Monday, June 2, 2014
by Regina Cline
Personal liability that corporate leaders could face if they are involved in denying climate change was the top story in Energy and Climate Report for the week ending May 30. Other top stories covered an Environmental Protection Agency report on the continuing rise of greenhouse gas emissions, a White House claim that the EPA's proposed carbon rule for existing power plants will help the economy, President Barack Obama's climate change legacy, and American Electric Power Co. warning that power plants will be shut down as a result of the rule.
1. NGOs Warn Energy, Cement Companies of Potential Liability Over Climate Advocacy
As covered in this story, a group of nongovernmental organizations is warning executives of major investor-owned fossil fuel companies that they could face personal liability if they are found to have been involved in funding climate denial or opposing policies to fight climate change.
Greenpeace International, World Wildlife Fund and the Center for International Environmental Law asked the executives of 32 energy and cement companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, whether they were prepared to face liability questions based on their involvement in the climate debate.
“The corporations who share the majority of responsibility for the estimated global industrial emissions of [carbon dioxide] and methane over the past 150 years may have been or may be working to defeat action on climate change and clean energy by funding climate denial and disseminating false or misleading information on climate risks,” the groups said in letters sent May 28.
The companies' involvement in such efforts could pose a liability risk to directors and officers personally, the letters said. The groups sent similar letters to about 45 insurance companies that cover these executives against personal liability.
2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Warming Trend Rising, EPA Says in Climate Indicators Report
As detailed in this story, global emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities increased 35 percent between 1990 and 2010, the EPA said in a report tracking indicators of climate change.
Emissions of carbon dioxide, which account for nearly 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, increased by 42 percent during that period, the EPA said in the report, “Climate Change Indicators in the United States, 2014.”
In the U.S., total greenhouse gas emissions increased by 5 percent between 1990 and 2012. However, emissions have decreased by 10 percent since 2005, it said. The warming effect caused by greenhouse gas emissions increased by 34 percent between 1990 and 2013, the report said.
Average temperatures in the 48 contiguous states have risen since 1901, according to the report. Temperatures have risen at a faster rate during the past 30 years with seven of the 10 warmest years on record occurring since 1998. The greatest temperature increases were seen in the North, West and Alaska.
3. EPA Power Plant Rules Will Have Substantial Net Benefit, Podesta Says
Remarks by White House counselor John Podesta are covered in this story in which he said the “net benefits” of the EPA's regulations to restrict carbon pollution from existing power plants will be “quite substantial.”
His remarks came as the White House released a report May 29 lauding the economic and job growth that has occurred from a U.S. boom in oil and natural gas production, largely seen as an effort to anticipate issues raised in opposition to the proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
“We think from an economic perspective, the rule is going to be good at spurring the trends that we've identified in this report: more efficiency, more use of cleaner sources of electricity generation and more work for people building and installing that kind of equipment,” Podesta said.
4. Obama Seeks Climate Change Legacy; Second Term Marked by Greater Urgency
This feature story covers actions by President Obama, especially during his second term, that are building his legacy for combatting climate change.
For example, he gave one simple directive last year when reviewing ideas by aides for tackling climate change: “Don't skinny it down.”
They didn't, and under Obama's directive, the EPA is proposing new carbon dioxide emissions limits for existing power plants. That comes atop the unveiling of a National Climate Assessment in May and executive actions, including promoting renewable fuels and building better defenses against extreme weather.
Obama downplayed climate change in his first term after a 2010 legislative defeat and now is seeking to secure his legacy on climate issues before his presidency comes to a close, say current and former aides who asked for anonymity to describe their meetings with him.
©2014 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
5. American Electric Power Sees Plant Closures Under Obama Greenhouse Gas Emission Plan
As covered in this story, American Electric Power Co., the top U.S. coal-burning power plant operator, expects to be challenged and to shut some of its largest units if the Obama administration proposes a 25 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions. [Note: on June 2, the EPA proposed a 30 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2030.]
The company would likely have to retire plants that can't be relied on to deliver electricity, Chief Executive Officer Nick Akins said May 28 in an interview. “We would see that as a particular challenge,” Akins said at Bloomberg's headquarters in New York, adding that such a target would be “very aggressive.”
American Electric Power has reduced carbon emissions from its plants 21 percent since 2005 by closing older coal units and replacing them with natural gas-fueled generators, Akins said.
The rules, a core part of President Obama's plan to fight climate change, could cost the U.S. economy $50 billion a year by forcing more than a third of the coal-fired power capacity to close by 2030 and eliminate 224,000 jobs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said May 28.
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