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Let’s Work as Partners, not Adversaries, to Solve Climate Change

The great manufacturer Henry Ford once said, “don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

As the Global Climate Action Summit gets underway, which brings people together this week in San Francisco to discuss environmental efforts around the world, we must heed the advice Henry Ford gave us a century ago. Let’s unite to solve this problem and stop finger pointing.

The policy landscape in the U.S. on climate change is, in a word, complicated. Federal regulation has been a mixed bag; Congress barely discusses the issue; and on the international stage, the U.S. is still trying to find its voice.

At the same time, emissions in the U.S. are decreasing. In many ways we are accomplishing more here to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions than the other industrialized nations we measure ourselves against. In the manufacturing sector, innovative measures have allowed us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the past decade while our value to the economy has gone up by 19 percent.

Facing this obvious paradox, advocates turned inward, creating a patchwork of policies to address climate change that vary wildly from state to state. And they have sought, unsuccessfully, to take Washington’s failures out on manufacturers. It is time for this to stop.

The Global Climate Action Summit comes nearly a year after the cities of San Francisco and Oakland filed lawsuits against manufacturers alleging that they should be held responsible for climate change. These cases are only two in a string of nearly identical lawsuits brought over the past year. But now that courts have dismissed both the San Francisco and Oakland suits, the Global Climate Action Summit is an opportunity for bold local leaders to reject these copy-cat lawsuits and focus on real solutions.

These lawsuits may had served as headline grabbing stunts but do nothing to improve the environment. Unfortunately, public officials bringing these cases are represented by trial lawyers motivated by a big payday instead of real solutions. Fortunately, these lawsuits have been rejected by the courts on both sides of the country.

These lawsuits claimed that when you bought gasoline for your car, energy manufacturers were creating a “public nuisance” by selling you the gas—that enabled your carbon-footprint. It’s a creative theory, but in 2011, the Supreme Court made it clear that the regulation of greenhouse gases is principally a matter for Congress to decide in their unanimous decision in AEP v. Connecticut.

This is a key reason why the climate suits are being dismissed. “The issue is not over science. . . . The issue is a legal one,” Judge William Alsup explained when he dismissed the lawsuits brought by San Francisco and Oakland. These are complicated balancing questions that “demand the expertise of our government agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate.” Similarly, Judge John Keenan in New York wrote, “Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the other two branches of government.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Manufacturers fundamentally believe we should act on climate. We have pioneered new strategies and technologies to reduce emissions and improve sustainability. We’re doing it right on our shopfloors, in cities and towns across America. Let’s work to solve the challenge, together.

Lindsey De La Torre is executive director of the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project and Ross Eisenberg is vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.