Mix steel, oil, and chemical companies together with the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and you have a chunk of the financial backing behind the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which has just filed a petition challenging the U.S. EPA’ recent determination on greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
In challenging the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses, the Southeastern Legal Foundation joins the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a number of companies including Massey Energy (which includes mountaintop removal in its coal mining operations). Though these actions are taken against a government agency, they are also yet another indication that an epic battle of titanic proportions is brewing in the private sector, pitching old school fossil fuel industries against climate-conscious companies including Nike, Starbucks, Apple, and Exelon (the nation’s largest utility) – each of which has protested the Chamber’s position on global warming.
The U.S. EPA and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The petitions were filed to block last December’s EPA determination that greenhouse gasses pose a threat to public health and welfare. EPA named carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexaflouride in its finding. The agency further determined that emissions from new vehicles and vehicle engines contribute to the problem. The action was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling from 2007, which directed the EPA administrator make a reasonable, science based decision regarding tailpipe emissions. Alternatively, the EPA could have determined that the science was too uncertain to justify the finding.
Science, Global Warming, and Greenhouse Gasses
Weather is what you observe when you stick your head out of the window, which we’re all pretty much capable of doing. If that is all we’re doing, then the climate change denier position makes perfect sense: one day it’s hot, another day it’s cold – eh, what global warming? However, the observation of long term global climate trends requires a somewhat more developed skill set, and the EPA went along with that one. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has never claimed that the science is perfect (and anyways perfection is a concept for religion and philosophy, not scienctific investigation), but it has made the case that the overwhelming body of evidence indicates a rapid warming trend that is directly linked to greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
Battle of the Behemoths over Global Warming
The Chamber of Commerce and the Southeastern Legal Foundation might get a bit more than they bargained for out of their legal action against the EPA. Sustainability is becoming big business, and some of the biggest businesses in the world are committing their resources to it (Walmart much?). That includes a growing list of big time sports including the ski industry, professional golf, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League.
Does this Mean the Department of Defense Has It All Wrong?
As we’re fond of pointing out on this site, the U.S. military has been pushing sustainability measures for years, even under the previous administration which was hardly known for its support of climate science. Just last month the Department of Defense came right out and included climate change in the Quadrennial Defense Review, a periodic threat assessment. Among other considerations the document calls for all branches of the armed forces to prepare for the impact of rising sea levels, severe heat, and other variables that will affect military training and operations. DoD’s position is backed up by its own considerable, direct access to climate data. In contrast, the Southeastern Legal Foundation lists a number of partners in its global warming work, none of which appear to be independent science organizations. Perhaps that explains why SLF doesn’t see any cause for alarm, claiming that climate change is “natural, cyclical, and not as extreme as reported by the IPCC.” Nothing to see here, folks? Personally my money is on the Department of Defense.
Image: Green smoke by ascafon on flickr.com
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.