Corporate Climate Talk: A Translation

by Rolf Skar

November 13, 2009

Serious climate issues are often shrouded in complicated and arcane scientific and political language.  This makes it easy for corporate polluters to disguise their agenda and intentions when talking about climate and energy policy.  Below is a letter polluters sent to decision-makers this week urging them to increase the number of international offsets in climate legislation.  I’ve taken the liberty of translating it for you.  Read on to see what they’re really saying.

Also note the list of companies signing the letter.  Among them are many huge polluters such as Duke Energy, Dominion, Exelon and American Electric Power – the company that was a focus in the recent Greenpeace Carbon Scam report.

But also on the list is Intel, a company that strives to associate its brand with innovation and the future.  Why are they associating themselves with some of the biggest, most backwards polluters in the country?  Good question.  You can read more about how Intel stacks up against other tech companies on our Cool IT Challenge campaign site.

Anyway, read on…

Offsets let polluters keep polluting

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Re: The Importance of International Offsets for U.S. Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

Dear Senator Kerry, Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman:

We, the undersigned, are companies that employ hundreds of thousands of American workers, and serve hundreds of millions of American consumers. We expect that our companies would be affected significantly by any greenhouse gas regulatory program. We write today to communicate our firm belief that in order for any such program to be both environmentally effective and economically sound it should be market-based and incorporate both domestic and international offsets. To this end, we are concerned about the further restrictions on use of international offset credits in S. 1733, reported last week by the Environment and Public Works Committee.

TRANSLATION: We are some of the biggest, richest polluters in the world and we have a lot invested in dirty business.  If you pass climate legislation without huge loopholes for us, we’re going to be very upset.  One of the most important loopholes we want are carbon offsets – cheap vouchers that allow us to side-step cutting our pollution with the rationale that someone else, somewhere else, will cut pollution instead.  Sure, the legislation in Congress already has massive subsidies for us and billions of tons of offsets in it, but we are still not happy.  We always want more.

The cost containment provided by international offsets is dramatic and critical. Every major study of greenhouse gas regulation has reached this conclusion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill found that the costs of the cap-and-trade program would increase by 89% without international offsets. By cutting the costs of a cap-and-trade program almost in half, international offsets preserve U.S. jobs and U.S. competitiveness.

TRANSLATION: Outsourcing jobs saves us a lot of money.  Likewise, we want to outsource investments in green jobs and cleaner skies we would otherwise have to make to cut our own pollution.  It’s just so much cheaper for us to do it overseas.  If we have to do it here in the U.S., it will cut into our giant profits too much.  For example, the last American Electric Power quarterly profits rose 18% over last year to $443 million due to “higher rates charged its utility customers” despite lower demand for electricity.  We don’t need investments in green jobs and cleaner skies eating into that.  We want to keep our pockets well lined, thank you very much.

Until low-carbon technologies are widely available, U.S. companies need to have the ability to pay for low-cost, readily-available reductions wherever they may be found, which includes other countries. Put another way, allowing U.S. companies to invest in at least some reductions abroad, makes it possible to continue production here, allowing for a gradual transition of the U.S. economy to a low-carbon future. At the same time, international offsets give U.S. companies new export markets for low-carbon technologies made in this country.

TRANSLATION: We already have the technologies needed to dramatically reduce climate pollution, but we don’t want to pay for them.  We’d rather pretend that some miracle technology like “carbon capture and sequestration” will magically become effective and affordable in the future…and that we can’t take real action to clean up our acts until then.  Allowing U.S. polluters to buy their way out with cheap international offsets will allow us to slash investments in green jobs in the U.S. and continue to pollute American skies.  We want to avoid climate action as long as possible, so we can pass the buck to future generations of Americans.

International offset policies also offer an opportunity to address the serious problem of tropical deforestation, which causes 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions annually and threatens the survival of more than half of the world’s plant, insect, and animal species. International offsets therefore offer a win-win situation; they make it possible for the U.S. to address critical global environmental issues, while saving jobs here.

TRANSLATION: By taking credit for “avoided deforestation” projects, we can really side-step American green job/clean tech investments.  That’s because avoided deforestation offsets would be among the cheapest and most abundant in the world.  Why build windmills and invest green jobs in the American Heartland if we could – for much less – pay to keep trees standing in, say, Bolivia?  It’s super cheap, we get to keep polluting, and we’ll have money left over to run TV commercials showing pretty rainforest animals we’ll claim to be saving.  This is the ultimate greenwash, and if you’re lucky Senators, we’ll let you in on it.

It is important that any international offsets are as environmentally rigorous as domestic offsets, which means that offsets from other countries should be subject to review by the relevant agencies. International offset credits subject to such review should not be subject to any arbitrary discounts or other barriers, which can only diminish their cost containment potential.

TRANSLATION: For years, evidence has mounted showing offsets often don’t deliver what they’re supposed to.  So, we have to pretend to be really concerned about the quality of offsets.  But, what we really want is universal green stamp of approval that will make people believe our offsets are 100% reliable so we can trade them in carbon markets and make buckets of money.  Don’t set up standards that are too tough — just tough (and confusing) enough for people to believe in them.  Carbon markets could be worth trillions of dollars in coming years!  We want our carbon cake and want to trade it too!

Finally, we believe that well-designed international offset policies can play a vital role in encouraging other countries to adopt appropriate limits on their emissions, which will further limit the competitiveness impacts of climate legislation on the U.S. economy. International offsets are a necessary component of our diplomatic efforts.

TRANSLATION: Polluters in developing countries don’t want to change their ways either.  By counting offsets as a replacement for real U.S. pollution cuts AND counting them as cuts in developing countries, we really game the system.  It’s called “double-counting.”  Nothing like a little creative accounting to confuse the situation and make it look like we’re doing more than we are to address global warming.  And, if anyone asks you, just tell them you’re doing this to “protect American competitiveness.”  That always works.

For these reasons, we strongly urge you, as you consider cap-and-trade legislation, to ensure that the program protects the vital cost-containment role of international offsets, and avoids any arbitrary barriers to the use of such credits.

TRANSLATION: We’re watching you.  And the 2010 elections are right around the corner.  We’re making our campaign contribution list right now.  Don’t mess this one up for us, or there will be hell to pay!

Sincerely,

Alpha Natural Resources, American Electric Power, DTE Energy, Dominion, The Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, DuPont, El Paso Corporation, Exelon, Southern Company, FPL Group, Intel, International Paper Company, NRG Energy, National Grid, PG&E Corporation, PNM Resources, Rio Tinto

Rolf Skar

By Rolf Skar

Rolf Skar is the Campaigns Director at Greenpeace USA. Since 2007, Rolf has contributed to international Greenpeace campaigns to stop deforestation in the Canadian boreal forest, the Paradise forests of Southeast Asia, and the Brazilian Amazon.

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