The Western Climate Initiative, touted as a model for national global warming legislation, will strain the region's electricity grid and prolong the economic recession, a business group asserted Tuesday.
The initiative was launched in September by seven Western governors, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, and four Canadian provincial premiers. It seeks to slash regional greenhouse gas emissions by about 15% below 2005 levels in the next 12 years.
But a report commissioned by the Colorado-based Western Business Roundtable asserted that the initiative would "impose significant new costs on consumers and retard job creation in the Western U.S. over the coming decade" but would offer "no scientifically measurable benefit in terms of reduced global climate temperatures as far out as the year 2100."
The regional plan would be modeled on programs underway in Europe and Japan. States would limit how much carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases companies could emit, but would allow them to trade pollution credits with other companies.
Trading, the reasoning goes, encourages larger cuts by companies that can reduce emissions more cheaply.
But the roundtable study said the initiative would largely preclude building hydropower, coal, natural gas and nuclear energy electricity plants in states that sign on to the initiative, instead favoring the installation of "highly intermittent" wind and solar facilities.
"The key to creating new jobs while reducing emissions is not to throttle back our economic engine but to turbo-charge it with new technologies that allow it to run faster, cleaner and more efficiently," roundtable President Jim Sims said in a statement accompanying the report.
The report is the latest volley in a concerted campaign by energy companies and business lobbies to defeat climate legislation in Congress and in individual states. In the past, the groups have been criticized for promoting what opponents called "junk science" in an effort to cast doubt on whether the Earth is suffering any human-caused climate change.
But with more evidence pointing toward dramatic climactic shifts, particularly in drought-plagued Western states that have seen snowpacks melt and water resources dwindle, businesses have turned to economic arguments.
The costs of limiting carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, they say, are underestimated and far too high.
Michael Gibbs, assistant secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said authors of the roundtable report "misunderstood the design of the program. . . . Using flawed assumptions, they have drawn erroneous conclusions, particularly about the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency."
To participate in the regional system, the states and provinces must have legal authority in place by 2012. California, which adopted a statewide climate plan in December, is furthest along. In states including Utah and Arizona, Republican legislators have launched as yet unsuccessful efforts to bow out of the initiative.