Jenner & Block

CBA Meeting Addresses Business Impact of Global Warming and Climate Change

Corporate America’s response to the “inevitable” governmental regulations on emissions to curb global warming was the topic of discussion at a recent Chicago Bar Association Environmental Law Committee meeting held at Jenner & Block and keynoted by Partner Steven M. Siros of the Firm’s Climate and Clean Technology Practice and Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Jenner & Block Associate Keri Holleb Hotaling, also a member of the Firm’s Climate and Clean Technology Law practice, organized the event.

There is a “groundswell” of activity at the corporate level to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Siros told the 60 corporate counsel, government attorneys and private practitioners attending.  Companies are recognizing that such voluntary programs will put them “ahead of the curve” when governmental regulations concerning greenhouse gases are eventually put in place, he said.  Mr. Siros added that such programs may also give them a “seat at the table” in terms of how the regulations will be structured. 

For many companies, greenhouse gas emission programs are a natural outgrowth of social and environmental responsibility programs already in place, in addition to their desire to “do the right thing,” said Mr. Siros, who regularly advises companies on such issues. 

There’s competitive pressure to self-regulate as well, he said, as corporate peers adopt proactive policies, sign-on to industry and EPA emissions guidelines, and states move forward with their own greenhouse gas regulations.  According to Mr. Siros, companies have found that implementation of a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program allows companies to distinguish themselves from the competition while at the same time being well-positioned to comply with future regulations.

Mr. Learner offered his perspective on the some of the key drivers behind the local and national policy responses to global warming that will affect businesses.  He noted that studies report that 20% of the carbon dioxide pollution generated in the U.S. comes from the Midwestern states, and that the Midwest’s output of that pollutant is more than the production of all the countries in the world, except for China, India, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Learner, however, noted that the Midwest is also at the “epicenter” of combating the problem as well, and that the area’s existing transportation and energy infrastructure makes it especially well-suited for clean technology businesses to thrive.  As an example, he said that Illinois is currently leading the country in terms of adding wind power capacity.  And, the state’s well-known corn farming strength is helping generate a boom in ethanol production plants, he added.

“Global warming is the corporate, political and moral challenge of our generation,” Mr. Learner concluded.

CBA Environmental Law Committee Chair Keith Harley provided welcoming remarks at the meeting.