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Food For Thought UNFCCC 2009: EPA, the Senate and Green Jobs

By Felix Dodds Executive Director Stakeholder Forum
Outreach 9th December 2009 UNFCCC

Well day two of Copenhagen seems to have been interesting...after some of  us had  given up on the US.... a little... they surprise us.  On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that greenhouse gases endanger human health and therefore they could act to reduce the amount of green house gases produced in the US. 

Some of us non Americans wondered where this came from.

This all started in a case Massachusetts ( NRDC and 11 other states) v.  Environmental Protection Agency  which resulted in the US Supreme Court decision in 2007 in a 5-4 ruling that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions are “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, and that the U.S. government already has authority to start curbing them. All that people had been waiting for was the US EPA to issue its view.

Now that has happened, it will strengthen the Presidents hand in trying to persuade the Senate to pass a bill. If they don’t then the EPA can go ahead targeting particular industries.

Where does that put those opposing the legislation in the Senate? They surely will have to review their stance. A strong EPA intervention would be better for the planet considering the present legislation on offer and would hurt their friends more. I know which I would prefer.

Just a thought as I was writing this column I always wondered how many lawyers there are in the US. It seems there were in 2007 nearly one and a half million lawyers registered at the bar this compares with five million teachers and three million nurses. It does seem a rather lot of lawyers.  

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told CNBC.

"The United States has the ability to lead in creating these new technologies that can give us the energy we need with the low carbon emissions, or we can follow. If we lead, that will add to our economic prosperity."

But then again as I think about it, there is no reason why he couldn’t go for both. Persuade the Senate to pass the bill – a 4% cut on 1990 levels and then over the coming years EPA could ratchet it up, tacking on different industries one by one.  If he linked that to a big push for more green jobs then as Chu says it “will add to our economy prosperity”  

As we go to press President Obama this evening announced a new jobs stimulus around three key areas small business, infrastructure and green energy. Perhaps more a new stimulus package wrapped up as a jobs package but it will be interesting to see how much of that is targeted at greening the economy. The last one was around 20%. Not a bad first 48 hours for the Copenhagen COP.