President’s Clean Power Plan Attracts Business Support

Posted Aug. 5, 2015

MP3 Interview with Anne Kelly, director of the policy program at Ceres, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


President Obama's Aug. 3 release of the final version of his Clean Power Plan, calls for a more rapid transition away from coal than a draft plan made public a year ago. The final rule attempts to avoid what the White House called an "early rush to gas," and encouraged earlier adoption by states of renewable energy sources. The plan's stated goal is to have 28 percent of the nation's power produced by renewables by 2030, up from 22 percent in the draft plan.

Many environmentalists praised the plan, while others said it doesn't go nearly far enough, because scientists say 80 percent of existing fossil fuels must remain in the ground to prevent the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the level above which catastrophic changes will be inevitable. Climate activists say one obvious thing Obama could do is revoke permits his administration has granted for oil drilling in the Arctic.

Recognizing that the Clean Power Plan faces daunting political and legal challenges, Ceres, a non-profit group that works with companies and investors to promote sustainability, recruited 365 of its 1,500 member businesses and investors since June 2014 to sign a letter in support of the plan. Businesses, including Staples, Gap and Nestle reached out to the governors of 29 states in which they're headquartered, urging them to consider backing the plan. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Anne Kelly, senior director of the policy program at Ceres and director of BICEP, Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy. Here, she talks about corporate support for clean energy and the philosophy adopted by some that going green is good business.

ANNE KELLY: We have been developing supporters and developing support for the Clean Power Plan since the original announcement of the draft rules in June 2014. And for five years prior to that we'd been developing and really working with businesses who wanted to stand up for innovative climate and energy policy, and that's built into our name, BICEP. We also launched the Climate Declaration back in 2013, which enshrines the notion that tackling climate change is one of the greatest economic opportunities of ;the 21st century. That declaration has 1,500 businesses on it now, so we reached out to that group, as we have reached out to them several times over the last year for various advocacy opportunities. We specifically reached out to that group to say, you should get on and support the President's CCP. Our letters, by the way, are still open; we're still going to be gathering signatures as the months go on. I think some companies probably wanted to see the final plan before they could give their support, and yet it's notable that so many of them were quite willing to offer their support prior to even seeing the final version.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, it sounds like these businesses and investors are motivated by the chance to profit from a shift to clean energy, rather than from a moral or ethical perspective regarding climate change. That makes sense.

ANNE KELLY: Well, as you know, are letter says, from the companies, "Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality. Clean energy solutions are cost-effective in innovative ways to drive investment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions." So yes, companies recognize the economic realities. They recognize climate risk. Many of them have experienced climate risk. They've experienced the price volatility that comes from fossil fuels, which is very well known, and they understand the opportunity embedded in solving the climate crisis, so many of them have set public goals around their renewable energy purchases; they've set goals around greenhouse gas mitigations; they've set goals around energy efficiency. What they would like to have is the law to catch up with their own initiatives and innovation. And they recognize that the cost of inaction - the cost of waiting longer to tackle the problem - is much moretha trying to solve the problem now.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Anne Kelly, when the Clean Power Plan was first proposed, it was all about converting power plants from coal to fracked gas. And a lot of people were saying that moving from one fossil fuel to another is not great progress, especially since methane -- which is the main component of natural gas -- is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane leaks could make gas as bad for the climate as coal. That seems to be shifting somewhat. But I wonder, does Ceres have members who are part of the natural gas industry?

ANNE KELLY: We do not. We don't have any natural gas companies as corporate members or signers. We do interact with those companies all the time. We have a whole electric power team at Ceres that has many partners in that sector and we're certainly talking with them all the time and helping them to fully appreciate climate risk, and also, obviously we've done reports on the extreme water risk associated with fracking. So our position is pretty well known in that regard. In that sector you're really looking at the power providers. And you'll notice that our letter and much of our advocacy work is really centered around energy users and energy purchasers, so it's really two different sides of the coin.

But we have also heard - and we'll know much more when the final rules are truly out - but we have heard about a shift in emphasis in the plan to do a better job of encouraging renewable energy purchases, to encourage the development of renewables instead of as much natural gas. Now, we don't know the specifics on that, but I would say that is a provision we would definitely support and suggest that that is moving in the right direction.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, your strategy is to have the companies that signed the letter contact the governors of the states where they're headquartered to tell them of their support for the Clean Power Plan, is that right?

ANNE KELLY: Yes. Now the real work is going to go toward the states, and that's how the plan works. We felt it was important to have businesses and investors say to their governors, Look, we've got your backs, and we know this is a difficult job ahead, but we encourage you to move quickly with your state implementation plan, and to remember how important renewable energy and energy efficiency are, because they've been vital to each of these companies individually. And it really encourages the state energy officials that have the hard work now of rolling up their sleeves and figuring out how to make this work. Now the good news on that front - you may have seen the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists that many, many states are well along on the path to compliance. In fact, we believe that most of the states won't need the amount of compliance time they're actually going to get from the Clean Power Plan.

We sent a letter to 29 of the states, and many of them are mixed in terms of their expressed support for the Clean Power Plan. There's a range of opinions. But again, this is something that has to be looked at very carefully, because you might see a certain amount of top-line rhetoric from a state delegation that works in D.C. But when you really dig a little deeper and look at what the energy officials are actually doing and saying, you find that many of them are hard workers and working very hard on figuring out the specifics and the mechanics of how to comply with the plan. That's what's really happening on the ground, and that doesn't always make it into the news cycle.

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