US companies back out of climate change deal

Three major US companies said they were leaving a coalition pushing for action on climate change, dealing a potential fresh blow to landmark legislation to cut carbon emissions.

The news came on the same day that President Barack Obama announced an eight-billion-dollar drive for nuclear power — part of his controversial bid to bring a diverse coalition behind his efforts for a greener economy.

The three companies — oil groups ConocoPhillips and BP America and equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. — said they backed efforts for a green economy but felt that proposed laws were unfair to them.

The firms said they would not renew membership in the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of business leaders whom Obama’s Democratic Party often cites to bulwark its case on climate change.

ConocoPhillips and BP America, a unit of British giant BP, said the bill under consideration did not attach enough importance to natural gas — which they promote as a way to curb carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

The bills “have disadvantaged the transportation sector and its consumers, left domestic refineries unfairly penalized versus international competition, and ignored the critical role that natural gas can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Jim Mulva, ConocoPhilips chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

In its own brief statement, USCAP said its membership periodically changed and that it expected more companies to join.

Companies that remain in USCAP include oil giant Shell, conglomerates General Electric and Honeywell, and Detroit’s Big Three automakers — Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

The House of Representatives in June narrowly approved the first-ever US plan to force cuts in carbon emissions — a major priority for the Obama administration.

But the Senate has yet to follow suit and the political climate is uncertain, with the Democrats last month losing a seat to a critic of the legislation.

Ronnie Chappell, a spokesman for BP America, said that demand for natural gas stood to stay flat or decline in the next 10 to 15 years due to concessions to the coal industry.

“We think we can address our concerns around these problem areas better as BP than as a member of USCAP,” Chappell said.

The legislation devotes resources to developing “clean coal” in hopes of winning over lawmakers from mining states, despite environmentalists’ warnings that such technology is untested.

Senator John Kerry, a top force behind the legislation, has also embraced nuclear power and off-shore drilling in hopes of building support among Republicans.

Obama, on a visit Tuesday to Maryland, pledged to build a new generation of “safe, clean nuclear power plants” three decades after the notorious Three Mile Island disaster.

Many lawmakers from former president George W. Bush’s Republican Party oppose the climate legislation, arguing it will cost jobs and disputing Obama’s assertions it will help start a new green economy.

Republicans have also seized on scandals after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted errors in its landmark 2007 study on the dire consequences of climate change.

Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate issues, downplayed the criticisms and said that the overwhelming majority of evidence points to the need to curb human-caused climate change.

“What you do see sometimes is that people who have an agenda that is directed toward undermining action on climate change grab whatever tidbit they can find,” Stern told a news conference.
Source: AFP

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