Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Carbon Regulation is Already Here

Most people talk about carbon taxes, cap and trade, and other carbon-related costs and regulations as if they were something new and unusual. In fact, most companies already face a very complex environmental and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) regulatory system that includes both private standards and government laws and regulations.

The private and public restraints on GHG emissions range from the Walmart Sustainability Index that requires 100,000 Walmart suppliers to disclose their carbon footprints and sustainability initiatives, to regional GHG cap and trade programs that require power plants to reduce their emissions or purchase allowances in an open auction. And, of course, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments instituted a cap and trade program for acid rain that achieved 100% compliance in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions during the 1990's.

The most prominent GHG cap and trade program today is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that comprise RGGI have agreed to a mandatory, market-based effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The member states have capped CO2 emissions from the power sector with the goal of reducing those emissions by 10% by 2018. States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in consumer benefits: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other clean energy technologies.

Similarly, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is a collaboration of seven western US states and three Canadian provinces working together to identify, evaluate, and implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, spur investment in clean-energy technologies that create green jobs, and reduce dependence on imported oil. WCI has announced plans to implement a cap-and-trade system in January 2012 that will provide financial incentives to reduce carbon emissions. The program will start with power plants, then extend to large industrial producers and transportation.

These GHG cap and trade programs, however, are only the highly visible tip of the iceberg. Almost every company in the US faces a complex web of private standards and public laws that regulate their GHG emissions, other environmental impacts, and overall sustainability. CERCLA, RCRA, NEPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Ocean Dumping Act, and the Endangered Species Act are just a few of the US laws regulating the environmental impacts of companies and individuals in the US. Companies that export to Europe must also be aware of the specific regulatory, green labeling, and other environmental requirements in the European Union and locally.

My good friend Stan Alpert believes that smart companies can use their compliance with environmental regulations as a competitive advantage and ultimately to reduce costs. Stan should know. In addition to working for many years as the Chief Environmental Prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office that covers parts of New York City and all of Long Island, Stan has extensive experience as a lawyer in private practice advising green and sustainable businesses.

Stan has put together a free online webinar entitled Sustainability is Smart Business: A Legal Perspective. The seminar covers the triple bottom line, carbon regulation in the US and internationally, and toxin reduction in the product and waste streams. Businesspeople can view the webinar by clicking here. US lawyers who wish to receive free Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for watching the webinar can view it by clicking here.

John Howley
Woodbridge, New Jersey

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