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On a Mission: In House Counsel Get Ready for New Emissions Regime

By Kevin Fayle on June 24, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
After the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which found that the agency has the ability under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles, the Bush administration dragged its feet when it came to actually regulating the gases. 

The Obama administration, on the other hand, is moving forward at full speed.  On April 17, the EPA released a finding that carbon dioxide and four other greenhouse gases are harmful to public health.  This now obligates the EPA to set rules for the emissions from new automobiles.
But most observers don't believe the administration has any intention of stopping there.  Indeed, they fully expect the White House to begin pushing for regulations on stationary sources of pollution, like factories and power plants.

In anticipation of this, many corporate legal departments have already begun working closely with engineers and consultants to determine just how big their pollution footprint really is, according to an article in Corporate Counsel magazine.  Legal departments know that something big is afoot, and this kind of preparation will help them respond when the new regulations finally emerge, the article reports.

"You have to look around the corners and anticipate what's coming," says William Donohue, associate general counsel for Exelon Corp., the Chicago-based utility. "Climate change legislation is coming, and when it does, it will be a big thing."
Some of that hard work and prescience has already paid off for certain companies, the article claims.

The EPA's move to regulate new car emissions didn't surprise managing counsel Elizabeth Gibson and her colleagues in Toyota Motor Corp.'s law department. They've been preparing for new standards ever since Massachusetts v. EPA, says Gibson. So Toyota's legal staff has been working with other departments in the company to help push for a national auto emission standard.
The company got its wish last month, when President Obama announced an agreement with auto companies that would establish a national standard for car and truck emissions.

Legal departments are doing this in other industries as well.

In-house lawyers at Exelon [a Chicago utility] are helping that company assess and analyze its carbon emissions to see what might have to be reported under the proposed rule, [William Donohue, associate general counsel] says. He believes other legal departments should be doing the same thing, even if they don't think the EPA's proposal will apply to their company.
Donahue thinks that these assessments could help to identify business opportunities and reduce risk.

So, go ahead, help your company avoid regulatory hassles with the EPA and make them some money at the same time - what do you have to lose?

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