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Corporate opposition tanks effort to have EPA review greenhouse gas authority

Opposition from major electric utility groups, Exxon Mobil Corp., Pfizer Inc., UPS Inc., Chevron Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. ultimately defeated a motion before the American Legislative Exchange Council calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review its "flawed" finding that carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare. That finding is an important one because it is the foundation of the agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The resolution was presented at American Legislative Exchange Council's, or ALEC's, ongoing meetings in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 6 and faced significant headwinds from companies that were not keen to relitigate the EPA's authority to address climate change. The motion was ultimately withdrawn later in the day, according to Edison Electric Institute spokesman Jeff Ostermayer.

ALEC describes itself as the largest, nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. Members include nearly one-quarter of the country's state legislators and stakeholders from "across the policy spectrum," the group claims.

But ALEC has faced backlash for its source of funding and for previously backing efforts to undo greenhouse gas regulations and other policies. The Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch describes ALEC as a powerful "corporate bill mill," where corporations can present "model" legislation, essentially "wishlists" for policy changes to be introduced across the country.

A Dec. 5 letter signed by the Edison Electric Institute, Chevron, Honeywell, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and UPS asserted that rescinding the endangerment finding, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would cause uncertainty and force the EPA to develop "a scientific record directly contrary to what already has been established and litigated." They further asserted that developing such a record would distract from the agency's other priorities.

Many companies signing on to the letter instead support the EPA's ongoing efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a controversial rule issued by the Obama administration in 2015 that would have forced existing fossil fuel power plants to cut carbon emissions. The Trump administration has proposed to repeal that rule, and will soon be commencing a process to accept feedback on a possible replacement.

Instead of reopening the endangerment finding, the companies urged the EPA to craft a replacement rule that would set out clear guidelines for existing power plants that reflects a source-based, "inside-the-fenceline" approach. In other words, the companies would like a rule that mandates changes that can be made to a physical power plant unit, rather than broader options such as carbon trading or switching to low- or nonemitting power generation.

Other nonpower industry companies signing on to the letter expressed concern that an effort to overturn the endangerment finding could negatively impact products they have been created in the U.S. in response to the finding. Should the EPA proceed with a review of the endangerment finding, or ultimately choose to seek its repeal, the companies predict that such action would be "challenged vigorously in court by environmental groups and other stakeholders, leading to protracted litigation."

If the endangerment finding is overturned, all of the companies would be exposed to tort and nuisance suits brought by citizens and states, which ultimately led to EPA making the endangerment finding.

"Attempting to rescind the endangerment findings would be a return to this untenable state of affairs," the letter stated. "While the [Clean Air Act] is far from the perfect tool for regulating [greenhouse gases], it is preferable to protracted legal battles and to the potential patchwork of judicial and regulatory outcomes."

Accordingly, the letter urges ALEC members to vote no.

Exxon Mobil separately opposed the motion, The Hill reported Dec. 5. In a letter sent Dec. 4, the company reasserted its opposition to the resolution and said it would have voted against the motion if it had appeared before one of ALEC's boards.

Steve Milloy, a former member of the Trump administration's transition team and self-described climate change denier, announced via Twitter on Dec. 5 that he would be making the presentation to ALEC in favor of repealing the endangerment finding. He later slammed the companies for opposing the motion and said they merely threatened to withdraw their funds from ALEC without offering a meaningful rebuttal.