When President Trump signed an executive order to weaken the carbon-cutting proposals put in place by his predecessor, the corporate community responded with resounding disbelief. Hundreds of those companies said that pursuing a low-carbon future was good for their businesses and their brands.
At issue, of course, is the Clean Power Plan that aims to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 32% by 2030 using a variety of strategies that include the use of more renewables and trading carbon credits. But the plan, opposed mostly by states that are dependent on coal production and coal-fired electricity, is now stalled in the courts. Through the executive order, Trump is essentially saying that his administration will stop defending the case in the courts.
“Strong clean energy and climate policies, like the Clean Power Plan, can make renewable energy supplies more robust and address the serious threat of climate change while also supporting American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth,” Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft said in response to the executive order signed last week.
“We believe that investing in a low-carbon economy will not only help foster a healthier environment, it is also a key to unlocking new business growth potential for the US and around the world,” the companies continued, as reported by Bloomberg.
The tech giants are joined by Anheuser Busch, the Gap, General Electric, Mars and WalMart, each of whom has committed to reducing their carbon emissions and to using far more renewable energy.
To what effect will the executive order have not just on the Clean Power Plan but also the effort to go green, generally? Most experts believe the momentum toward a low-carbon economy will outlast Trump’s presidency. At most, they say that some utilities could decide to extend the life of older coal plants that they had planned to retire.
But the key point they make is that wiping out the regulation necessitates more than just the president’s signature. It will require acts of Congress — and laws that could override the US Supreme Court’s earlier decisions. At least half the states, furthermore, are requiring renewable portfolio standards. Companies, meanwhile are investing directly in wind and solar projects, or they are agreeing to buy the output under long-term contracts.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act—something that EPA made official in 2009, saying it was a danger to public health and welfare. And in 2014, the high court upheld that so-called endangerment finding. That ruling is the foundation behind President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
But in February 2016, the Supreme Court issued a “stay” to address some concerns of several states before sending the case back to the DC Court of Appeals, where a decision is expected soon. No matter how it rules, it will head back to the high court, which is now evenly split on the Clean Power Plan.
“We believe climate change is real and the science is well accepted,” Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of GE wrote to his employees last week, which was first reported by Politico. “This is just the beginning of what will be a long process … but no matter how it unfolds, it doesn’t change what G.E. believes.”
The company, which manufacturers not just wind turbines and solar panels but also the generators used for coal and natural gas plants, has said that it would either buy or generate all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
WalMart, meanwhile, is the first retailer with an emissions-reduction plan approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative, in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015, the company says. Under the approved plan, Walmart will use a combination of energy-efficiency measures and renewable energy to achieve an 18% emissions reduction in its own operations by 2025.
Additionally, Walmart will work with suppliers to reduce emissions by 1 gigaton by 2030, which it says is the equivalent to taking more than 211 million passenger vehicles off of U.S. roads and highways for a year.
To be sure, some industries will benefit from the change in carbon policies. As Trump said to the coal miners present when he signed the executive order weakening the Clean Power Plan, “You’re going back to work.”
While that’s unclear at the moment, it does appear that oil and natural gas pipeline operators will have a less onerous time constructing infrastructure as evidenced by the Trump administration’s support of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Similarly, the insurers that underwrite those projects will also benefit. About 50 or so companies insure for pollution legal liability, reports Business Insurance.
But the riskier projects such as oil pipelines are a tougher sell to some of those insurers, the publication adds. Renewable energy projects, in contrast, are often welcomed with open arms.