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Business is Talking, But is Congress Listening?

Pete Altman

Posted June 14, 2010 in Solving Global Warming

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As Senate Democrats prepare to discuss how to tackle climate and energy later this week, its worth pointing out that American business support for federal action on climate change and energy policy has never been stronger.

Last Thursday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other corporate bigwigs joined together to launch the "American Energy Innovation Council." They want to see a tripling of federal investment in clean energy research, development and deployment (RD&D). With that investment, Gates said

You can tap into the unique ability in this country through its universities, the national labs and entrepreneurs, to give us a form of energy that is both cheaper, not dependent on foreign supply, and is environmentally designed so that we're not emitting carbon and getting into the climate change problem.

And the business leaders plainly state that federal action on climate and clean energy is a necessary element:

GE CEO Immelt said his industrial conglomerate, which ranks among the world's largest makers of wind turbines, plans to double its investment in clean-energy technologies to $10 billion during the next decade. But Immelt and other council members underscored that the federal government must ultimatey put a price on emissions of carbon dioxide to spur other companies to boost their clean-tech investments …

"The world is not going to wait for the United States to lead," Immelt said. "This is about innovation; this is about competition; this is about energy security." 

Another leading Innovation Council member is the venture capitalist John Doerr, who wrote last year with Immelt in the Washington Post:    

“Today's policies stifle American innovation and competitiveness. But good policy can flip this dynamic … [B]asic changes are needed:   Send a long-term signal that low-carbon energy is valuable. We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions. No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.”

The Innovation Council's business plan puts federal climate policy right at the top of the list of ways to finance the necessary technology investment, saying 

When there is a system to reduce greenhouse gas emission in the United States, it will likely generate revenue—in the form of permit sales, for example. The first $16 billion of these greenhouse gas revenues should be devoted to RD&D— because new technologies will make it far cheaper to reduce emissions. This is a virtuous cycle.

And this morning, several major corporations added their support for federal clean energy and climate legislation by listing themselves on a major “American Leadership” ad appearing in Politico. The new signers of the ad are a diverse group:  Bayer, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Levi Strauss, Starbucks and Xerox. 

Taken together, the 72 companies featured in the ad weigh in with $2.6 trillion in combined revenues. The number of American workers represented through the businesses and unions in the ad total over 11 million.  With the participation of American Businesses for Clean Energy, about 5,000 additional small and medium-sized businesses are also represented. 

Here’s the text of ad:

How will America take back control of its energy future while enhancing our national security?

When will the U.S. economy regain its competitive edge instead of letting other countries corner the emerging global clean energy market?

How can we get the U.S. back on track by creating American jobs in the new low-carbon economy?

How can we protect our natural resources and future generations from climate change?

These are the questions we’re asking our policy makers as America faces a once-in-a-century opportunity to lower greenhouse gas emissions and become the world’s leader in a burgeoning clean energy economy.

We are a broad and diverse group of leading businesses, environmental organizations, national security experts, veterans’ organizations, labor unions and faith-based groups.

We believe it’s time for Democrats and Republicans to unite behind bi-partisan, national energy and climate legislation that increases our security and limits emissions, as it preserves and creates jobs.

It's a question of American leadership.

And you don’t have to a board room large enough to hold a Word Cup soccer match in to know why action by Congress makes sense. 

As we reported last week, a new survey of America’s small businesses show that those businesses so often referred to as the backbone of the American economy want Congress to exhibit leadership on climate and energy: 

  • 61 percent of small business owners agree that moving the country to clean energy is a way to restart the economy and help small businesses create jobs; and
  • 58 percent think that adopting new energy policies will transform the economy and they want their business to be part of it.

So, Members of Congress can listen to corporate giants like Xerox or they can heed the advice of  mom-and-pop businesses on Main Street. 

When it comes to climate and energy legislation, the message is the same: Get on with it already!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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