Emissions controls backlash begins

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

09 December 2016


Two pieces of news this week could signal the beginning of the end for attempts by western governments and regional bodies to impose emission trading schemes on industries and industrial sectors. Clearly the most important of the two was the decision of the choice of the new EPA head by President-elect Trump. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general heading EPA is a clear signal of Trump delivering on election promises and his determination to dismantle President Obama’s climate change legacy. The choice of Pruitt, elected as Attorney General in Oklahoma in 2010, has been condemned by environmental lobbyists because of his leading role in challenging EPA regulation of the US coal and gas sector. As he ran for attorney general of Oklahoma in 2010, he made clear that he intended to use his power as the state’s top law enforcement official to attempt to force the EPA. to back down, convinced that it was wrongly stepping on state government powers. Pruitt was not acting alone as the opposition to EPA rules has resulted in more than half (28) of US states taking legal action against the government agency in relation to the Clean Power Plan which if successfully enforced would effectively require all states to join an emission trading scheme. The plan is now the subject of a legal battle which now looks certain to end in failure for the EPA. Supporters of Trump and Pruitt will argue that while the new EPA head was acting against Washington interference in matters that should be resolved at state level and while he has taken action against ‘green’ regulation he also has genuine doubts about the so-called consensus on climate change.
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”
Some would say that such a viewpoint is evidence of a balanced lawyer’s mind that believes that for whatever reason, a full examination of facts is necessary before a judgement can be made but committed environmentalists may see it otherwise. What is clear is that Under Pruitt, the EPA will not be permitted to pursue its own agenda as has been the case for the last eight years or more. Ironically, Pruitt’s belief in the rights of individual states to legislate could give some – California springs to mind – states encouragement to lay down their own rules that contradict Trumps efforts to undermine green regulation and red tape. Meanwhile in Australia, the government has been forced to issue a statement after Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg appeared to imply during a TV interview that an emissions trading scheme was being considered for the power industry. This would have been a reversal of the government’s manifesto promises and resulted in an angry backlash by party members. After two days of confusion, Frydenberg issued a statement to The Australian on Tuesday night, committing the government to not introducing an emissions trading scheme on the electricity sector. The two events seem certain to quash further interest in emission trading as even China which announced late 2015 plans to introduce its own scheme has pushed the likely start date back by half a year to late 2017. Since the scheme was linked to Obama’s plans for a future US scheme, it is possible that the idea will now wither leaving just the EU as a major player. That idea could also be in jeopardy as individual EU states fight a rising tide of popular disillusionment with national government and EU institutions.