There's an accusation recently floated by the Sierra Club that lobbyists for big industries, including utility and transportation sectors, are "pushing hard to water down" efforts of the Western Climate Initiative.

One intent of the WCI member states, which include Utah, is to apply a so-called cap-and-trade system of lowering greenhouse emissions to improve air quality. Exactly how that is accomplished will differ from state to state, and the WCI is trying to figure all that out.

Rio Tinto, parent company of Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., is backing those efforts while calling for change at the national level without duplication or counterproductive measures at the regional level.

"We support a national cap-and-trade program," said Marcelle Shoop, Rio Tinto adviser for sustainable development and climate change. "We want to see a comprehensive climate-change policy enacted."

In the meantime, today marks the end of the public comment period for the WCI's document "Draft Design of the Regional Cap-and-Trade Program." For the lay person it's a complicated document that covers ways to reduce global-warming emissions through means that include emissions trading, allowance banking and including an offsets component "that will provide opportunities to obtain low-cost emissions reductions."

The Sierra Club's Southwest regional representative Rob Smith, based in Phoenix, said he's seen different faces of officials representing the utility industry in Arizona. In meetings with WCI stakeholders and partners, they seem "cooperative" and they don't talk much, Smith said. But when Arizona's Legislature is in session, Smith said they're busy lobbying lawmakers to not pass any global-warming legislation.

Smith said Monday that change coming from the bottom up has created a shift in mind-set among utilities from saying let the states — that is, WCI members —control their emissions destiny to instead letting standards set by the federal government rule the emitters' roost. Arizona is also a WCI member.

"They don't have an alternate plan — they just say let Congress do it," Smith said. "They don't come forward with a positive plan." What they do say, he added, is "let's go slow."

But WCI initiatives are gaining speed, and on Aug. 5 industries like PacifiCorp, Kennecott, U.S. Magnesium and Staker Parsons Companies were among a group of stakeholders that gathered to listen in how Utah's role in the WCI is going to impact them. Clearly there is at least a concern about what new emissions standards may come via finalized WCI documents.

In a June 2008 letter from a law firm representing companies like Kennecott Utah Copper Corp., Questar and U.S. Magnesium, concerns were expressed about conflicting and overlapping regulatory requirements from the WCI. Collectively the group is called Utah Business Climate Change Coalition.

"To the extent there are two systems, the WCI cap-and-trade system should be no broader, and no more stringent, than any federal system," the group told WCI officials through the law firm Parsons, Behle & Latimer.

Utah Clean Energy's Sarah Wright noted that the goal for Utah's role in the WCI is to reduce emissions to 2005 levels by 2020, which calls for a "modest" imposition on industry emitters, she said.

"You can get to most of that through energy efficiency and modest investments in renewable energy," Wright said about the goal set by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. But she did not offer comment specific to the Sierra Club's charge against industry.

"Working in a carbon-constrained world that presents new challenges and opportunities is a new world for them," Wright said about tougher emissions standards and the WCI's potential impact on industry. "Change can be hard."

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