s ultimately because we’re sort of at this the point where carbon is not going to go away.
Because of the endangerment finding it has to get regulated, unless Congress actually repeals that. And I don’t see a Congress saying, “No we’re not going to regulate carbon” because I don’t think there’s the votes there, nor do I anticipate it being there.
The reality is there is an absolute incentive for the environmentalists to cut a compromise because they need some sort of codified regulation. Right now you have the sort of fiat of the Clean Power Plan, and you’ll see what happens when the White House changes over and it’ll just “Thpppt!” … go away. Or you have one bad court ruling, and it just goes away.
Also, you have industry. Industry, utilities specifically wants to know, “What are the rules of the road going to be over the 20 years?” And so having that certainty of what it’s going to look like, there is something in it from both parties.
And I think there is a way to build CO2 into the Clean Air Act. I am not necessarily arguing that we should do it, but it’s likely to happen in an incremental way that gives the utility sector and the manufacturing sector decades and decades to plan around.
But it’s not going to happen this Congress.
A U.S. Chamber board member opposed the group’s lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan
NextEra Energy told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2015 that the company’s “interests will be impaired” if opponents of the Clean Power Plan prevail in their legal challenges. Those opponents include the U.S. Chamber and some members of its board of directors, including Southern Company and Peabody Energy.
Eric Silagy, the president of Nextera subsidiary Florida Power & Light (FPL), serves on the U.S. Chamber’s board of directors. FPL said last year that its transition from coal-fired power plants to cleaner sources of electricity benefits both the climate and its customers. Nonetheless, those same FPL customers are on tap to pay a total of $816,518 for the utility’s funding of the Chamber for 2015–2018.
Utility shareholders are not immune to the damage that funding the controversial political activities of industry trade groups can do to a company’s public image. NextEra faced a near revolt at its annual meeting in Oklahoma last spring, where 42 percent of shareholders voted in favor of full disclosure of the company’s political spending — including industry association dues used for political purposes.
Several other major electric utilities quit the U.S. Chamber several years ago after a spokesperson for the group called on the EPA to hold a “Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century” and “put climate science on trial.”
Main image: Scientists and supporters held a “Rally to Stand up for Science” at the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting in San Francisco in December 2016. Credit: Ashley Braun