Utilities Divided as Exelon Quits Chamber Over Climate Change

  • Published on September 29th, 2009

Exelon became the latest utility to leave the US Chamber of Commerce over the business group’s opposition to House climate change legislation. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric announced its decision to leave the Chamber in the climate change/cap-and-trade flap last week, quickly followed by New Mexico’s PNM Resources.

The House Waxman-Markey bill has drawn criticism for being too friendly to utility companies, who would be handed a large percentage of the carbon credit allowances created. That criticism has come not only from environmental advocates who are concerned that free allowances will undermine the value of a cap, but also from other business interests who see the credits creating a potential windfall for utilities – especially those who already generate much of their power from cleaner fuels.

The Chamber’s opposition to Waxman-Markey is understandable when you consider that they represent a broad cross-section of business sectors, including many that did not fare as well in the negotiations as Waxman-Markey took shape. For their part, the Chamber has responded to the recent defections by noting that it only opposes the House bill itself, and is not opposed to the idea of climate-change legislation. According to their COO David Chavern, “Congress should do everything it can to promote and incentivize technology development and other policies that allow us to control carbon in ways that don’t trash the economy.” The fact that the Chamber’s site was unavailable on the morning of Exelon’s announcement indicates that the public may not be ready for so nuanced a position.

Might the departures be a harbinger of movement away from the Chamber across the entire utility sector? Or, should they be viewed as evidence of a fracture within the industry? Utilities that rely more heavily on coal and other dirty fuels share the Chamber’s concerns about cap-and-trade’s impact on the cost of their power. By contrast, PG&E, PNM, Exelon and others that are already invested heavily in cleaner fuels can afford to appear green. It may even be profitable.

The Chamber is in the news right now, but the place to watch as the Senate picks up debate of its own bill will be the utility trade group, Edison Electric Institute, which represents the investor-owned companies on both signs of the fuel type divide. EEI has already been engaging Senate leaders in a way that tries to split the difference for its membership: they are not running from Waxman-Markey, but they have some suggestions for improvement on the Senate side.

This dust-up may be all the more costly for utilities, their trade group and the Chamber if long-term discord is fomented for naught. The Senate will need 60 votes to get a bill. It will be tough to get there as Democrats hailing from industrial and agricultural states have the 1993 BTU Tax debacle in their memories and a 2010 election year in their sights. And, with political fallout that could be even more dramatic than the squabbles that are now unfolding in the business community, there may not be a Senate climate bill in 2009. Either way, the utility industry will be left to mend fences. The questions now are whose fences, and how many?

About the Author

An award-winning energy and environmental law scholar, Joe combines professional experience in utility sector government, community and regulatory affairs with a background in security clearance-required military intelligence and offers unique insight and complex analysis of energy infrastructure, technology and policy in national security, international trade and climate change and carbon-restrained economics contexts. Joe was awarded the Suffolk University Jurisprudence Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Environmental Law for his work analyzing the pathways and obstacles to adoption of renewable energy in state, federal and international energy policy. ”Home Rule on the Ropes,” his paper on renewable energy zoning in Massachusetts is on SSRN’s Top Ten lists for the Journal on Urban Economics & Public Policy and the Journal of Public Policy. And, he was awarded Suffolk Law's 2009-2010 McCormack Scholarhship in recognition of excellence in research and writing, including his paper - "Coming up ACES?" - on the NAFTA and WTO implications of the national renewable portfolio standard limitation proposed in the Waxman-Markey energy bill. A research assistant on Westlaw’s definitive energy regulation reference, ”The Law of Independent Power,” Joe is also a former state legislative aide and US Army linguist who tested at professional profiency in Russian and Spanish. His writing on law, politics and policy is also featured on the blog at www.RedGreenandBlue.org and he runs a series on land use and zoning for energy infrastructure - entitled "Powering Past NIMBY" - for Renewable Energy World Magazine. Joe lives in Boston with his wife and two young children. In his spare time, Joe is the founder and curator of the corporate social responsibility network on LinkedIn, and is an avid runner who recently posted a personal best in in the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in Orlando.
  • NucEngineer

    When the DOT-COM bust happened 11 years ago, a lot of people lost their shirts. Investments in junk stocks like walk-my-dog.com lost everything. Those stocks were worthless. But there were still some stocks that were based on real value, google, bestbuy, yahoo, etc., dropped in value but not to zero.

    Last year, the mortgage backed securities crashed because of government required sub-prime mortgages, but not to zero. They were based on real estate that physically exists.

    There has been atmospheric cooling the last 8 years, and no new high global annual temperatures in the last 11 years. When the carbon credit scheme goes bust, because earth decides to prove CO2 does not control climate, ALL carbon credits will be worthless. There will be no good carbon credits vs. bad carbon credits. Who will be holding these worthless credits after investing hundreds of billions of dollars? Power companies, manufacturers, bakeries, farmers, delivery companies, you name it. They will ALL go bankrupt.