Electric companies say yes to carbon caps

KAI RYSSDAL: Sometimes capitalism can do what democracy can't. And that's what's happening with global warming. The White House is opposed to limits on greenhouse gases. The President says they might drag down the economy. But every week there's a new business group or trade coalition announcing its support for a federal cap on carbon dioxide emissions. Today it was electricity suppliers. We asked Sam Eaton from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk to look into it.


SAM EATON: The Electric Power Supply Association announced today that it's calling for mandatory federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The trade group's members account for more than a third of the U.S.'s power generation. The group's president, John Shelk, says the reason they're endorsing CO2 regs is simple — predictability.
JOHN SHELK: Any power plants built in the near future that are being planned for now will be around for literally decades — as long as 50 years. So it's important to know ahead of time what the rules will be governing those power plants, including the rules on greenhouse gas emissions.

Shelk also says recent state actions to curb carbon emissions are creating a patchwork of regulations, which are difficult for big electricity suppliers to navigate. He says federal action would eliminate that. But Billy Pizer with the Washington research group, Resources for the Future, says there's another reason so many corporations are throwing their support behind a federal CO2 cap. They see it as inevitable.

BILLY PIZER: And for people in the electric power industry this is legislation or regulation that's going to have a significant impact on their operations, and they do not want to be left out of the negotiations.

The Electric Power Supply Association joins the ranks of corporations calling for limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Even oil giant ExxonMobil is softening its stance.

But Pizer says the growing unity in corporate America has a soft underbelly — the details. He says the more diverse the coalition, the less likely it is they'll agree on how a federal carbon cap should be implemented. And that's a hint at the real battle still ahead — the one that'll take place on Capitol Hill.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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