Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Jordan Cove Liquified Natural Gas Project: An Issue to Watch for in the Upcoming Oregon Gubernatorial Election

By Greg Hibbard, Energy Law Fellow

At the end of August, the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) placed another hurdle in
Governor Kate Brown
the way of the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas Project (Project). For those familiar with the issue, it may come as a surprise that the Project still has legs. The process for the Project began in 2004 and seemingly reached a failed conclusion in 2016 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refused to approve the requisite permits. However, the Project was revived after the election of President Trump. Within two months of the election, the primary corporate backer of the Project, Pembina Pipeline Corporation, filed a new application with FERC. Despite the recent resurgence, substantial obstacles still stand in the way before the project can come to fruition. Due to Pembina’s persistence and Oregon’s desire to be a leader in the green energy movement, this may become a hot issue in the upcoming race for Oregon governor.  

As a quick overview, the proposed Jordan Cove LNG project would construct a 229-mile pipeline from the city of Malin, Oregon to Jordan Cove in Coos Bay as a part of an overall scheme to establish an export terminal that would ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) overseas. The project would also include three 30-megawatt (MW) steam turbine generators. Overall, the pipeline and terminal would require a substantial investment of up to $10 billion. For more background information on the project, please see this article from Tarika Powell at the Sightline Institute.

Under Oregon law, an energy facility with the generating capacity of at least 25 MW must receive a site certificate from the Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC). A project may proceed without a site certificate if EFSC grants an exemption pursuant to the applicable statutes and regulations. Most relevant to the Project, EFSC may grant an exemption for a “high efficiency cogeneration facility.” This exemption covers energy facilities, other than coal or nuclear plants, which sequentially produce “electrical and useful thermal energy from the same fuel source” and have specified electric generating capacities and heating values.

The Jordan Cove Project applied for a site certificate exemption in June 2018. By the end of August, ODOE staff recommended denying the application. While a staff recommendation is not controlling, it is a potential indicator of a final EFSC ruling. In response, the Project notified ODOE on September 12 that it would be submitting an amended application for a site certificate exemption.  Subsequently, the meeting at which EFSC was intended to make a ruling was canceled.  

Whether the Project will obtain an exemption from the site certificate requirement or go through the full certification process remains to be seen. However, the Project continues to follow the requisite state and federal processes. (An abbreviated timeline of state actions and information on relevant public comment periods is available on ODOE’s Jordan Cove Project webpage). In terms of the federal process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced that it anticipates issuing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in February 2019 and a final EIS by August 30, 2019.

As the fight over the Project continues, it should be an interesting issue to track in the upcoming November elections. Not surprisingly, the Project is highly polarizing, receiving support from trade unions and opposition from environmentalists. As Governor Kate Brown seeks election for her first full term as governor, she remains relatively quiet on the issue. Her office claims that due to the federalism issues at play, she would have no legitimate authority over approval of the project as governor. On the other hand, Governor Brown’s republican opponent, Knute Buehler, is strongly in support of the Project.

Regardless of the legal realities behind the Project, the Governor’s neutral position on Jordan Cove is inconsistent with Oregon’s recent efforts to be a leader in the fight against climate change. The first comprehensive analysis of the potential climate impact of the Project led one senior research analyst to conclude that the Project will “undermine the clean energy transition.” The same report also found that the Project “would make it impossible to achieve… Governor Kate Brown’s goal to have Oregon’s climate reductions line up with the targets of the Paris Accords.” Therefore, Governor Brown is potentially risking her climate reputation as she remains neutral on the Project.

Those interested in Governor Brown’s climate change objectives should keep an eye on the upcoming gubernatorial debates. At the time this post was published, the candidates had agreed to three debates within the span of eight days in October. The candidates will debate in Portland on October 2 and October 9. The final debate will take place on November 4 in Medford. This blog will continue to track the progress of the Project and may report on relevant actions or decisions in the future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Reforming Oregon’s Electricity Regulatory Framework: An Ongoing Process

By Natascha Smith, Energy Law Fellow

It’s an exciting time for electricity regulation in Oregon. Under the direction of SB 978, which was passed by the state legislature in 2017, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) is engaging electricity stakeholders, including the general public, to investigate how developing industry trends, technologies, and policy drivers may impact the existing electricity regulatory system. SB 978 does little to restrict the scope of changes the PUC can consider in potentially reforming the regulatory framework applied to electricity in Oregon. Now is the time to place all options on the table and contemplate what changes will help Oregon meet its current electricity goals while allowing room to adapt to changing technologies and policy concerns.

On March 21, stakeholders attended a meeting convened by the PUC in Salem to discuss the state of Oregon’s electricity regulatory system. This was the second of six meetings convened by the PUC, which will ultimately culminate with a report from the PUC to the legislature later this year. At the March meeting, participants were split into groups representing customers, generation and service providers, investor-owned electric utilities, environmental concerns, equity and environmental justice, and the PUC Staff. Each stakeholder group in turn gave presentations responding to questions posed by the PUC about how the current regulatory process worked for their group, what challenges they saw, and what might be missing from the current regulatory structure. While all groups agreed that the current system ensures Oregonians have access to safe and reliable power, each group had unique thoughts on where the system has room for improvement. The stakeholder groups went on to identify areas of consensus and disagreement regarding the effectiveness of the current system at addressing specific areas of concern, such as facilitating competition and promoting environmental objectives.

Despite the technical jargon involved, this review of the electricity regulatory system is a public process. The review calls on all Oregonians to consider whether the current regulatory process achieves the goals important to us, and if not, how we can effectively incentivize the changes we want to see. The public can contribute to this process by attending PUC meetings on SB 978 or by submitting comments via email. If you’re simply interested in seeing how the meetings are conducted or what ideas different stakeholder groups bring to the table, the meetings are available to watch on the PUC website.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Solar Tariff Case Throws Shade on Growing Solar Industry: Part III

Last week, just before signing the legislation to end the government shutdown, the Trump Administration announced that the President had approved 30% tariffs on imported crystalline silicone photovoltaic (CSPV) modules and cells. As discussed in an earlier post, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) had proposed a range of remedies in response to a trade dispute brought two by U.S. solar cell manufacturers. All the ITC’s proposed remedies were below the statutory maximum of 50% sought by Suniva and SolarWorld.
Department of Energy
The President’s imposed tariffs align most closely with the recommendations of ITC Commissioners David S. Johanson and Irving A. Williamson. The President adopted the Commissioners’ recommended 30% ad valorem tariffs on imported CSPV cells and modules that decreases by five percentage points per year. However, there are two aspects of the President’s tariffs that diverge from those recommendations that are worth highlighting.
First, the President doubled the quota of imported CSPV cells exempted from the tariffs. Commissioners Johanson and Williamson had recommended that an average of 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of CSPV cells be exempted from the tariffs each year. The President’s tariffs exempt 2.5 GW of imported CSPV cells each year. The increased quota should lessen the blow to the U.S. solar industry—slightly. This is an area where ITC Commissioner Meredith M. Broadbent departed from her colleagues. Commissioner Broadbent was the only ITC commissioner to propose a tariff-exempt quota for imported CSPV modules in addition to cells. By exempting only CSPV cells, the tariff appears to encourage some amount of module assembly in the United States.
Second, the President’s tariffs apply to the broadest number of countries possible. While all four members of the ITC recommended that tariffs be imposed on CSPV cells and modules imported from South Korea and Mexico, a majority of the commissioners recommended that Canada not be included in the tariffs. Nevertheless, the President did not exclude Canada from the tariffs. In addition to Canada, the President’s tariffs also apply to CSPV cells and modules imported from Thailand and the Philippines.
While the President’s tariffs will likely cause numerous job losses—the Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that 23,000 solar-related jobs will be lost in the United States as a result of decreased demand for CSPV installations due to the expected increase in CSPV prices occasioned by the tariffs—the outcome could have been much worse. For example, the President’s tariff on residential washing machines, announced at the same time as the CSPV tariff, exceeded the harshest recommendations made by the ITC.
At this point, the precise effects of the tariffs on the U.S. solar market are uncertain. However, negative effects are likely to be more pronounced on commercial solar projects where CSPV modules make up a greater share of project costs. In addition, there is still a great deal of uncertainty with regards to the implementation of the tariffs. For example, how will the quota of tariff-exempt CSPV be allocated, how will the Administration deal with the possibility that production may move to countries (e.g., India and Turkey) currently exempt from the tariffs? Finally, what will the World Trade Organization do with complaints regarding the Administration’s tariffs? All of this uncertainty casts a long shadow on the potential growth of U.S. solar capacity.

Friday, January 26, 2018

FERC Rejects Rick Perry’s Directive to Subsidize Uneconomical Power Plants—and Presents Diverging Visions for the Future of the U.S. Energy System

By Amelia Schlusser, Staff Attorney

Last October, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry submitted a Proposed Rule on Grid Reliability and Resilience Pricing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Proposed Rule directed FERC to impose new rules on the organizations responsible for managing the nation’s competitive wholesale power markets. These new rules were required ensure that certain coal and nuclear power plants received premium rates for the electricity they sold and ensure that the plants’ owners fully recovered their costs and earned a guaranteed profit on their capital investments. In late October, GEI submitted comments to FERC, urging the Commission to reject Secretary Perry’s proposal. GEI argued that the Proposed Rule violated section 206 of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. § 824e(a)), which mandates that all wholesale electricity rates must be “just and reasonable” and prohibits FERC from approving rates that are unduly preferential or discriminatory. On January 8, FERC officially rejected the Secretary’s directive and terminated the rulemaking proceeding it had initiated in response to the Proposed Rule. In its Order, FERC agreed that the Proposed Rule would establish rates that were not “just and reasonable” and would grant preferential treatment to eligible coal and nuclear generators while unduly discriminating against other resources, such as wind power, that also provide reliability benefits to the grid.

FERC’s five commissioners all voted to reject the Proposed Rule. While FERC’s legal obligations and internal policies strongly supported this outcome, the unanimous decision was still a notable accomplishment given that four of the five commissioners were appointed by President Trump. Commissioners LaFleur, Chatterjee, and Glick each issued concurring opinions that provided additional insight into the commissioners’ individual views and motivations for rejecting the proposal. More significantly, the concurrences revealed a fundamental divide between the concurring commissioners’ visions for the future of the U.S. energy system.

Perry's Proposal: Bail Out Uneconomical Power Plants

 Secretary Perry’s proposed rule directed FERC to issue new rules for the Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators (RTOs/ISOs) that oversee the competitive wholesale energy markets operating in certain regions of the United States. Under these new rules, RTOs/ISOs would be required to adopt new rates for electricity produced by coal and nuclear power plants that maintain a 90-day supply of fuel on-site. These rates were required to ensure that eligible coal and nuclear plants fully recovered all of their costs and earned an additional profit on their capital investments. Secretary Perry argued that these artificially inflated rates were necessary to prevent coal and nuclear plants from retiring prematurely. The preamble to the proposed rule asserted that such anti-competitive intervention was necessary because market rates fail to adequately compensate coal and nuclear plants for the reliability benefits they provide.

The Green Energy Institute’s Comments

In our comments opposing the proposed rule, GEI argued that Secretary Perry’s directive violated the Federal Power Act’s (FPA) mandate that all wholesale electricity rates must be “just and reasonable” and not unduly discriminatory or preferential. GEI argued that the proposed rule would give a limited pool of market participants—eligible coal and nuclear power plants—a competitive advantage over other market participants and would discriminate against other types of generating resources selling power into the market. GEI also argued that the Proposed Rule awarded preferential treatment to coal and nuclear power plants due to arbitrary reliability and resiliency attributes, yet refused to grant the same treatment to other resources, such as wind energy and demand response, that have been shown to support grid reliability and resiliency.

FERC’s Order Rejecting the Proposed Rule

FERC’s Order rejecting the Proposed Rule presented many of the same arguments that GEI had raised in our comments. Notably, FERC asserted that Secretary Perry had failed to show that existing market rates were not “just and reasonable” under the FPA and had failed to demonstrate that the proposed rate structure would comply with the FPA’s legal standards. FERC also argued that the proposed rule would grant undue preference to eligible coal and nuclear resources while denying the same rates to other resources with demonstrated reliability and resilience attributes.

In addition to identifying the Proposed Rule’s legal deficiencies under the FPA, FERC’s Order discussed some of the broader policy implications associated with the Secretary’s proposal. The Commission explained that the electricity sector has evolved significantly over the past fifty years, during which time many regions have shifted away from the traditional regulated monopoly structure of the early twentieth century in favor of competitive electricity markets. FERC emphasized its long-standing support for the creation and expansion of regional electricity markets and its “pro-market” approach to regulating electricity producers participating in competitive wholesale markets. The Commission acknowledged that competitive market pressures may force some uneconomical generating resources to retire earlier than anticipated, but it also recognized that emerging energy technologies, such as renewable energy and demand response resources, have a roll to play in the modern and evolving energy system of the twenty-first century.

While FERC’s Order expressly declined to comply with Secretary Perry’s rulemaking directive, it also stated that maintaining grid resiliency in the midst of the energy transition is one of its key priorities. To further this objective, FERC announced that it was initiating a new proceeding to evaluate grid resilience in competitive wholesale markets operated by RTOs/ISOs.

FERC’s Order carefully laid out the legal and policy justifications for refusing to comply with Secretary Perry’s Proposed Rule. While the Commission’s decision was unanimous, three commissioners chose to issue concurring opinions to emphasize their personal justifications for denying the Secretary’s request. These strongly worded concurrences provided additional insight into the commissioners’ diverse political views and motivations.

Commissioner LaFleur: FERC should “focus its efforts not on slowing the transition from the past but on easing the transition to the future.”

Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur issued a concurring opinion to reflect her view that FERC should focus on mitigating challenges associated with the energy transition, rather than impeding the evolution of the energy sector. LaFleur acknowledged that technological advancements within the energy sector are transforming the composition of the nation’s energy mix, but noted that this is not an unprecedented transition. The nation’s energy system has been evolving for more than a century, and markets and regulatory frameworks have continuously adapted to maintain reliability within the system. In contrast to Secretary Perry’s tenuous assertions in the Proposed Rule, LaFleur argued that competitive market forces should enable newer, more efficient technologies to replace older, outdated technologies; competition encourages the electricity system to adapt and weed out uneconomical resources that no longer provide a benefit to consumers. If aging coal and nuclear plants are unable to compete against new resources, FERC must accept that the older plants are no longer the most efficient, cost-effective generating resources. The Commission should not attempt to intervene and prop up these facilities by imposing anti-competitive mechanisms.

LaFleur recognized that rapid shifts in the resource mix could potentially impact grid reliability at some point and acknowledged that future resilience impacts could necessitate regulatory intervention. However, LaFleur argued that if this occurs, FERC should employ its traditional approach to addressing reliability challenges. The Commission’s tried-and-true approach focuses on identifying an objective need for action and developing an evidence-based solution to satisfy that need. LaFleur criticized the Secretary’s Proposed Rule for failing to conduct such an analysis. Instead, the Secretary “presumed a resilience need and proposed a far-reaching out-of-market approach to ‘solve’ it.” In doing so, Secretary Perry “sought to freeze yesterday’s resources in place indefinitely,” rather than identify an adaptable strategy to maintain reliability and resilience as the energy mix continues to evolve. In other words, the Proposed Rule fabricated a problem in order to implement a pre-determined “solution” designed to distort the market.

Commissioner Chatterjee: FERC should take action to protect grid resilience “amidst tremendous changes in our generation resource mix.”

Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s concurring opinion set a starkly different tone from Commissioner LaFleur’s concurrence. Chatterjee began by “applaud[ing] Secretary Perry’s bold leadership” in drawing attention to the “urgent challenge” of ensuring grid resiliency. According to Chatterjee, “rapid, unprecedented changes in our generation resource mix”—characterized by increased deployment of natural gas, wind, and solar energy resources and the retirement of coal and nuclear resources—could potentially create near-term resiliency challenges for the grid.

In Chatterjee’s opinion, increases in renewable energy generation and “the fast evolving national security threat environment” are somehow exposing coal and nuclear plant operators to a “spectrum” of fuel supply risks. (As an example of such fuel supply risks, Chatterjee cites the inability of natural gas generating resources to control risks associated with pipelines and gas wells. He does not provide an example of comparable risks facing coal and nuclear plants.) According to Chatterjee, because RTOs/ISOs are not required to mitigate these vague fuel supply risks, current market rates may not adequately compensate coal and nuclear plants that take action to mitigate their risk exposure. Therefore, Chatterjee argued that FERC should have instructed each RTO/ISO to provide additional compensation to coal and nuclear plants that are at near-term risk of retirement and require any RTO/ISO that declines to provide higher rates to “show cause” for its decision. 

Here is my interpretation of Chatterjee’s argument: 1) coal and nuclear plants require a constant supply of fuel; 2) fuel shipments can occasionally be disrupted due to shifts in the generation mix and undefined national security threats; 3) because RTOs/ISOs are not obligated to mitigate these supply disruptions, coal and nuclear plants incur additional expenses to safeguard their fuel deliveries; and 4) because renewable resources do not incur these extra costs, consumers should pay more for electricity produced by coal and nuclear plants.

While this proposed remedy seems to blatantly conflict with free-market principles, Chatterjee insisted that he shares FERC’s “preference for market-based solutions.” He therefore would encourage RTOs/ISOs to “identify market mechanisms” to address the unjust compensation discrepancy. However, Chatterjee also noted that certain circumstances justify other forms of regulatory intervention—such as providing additional out-of-market payments to certain resources—but that these mechanisms should only be used as a last resort. Chatterjee expressed his disappointment that FERC’s Order did not proactively address the compensation issue, but conceded that the Order represented “a positive step forward” in addressing grid reliability issues.

Commissioner Glick: The Proposed Rule aimed to subsidize uncompetitive facilities, not promote grid reliability and resilience. 

In the Order’s final concurring opinion, Commissioner Richard Glick quickly voiced his belief that Secretary Perry’s proposal was primarily designed to subsidize uncompetitive coal and nuclear plants, and any resiliency concerns the Secretary may have considered were secondary at best. Glick echoed Commissioner LaFleur’s assertion that efforts to promote resiliency must consider and adapt to the evolving energy sector, rather than aim to preserve the status quo.

Glick stated that the Proposed Rule had failed to identify a need “to interfere with the continued evolution of the bulk power system.” He noted that the Department of Energy’s own research concluded that coal and nuclear retirements have not threatened reliability or resiliency and found that increases in renewable energy, energy storage, and demand response have supported grid resiliency.

Moreover, Glick argued, Perry’s proposed solution—to give coal and nuclear plant owners billions of dollars to keep uneconomical facilities online—would do little, if anything, to improve resiliency within the system. Many of the Proposed Rule’s “eligible” coal and nuclear plants have experienced operating failures during extreme weather events. If Perry was truly concerned with protecting grid reliability, the Proposed Rule should have focused on improving regional transmission and distribution systems, which are responsible for “virtually all significant disruptions” on the grid.

Diverging Visions for the Future of the U.S. Energy System

The three concurring opinions reflected a fundamental divide in the FERC Commissioners’ views on the modernization of the U.S. energy system. The concurrences written by Commissioners LaFleur and Glick, the only Democrats on the Commission, promoted the energy transition as an opportunity to improve the bulk power system. Commissioner Chatterjee’s concurrence, on the other hand, presented the same fearful vision of the future reflected in Secretary Perry’s Proposed Rule. Chatterjee and Perry both appeared to view the energy transition as a threat to entrenched corporate interests and thus aim to impede or prevent modernization of the energy sector. These divergent visions for the future of the U.S. energy system are not confined to FERC. The energy transition has become a contentious political issue in the United States, and the divide between the parties’ opposing visions for the future has grown increasingly pronounced since the Trump Administration took office. In its recent Order, however, the Commissioners’ diverging visions for the future did not prevent FERC from reaching consensus on the need to avoid interfering with competitive market forces.

Commissioner LaFleur—the lone Obama appointee on the Commission—presented an optimistic vision of our energy future, a vision in which competitive forces spur technological and operational innovations that will enable the electricity sector to modernize without compromising reliability or resilience. Under LaFleur’s vision, regulators should help facilitate the energy transition by providing guidance and assistance to grid operators, and should only impose out-of-market controls where absolutely necessary to maintain reliability within the system.

Commissioner Glick—a Democrat appointed by President Trump—echoed LaFleur’s optimism regarding the energy transition, though he went a step further by recognizing climate change as an additional impetus for transitioning the energy sector away from coal power. From a reliability standpoint, Glick was adamant that reliability services should be compensated on a technologically neutral basis. However, he also emphasized the need to consider the advantages that emerging technologies may provide in supporting reliability and resilience.

Commissioner Chatterjee—a Republican Trump appointee and the former energy policy advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell—presented a decidedly less optimistic view for the future. Chatterjee viewed the diversification of the U.S. energy mix as a threat that must be preemptively confronted. He supported subsidizing uneconomical coal and nuclear plants based on his belief that market rates undercompensate these facilities. He asserted that regulatory intervention is likely justified to prevent these plants from retiring. In other words, Chatterjee advocated for a future that looks remarkably like the past.

These diverging visions have tremendous implications for the future of the U.S. energy system. For much of the twentieth century, the electricity sector relied on the same general technologies to produce electricity and deliver it to customers. Reliable delivery of low-cost electricity was (and still is) the industry’s primary objective, and innovation and technological advancement were secondary considerations at best. This dynamic has started to shift over the past few decades. Renewable energy technologies have advanced at a rapid pace and are now the least-cost resource in some areas. Energy storage technologies are quickly advancing as well. The way in which we manage and operate the grid has also evolved. So far, the energy transition has created jobs, reduced energy costs, and made the human and natural environments cleaner and safer for all Americans.

The Trump Administration is now actively trying to impede and reverse the progress and advancements the country has achieved in recent decades. At the behest of the fossil fuel industry leaders, the Administration has taken steps to weaken environmental regulations, open up public land to mining and drilling, and discourage renewable energy development. Trump has made it his mission to revive the energy system of fifty years ago, and his Energy Secretary is making a concerted effort to achieve this goal. 

Thankfully, FERC unanimously rejected Perry’s directive to bail out uncompetitive coal and nuclear plants. The Commission’s decision provided a welcome, if somewhat unexpected, reminder that the rule of law still governs in the executive branch. In such a divisive political climate, it is reassuring to see federal regulators set aside their political differences and support the interests of the American public, rather than political donors. Within an administration intent on de-modernizing the energy system, FERC has provided a loud and clear message: it will not be a pawn in the administration’s game.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

American Prosperity and the Role of Environmental Regulation: Part Two

By Natascha Smith, Energy Fellow

By Office of the President of the United States (https://twitter.com/VP/
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As we enter a new year, the Trump Administration has already taken steps to further erode environmental protections by opening up the continental shelf to oil and gas drilling. In considering the Trump Administration’s ongoing push to eliminate environmental protections, part one of this series looked at how the EPA and environmental regulations benefit the American people and economy. Part two explores why, given the benefits that environmental regulations provide, the Trump administration is pushing to eliminate crucial environmental protections, such as the Clean Power Plan.

Part II: the Trump Administration’s Push to Dismantle Federal Environmental Protections

After pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, it’s no secret that addressing climate change is not on President Trump’s to-do list. Trump has consistently ignored findings and recommendations of the world’s top scientists, turned a blind eye to the climate impacts we’re already experiencing, and unapologetically defended polluting industries while demonizing people working to protect the environment. Despite the fact that environmental regulations provide tangible benefits to the economy, the Trump administration continues to cling to the belief that protecting rich and powerful business interests is more important than protecting Americans from catastrophic climate change. The question is, why?

It’s no wonder that politicians turn a blind eye to scientific evidence when corporations spend millions in anti-climate lobbying and opposing science-based policies. Many corporations, hoping to delay or deter policies and regulations addressing climate change, attempt to influence the way American leaders and the public view climate change by using the same three-pronged approach made popular by Big Tobacco. First, corporations exaggerate the uncertainty surrounding climate-change; second, they fund think tanks engaged in spreading false or misleading scientific reports; and third, they provide financial contributions to politicians who openly deny that climate change is occurring.

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists evaluated the corporate influence of 28 major companies that chose to engage in climate policy through publicly commenting on EPA’s CO2 endangerment finding as well as making contributions to groups for or against state greenhouse gas reduction laws. The report showed that while each of these corporations claimed to be taking internal actions to reduce carbon emissions, half of those same companies “misrepresented some element of established climate science in their public communications.” If this seems like a mixed message, it is. Companies like Exxon Mobile are evenly affiliated with organizations that support climate science and organizations that misrepresent climate science. Exxon spends over $1,500,000 annually on political contributions; however, for every dollar it spends supporting efforts and politicians aiming to address climate change, it spends $10 on funding for efforts and politicians denying or misrepresenting climate change science.

Exxon certainly isn’t the only corporation guilty of trying to have things both ways. Investor-owned utilities have been aware of the dangers of climate change and the role that carbon dioxide emissions play as far back as 1968, when President Johnson’s science advisor addressed the annual convention of the Edison Electric Institute. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 50 electric utilities came together to research the long-term effects of CO2 on the planet and the electricity sector. While they acknowledged that there was a consensus that manmade CO2 emissions were changing the climate, they also realized that reducing reliance on fossil fuels could have serious financial repercussions for the electric sector. So taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, the utilities decided to contest and undermine climate change science and spread misinformation to the public.

In 2016, more than a dozen state attorneys general announced they were commencing investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled the public about the risks of climate change. Despite efforts to rein in corporate attempts to disseminate inaccurate or misleading information, and aware of the threats their business practices present to the planet, major fossil fuel companies and special interest groups are still working to block efforts to reduce carbon pollution. It will likely take years to fully understand the effect of these corporate actions.

Given the urgency of global climate change, there simply is not time to wait for special interests and lobbying groups to share the full story. It is up to the public to support policies and representatives who will advocate for climate change regulation. It’s time for the voice of our citizens, concerned with the health of our people and planet, to drown out the voice of corporations, because the truth is that Trump is only listening to those speaking the loudest.

With corporations spending millions to influence the rollback of environmental regulations, we have a lot to lose. Part III of this series will examine the progress that has been made on rolling-back environmental regulations and what impacts can we anticipate if the Trump administration succeeds in significantly eliminating environmental protections.