The biggest environmental story of 2007 is likely to be the drive to get federal climate change legislation passed.
While conventional wisdom is that it will take until 2009, several big environmental groups will press hard this year for carbon regulation, although some worry that a bad law could be worse than none at all. Big business will, of course, play a key role in shaping legislation, if any, and quiet efforts are underway to enlist Fortune 500 CEOs in the effort. So is a major, well-funded PR blitz–more on that below.
Jonathan Lash, the president of the World Resources Institute, said at a briefing this week that “you will see a lot more corporate support” for climate change legislation in the year ahead. Already, such big companies as GE, Wal-Mart and DuPont, as well as a handful of utilities, have come out in favor of regulation of carbon emissions. Of course, California and northeastern states from Maine to Maryland have already passed carbon caps, of one kind or another, and most of the major presidential candidates of 2008 support controls.
Lash, Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense and David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council have all told me in recent weeks that they don’t expect President Bush to be a major opposing force. Said Krupp about the White House: “I don’t think they are going to lead, but I don’t think they are going to be the obstacle.”
But some enviros worry about what Lash called “Potemkin legislation–a facade of climate legislation with nothing behind it.” The key is looking long term at the impact of various regulatory schemes. WRI produced this chart (yes, it’s hard to see but the full power point is here), demonstrating vividly that all climate-change bills are not alike:
Said Lash: “Serious action means we don’t just stop the increase in emissions, but we get on a path towards reductions.”
Hawkins, who knows as much about climate change policy as anyone, made a compelling case for urgent action when we met the other day.
He said, first of all, that greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for a long time. Each year, as man-made emissions of carbon dioxide amount to about 7 billion tons, the situation gets worse. We don’t yet know how to get that CO2 out of the atmopshere. Said Hawkins, with a smile: “As Johnny Cochran might have put it, once it’s emitted, we’re committed.”
The second reason to act in a hurry is that billions of dollars of long-term capital investments are made every year, particularly in electrical power generation, and companies need to know how to factor the cost of carbon into their decisions. The Texas energy company TXU, for example, is currently trying to get $11 billion of coal-fired power plants approved in Texas, as I wrote about here.
Finally, the only way to persuade China and India to control their emissions, Hawkins argued, is for the U.S. to set a good example. “The way we engage China and India is by demonstrating seriousness ourselves,” he said.
Besides gearing up their Washington lobbying operations, the enviros are planning a major public-relations blitz that will underscore the dangers of global warming, argue for action now and paint a “clean energy vision” that showcases green technology as a driver of the U.S. economy, as well as a path towards energy security. These efforts will target college students, so-called green hawks and conservative Christians, among others. (Or, as Al Gore told Grist’s Amanda Griscom Little last spring, it will include “NASCAR fans, churchgoers, labor-union members, small businessmen, engineers, hunters, sportsmen, corporate leaders, you name it.”) A bipartisan umbrella group called the Alliance for Climate Protection has been formed to lead the effort–its directors include Gore, investment banker Theodore Roosevelt IV, Larry Schweiger of the National Wildlife Federation, former EPA chief Carol Browner, national security expert Brent Scowcroft, retired president of Georgia Pacific Lee Thomas and investor Orin Kramer. I’m told that Cathy Zoi, a former chief of staff for environmental policy at the Clinton White House, who since spent a decade as a regulator and an investor in Australia, has been hired to coordinate the effort. She couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
Should be a very interesting spring…