By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian
A secretive group linked to a leading European chemical company has joined the campaign to defeat Barack Obama’s green agenda, taking the fight beyond the traditional players — big oil and coal firms — the Guardian has learned.
The previously unknown Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. (CRR) is at the forefront of a strategy to strip the Obama administration of its powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions should Congress fail to act on climate change.
The group, which refuses to disclose its complete membership and which does not have a Web site, has joined more than a dozen states and a host of industry groups in 17 legal challenges to the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The connection to the chemical firm Solvay suggests opposition to action on global warming, once spearheaded by big oil, is spreading to other industries that will also be affected by proposals to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases.
Several of the petitioners against the EPA are household names, such Peabody Energy Corp., America’s biggest coal mining company, and the Chamber of Commerce, which has led opposition to Obama’s climate agenda. They also include prominent rightwing thinktanks.
But some of those launching legal challenges against the EPA have appeared as if from nowhere — such as the CRR.
Court documents filed in Texas identify Richard Hogan, chief executive of Solvay’s wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, as one of three directors of the CRR, the lead petitioner on the legal challenge to the EPA’s authority to act on greenhouse gas emissions. The filings give Solvay’s Houston office as Hogan’s address.
The filings with the Texas authorities reveal the coalition was founded on Nov. 10 last year — a day after the EPA announced its scientists had determined that greenhouse gases were a public danger. The group filed its challenge to the EPA on Dec. 23.
Eric Groten, an attorney for the coalition, said it plans to file at least three more legal challenges against the EPA, which could tie up the agency in paperwork.
Such challenges to the EPA have intensified since last November, when the agency signaled it was preparing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a measure widely seen as a backstop in case Congress failed to pass climate change legislation.
At least 15 state legislatures are considered motions this year casting doubt on climate science or seeking to overturn the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions. Republicans in Congress have filed separate resolutions to set aside the EPA’s finding about the dangers of greenhouse gases, and the Senate may reportedly seek to strip the EPA of powers in a climate bill expected to be rolled out next week.
Court documents identify the CCR as a non-profit membership corporation "for the purpose of promoting social welfare, particularly to ensure that the Clean Air Act is properly applied to greenhouse gases. Its members include business and trade associations engaged in activities that would likely be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act."
The court documents list six companies and trade associations representing mining and beef interests among its members — but not Solvay.
Groten said there were more members — individual as well as corporate. He refused to identify members beyond those listed on the court petition, but compared the group to the Sierra Club, the grassroots conservation network. "Those who want to support its objectives contribute financially to it," he said.
Carrying the analogy further, Groten said membership was determined by donation. "One becomes a member of the organization just as one becomes a member of the Sierra Club, by donating money to it."
Solvay Chemical‘s connection to the legal challenges seems at odds with the company’s stated commitment to sustainable development on its Web site: "We commit ourselves to take into account, in a way that is comprehensive and integrated in all our activities, the triple demand of economic, societal and environmental sustainability," the statement says.
Mark Wheeler, communications director for Solvay in America, denied the company was a member of CCR.
Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace, said Brussels-based Solvay produces sulphur hexafluoride (or SF6), used for industrial cleaning, but also an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Each kilogram of SF6 produces an atmospheric warming effect equivalent to nearly 24,000 kg of carbon dioxide. The EPA proposed last year to begin regulating SF6.
The secrecy enveloping the CRR is typical of the efforts to block regulation of greenhouse gases, according to Greenpeace, which has spent years tracking the behind-the-scenes efforts by oil companies such as Exxon and Koch Industries to deny the science of climate change.
Also among the EPA’s opponents this time around is the Alliance for Natural Climate Change Science. That organization appears to exist only as a Fort Worth post office box on the original court filings, which list Alexis Hathaway and William Orr as contacts.
Orr, a Colorado businessman, was convicted in 2008 on several counts of defrauding public funds and private investors for a project purporting to produce an alternative fuel that received a $3.6 million grant from Congress.
However, subsequent filings link the legal challenge to Bonner Cohen, a fellow of the Committee for Constructive Tomorrow, a well-known climate skeptic group. "[Orr] is no longer affiliated with the organization," Cohen said.
Oxfam’s Kert Davies said the link between the CRR and Solvay could be an indicator that the opposition to climate change regulation is spreading to new sectors of the economy.
"The industrial bloc is powerfully organised and rich. They have all the tools and all the lawyers and they are going to do all they can to stop carbon regulation," he said. "It is going to take a generation to really regulate greenhouse gas emissions in this country, just as it has taken a generation to get action on other pollutants."
The EPA has become a prime target for politicians and industries seeking to slow down or block moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions in America. The fiercest opponents of the EPA accuse the agency of trying to put in place a top-down regulatory regime that would stifle economic growth and monitor every puff of human breath for carbon dioxide.
But the Obama administration says the EPA has no choice but to put in place a regulatory regime, should Congress fail to pass a climate change law. The Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the agency had a duty and authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So the EPA could open itself up to a whole slew of new court challenges if it does not act on climate change.
(Republished with permission of the Guardian)