The Clean Power Plan has friends in high places. Lots of friends, apparently.
On Friday, three separate amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's strategies for cutting carbon emissions from power plants. The submissions are only the latest development in what appears to be a drawing of sides over the federal government's effort to implement its national Clean Power Plan and the belief that climate change "poses ... economic and social risk" for U.S. companies at large.
The EPA's efforts to kickstart the program were temporarily halted in February after more than two dozen states, along with utility and coal companies, filed a legal challenge to the rule. Since then, a broad spectrum of organizations and public figures have stepped forward to express their support for the plan.
The largest amici submission last week came from Congress. In an act that seems to defy the last eight years of remarkable political stalemates, more than 200 present and former lawmakers joined together to express their support for the Clean Power Plan. The supporters, who included Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), argued that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate air pollution. The proposed plan, they insist, complies with the intent of the Clean Air Act and therefore should be implemented.
To vacate not implement the Clean Power Plan, they argue, "would critically undermine not only the nation’s fight against air pollution, but also the statutory scheme that Congress put in place when it enacted the [Clean Air Act]. This Court should uphold the rule."
The amici submissions also included a 35-page statement by four of the country's largest tech companies, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. The "Tech Amici," as they called themselves, outlines reasons why a set of national policies that work toward reducing carbon emissions in the power sector is a good idea.
"[Delaying] action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment," the brief states.
The tech amici brief also took steps to address some of the assertions that were put forth in the original legal challenge to the plan. Responding to the the litigants' statement that the Clean Power Plan would be costly and prohibitive to businesses, the companies outlined four key benefits they have already gained from their years of supporting renewable energy in their own workplaces: "low, stable marginal costs;" on-site resilience; power expenditures that are "at or below the cost of fossil fuel-generated power sources;" and a supportive customer base that not only agrees with these values, but also wants to do business with eco-minded companies.
"Tech Amici have found that investors increasingly want to know what businesses are doing to use more clean energy, and often evaluate companies with reference to widely-cited sustainability ratings," the companies add. "In short, Tech Amici have found that increasing the use of renewable energy is good for the environment and good for business."
Also speaking up on behalf of the Clean Power Plan was a consortium of businesses that, over the past few years, have made their own individual efforts to increase sustainable practices in their operations. Mars, Adobe, Ikea North America and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (the Amici Companies) say they "view the Clean Power Plan and its emissions reduction program as a component of their domestic and international business risk mitigation strategies."
Without a national clean power strategy aimed at reducing the climate impact of carbon emissions, the Amici Companies assert, "the economic risks faced by domestic businesses [will be] staggering. Companies currently are facing and will face future damage to corporate property and infrastructure stemming from rising sea levels and increased intense weather events."
The brief also aligns the goals of the Clean Power Plan with those of the recent COP21 climate talks, by pointing out that many of the risks faced by businesses were highlighted at the Paris conference as a potential offshoot of climate change. Supply chain vulnerability, reduced access to financing, property, infrastructure and insurance risk exposure, as well as the health and welfare of labor supplies, are all potential risks for businesses during natural disasters and other incidents brought about by climate change.
"The Amici Companies believe that the Clean Power Plan will help address the threat to the public health and welfare posed by harmful emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants," the brief concludes. "[The] Amici Companies support complete and swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan to protect the public health and welfare."
It will be interesting to see whether further groups step up in support of the EPA's Clean Power Plan. With oral arguments not scheduled until June 2, and both sides appealing for an ear to their case, this debate appears to be far from over. But with more companies and cities voluntarily opting for renewable energy, it may be hard for opponents of the plan to find a cost-effective footing for their argument. Time will tell.
Image credit: Flickr/Emily Mathews
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.