Electric Industry Reaction to President's Climate Plan: Hardly What You'd Expect

The nattering nabobs of negativism are at it again.

The nation’s business soothsayer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hardly missed a beat after President Obama announced his much-needed climate action plan this week. The Chamber quickly trotted out shopworn arguments complaining that the president’s plan will kill jobs, harm economic growth and jack up our electricity bills.

And the Heritage Foundation was quick to weigh in, helpfully as always, with an ‘analysis’ of something that hasn't even been proposed: eliminating all coal-fired power plants.

That’s the kind of fact-free folderol we always hear when government moves to protect our health, communities and economy.

Just as routine is the critics’ neglect of the costs that Americans are already bearing as dangerous carbon pollution drives extreme changes in the weather—with longer droughts, bigger wildfires, more punishing floods and storms such as Hurricane Sandy that caused more than $40 billion in damage.

But not at all typical is the response from the electric power industry, which is at the center of Obama’s climate plan to curb carbon pollution. Note: if you are looking for hyperbole and hysteria, you are in for disappointment.

Let’s take a look at the views, compelling for their lack of sky-is-falling tone, from this key sector of American business. It’s hardly what you’d expect.

Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities in Washington, D.C., issued a statement in response the President’s plan. But this leading utility lobbyist did not echo the Chamber’s or Heritage’s concerns. Instead, as E&E News (subscription required) noted,

[Kuhn] he pledged to work with the administration "as it further develops its climate plan and with other key stakeholders, including Congress and the states, which will play a critical role in helping to forge workable regulations."

Thomas Ferrell, the CEO of Dominion, a major Virginia power producer, said his company

“would work with the administration to promote low-carbon technology. We have put our words into action…by making significant investments that should reduce our CO2 combustion emissions by about a third by 2015 and lower other emissions by as much as 90 percent by 2020.”

And the Clean Energy Group issued a statement signed by utility companies, saying

…We look forward to working cooperatively with industry, the Administration, and other stakeholders to inform EPA’s development of effective power plant rules that reduce greenhouse gases.”


Clearly, the power sector is not panicked by the President’s determination to protect future generations from the climate impacts Americans are already feeling. Here are some more statements:

Duke Energy, the nation’s second largest source of greenhouse gases, is also signaling willingness to work with the White House. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, Duke spokesman Tom Williams told the Orlando Sentinel: 

I think we are dealing with the reality that there will be a plan developed by EPA. We want to have a seat at the table, and we plan to have a seat.

Xcel Energy Inc., vice president of environmental policy and services, Frank Prager, told the Denver Business Journal that

Xcel executives are pleased that Obama’s plan calls for the EPA to build on successful state programs such those Colorado’s legislature and state regulators have approved. The plans are “flexible and effective without burdening our customers with significant rate increases."

PPL Electric Utilities, spokesperson Ryan Hill said "We're not opposed to regulations that balance environmental needs with consumer costs.”

Even Ohio-based American Electric Power, a heavy coal user, appears to be adopting a wait-and-see approach. As the Charleston Gazette reported, 

AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHnery thanked Obama for taking a “balanced approach to addressing the issue” and told the Gazette AEP can achieve “meaningful reductions and minimize economic pain” if Obama’s plan “includes maximum flexibility within the confines of the Clean Air Act.

National Grid, an energy supplier for MA, NY, RI president Tom King said the company

looks forward to working constructively with the Administration, EPA, members of the energy industry, and other stakeholders to ensure the regulations reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector and advance America’s efficient and clean energy future.

Des Moines-based Mid­American Energy, issued a statement pledging

to work with the Obama administration on setting “achievable” pollution limits and deadlines for meeting them.

PG&E Corporation, Chairman, CEO and President Tony Earley, stated

We appreciate the broad view that President Obama outlined in his remarks today on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a California utility, PG&E’s current efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are focused on meeting the goals of the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act in ways that are most cost-effective for customers and ensure continued reliability. We have committed to making major additional investments in clean energy technologies and the infrastructure to support them, and so we are pleased with the President’s focus on making permitting more efficient and effective in order to expedite the build out of this new energy infrastructure and technology…

You can see more business reactions to the President's plan on Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett's blog, and also here at Ceres