Industry opposition leads ALEC to withdraw anti-climate resolution

Right-wing lobbying group fails to pass resolution targeting EPA finding.

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council withdrew a controversial resolution calling for the EPA's Endangerment Finding to be overturned. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council withdrew a controversial resolution calling for the EPA's Endangerment Finding to be overturned. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A secretive right-wing lobbying group failed to pass a resolution this week that called upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are endangering the planet.

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force discussed the resolution at a summit in Nashville on Wednesday. Its backers wanted to send a strong message that they oppose the EPA’s so-called Endangerment Finding, which essentially compels the agency to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

In a surprise move, Connecticut state Rep. John Piscopo (R) withdrew the measure after members of the task force expressed disapproval, E&E News reporter Zack Coleman, who attended the summit, reported Thursday.

“The final decision on this issue will be made by the Trump administration,” Piscopo and Bette Grande, a research fellow at the anti-science think tank Heartland Institute, told members of the task force, in an email message.

The resolution stated that President Donald Trump and members of his administration have consistently argued regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act is unnecessary, ineffective, and economically destructive. “So long as the endangerment finding remains in place, efforts to roll back unnecessary environmental regulations adopted in the name of fighting global warming will likely fail,” the resolution read.

Most of ALEC’s revenue comes from corporations and corporate foundations, including those associated with petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, rather than legislative dues. ALEC, known as a “corporate bill mill,” has long promoted climate change denial to state legislators, and promotes a legislative agenda of “model” bills designed to protect the interests of its oil, gas, and coal funders.

But ALEC’s proposed resolution this week proved surprisingly controversial. Several major energy industry players and other corporate giants also expressed concerns with it.

In a letter sent to the task force on Tuesday, a group of trade associations and companies urged the task force to reject the resolution. Repealing the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon, they argued, could have an unintended legal consequence: it would reopen the path to forcing climate action through federal common law claims, making utilities and fossil fuel companies vulnerable to legal action at both the state and federal level.

“Even if the Endangerment Findings are overturned, industry would be broadly exposed to tort and nuisance suits brought by citizens and states — as we were prior to EPA regulation of [greenhouse gases],” the letter said. “Attempting to rescind the Endangerment Findings would be a return to this untenable state of affairs.”

The EPA’s issuance of the Endangerment Finding followed the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. This law, the court said, obligates the EPA to curb pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, including by contributing to climate change. Using this authority, the EPA, under the Obama administration, released the Clean Power Plan, a rule that would curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

In October, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan. The agency held a public hearing on the proposed repeal last week in Charleston, West Virginia; it also outlined its plans to hold three additional hearings on the proposed repeal in San Francisco, Kansas City, and Gillette, Wyoming in the coming days.

The authors of Tuesday’s letter also said they would prefer that the Trump administration move forward with a replacement to the Clean Power Plan rather than go after the Endangerment Finding. A legally defensible rule that recognizes states “have a lead role in implementation would provide certainty for industry”, they said.

The letter was signed by the Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade association for investor-owned electric utilities; the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Chevron; Honeywell; and UPS.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the country’s largest oil and natural gas company and a member of the ALEC task force, has also come out against ALEC’s resolution, The Hill reported Tuesday. “As has been previously communicated to ALEC, we are concerned by the language of the resolution, especially relating to climate science, and do not support the resolution,” Kenneth Freeman, ExxonMobil’s manager of United States government relations, wrote in a letter to the ALEC task force on Monday.

More than 100 hundred companies and nonprofit organizations, including Microsoft, Google, General Motors, and Ford Motor Co., have cut ties with ALEC in recent years over the organization’s right-wing political stances. Some companies have canceled their memberships over the group’s mission to fight policies that cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy.

“This result is disappointing, but not surprising. Big corporations like ExxonMobil and trade groups like EEI have long been members of the discredited and anti-energy global warming movement,” Tim Huelskamp, president of the Heartland Institute, said in a Thursday statement. “They’ve put their profits and ‘green’ virtue signaling above sound science and the interests of their customers.”

According to Huelskamp, action to repeal the Endangerment Finding will continue to take place at the federal level. The EPA’s Pruitt has rejected “unscientific alarmism” and “embraced sound science,” he said. “We are optimistic that the self-serving regulatory capture and green preening of big corporations like ExxonMobil may delay but will not prevent that step.”