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March 18, 2010

Companies Voice Their Support for Effective Climate Change Legislation
    by Robert Kropp

Asserting that the US has already fallen behind other countries in the development of renewable energy technologies, the We Can Lead lobbying campaign brings businesses to Washington DC to call for legislation that includes a price on carbon. First of a two-part series. -- While the US Senate displays no discernable sense of urgency in passing meaningful climate change legislation, the investments in renewable energy technologies by other nations are making it possible that the US will continue to rely on foreign sources for its energy needs, even in the inevitable low-carbon economy.

As Anne Kelly, Director of Governance Programs at Ceres, told, "Anyone who has been involved in clean tech is just stunned at how the US is letting this opportunity slip away. As Germany charges ahead, and China charges ahead, with smart investment policies, we could continue to be dependent on other countries for our renewable energy sources if we don't get our act together."

Kelly was speaking with about We Can Lead, a coalition of business leaders who support comprehensive and innovative energy and climate policies in the US. Sponsored by Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), a project of Ceres, and the Clean Economy Network, We Can Lead includes such companies as Applied Materials, PG&E, and Starbucks among its members.

Kelly said, "We formed the partnership last May, in response to a sense that numbers matter, and scale matters, and the cross-sectional nature of our collaboration made sense. Initially, the campaign spent a lot of time lobbying the House. We wanted to send a strong economic message to the Hill, and to the Administration in fact, that businesses want change."

The House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill in June of last year.

"We wanted to counter-balance messages coming out of groups like the US Chamber, which represents a much narrower sector of the economy," Kelly continued. "We wanted to make sure that policymakers understood that businesses get it. The framing has been around job creation, US competitiveness, and seizing the opportunity that the energy revolution is going to bring."

In January, the members of We Can Lead sent a letter to President Obama and members of Congress, stating,"The United States is falling behind in the global race to lead the new energy economy. We need strong policies and clear market signals that support the transition to a low-carbon economy and reward companies that innovate."

"For American business to unleash a new industrial revolution in energy, we need cooperative and coordinated action in the public policy and the business arenas," the letter continued.

Recently, We Can Lead conducted a nationwide campaign to bring awareness to policymakers that American business is indeed supportive of legislation that would put a price on carbon emissions and encourage innovation in renewable energy technologies. The Race for American Jobs & Clean Energy Leadership campaign was launched at the Portland, Oregon headquarters of Nike, a BICEP member, and then passed through Denver, Columbus, Ohio, and Manchester, New Hampshire,and arrived in Washington DC on March 10.

Along the way, the campaign collected more than 100 signatures of business leaders, which were presented to members of Congress and the Obama Administration upon its arrival in the Capitol. Among the presenters of the signatures was Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, who said, "Climate action offers economic opportunity rather than economic penalty. We either get into this now, with the right policies, or we’ll find ourselves sitting on the sidelines losing our economic competitiveness."

The sense of urgency, not only in getting clean energy legislation passed but in counteracting the well-funded opposition of organizations like the US Chamber, was brought home to Kelly in a conversation she had with a venture capitalist in Washington.

"The business owners and investors are appalled," Kelly said. "One venture capitalist whom I spoke with said, I want to invest, but I need a price on carbon. I need certainty."

"There's amazement that the US is so entrenched," Kelly continued. "Policymakers need to be educated, and not just believe the rhetoric of the Glenn Becks, or the US Chamber, and the narrow but extremely well-financed opposition. If you're invested in the status quo, you're not going to want to see change."

The business leaders associated with the campaign pointed to a recent report from the University of California at Berkeley, which concluded that passage of a bill similar to Waxman-Markey would lead to the creation of up to almost 2 million jobs, and actually increase household income, as well.

The report stated, 'By aggressively promoting efficiency on the demand side of energy markets, alternative fuel and renewable technology development on the supply side can be combined with carbon pollution reduction to yield economic growth and net job creation."

"The stronger the federal climate policy, the greater the economic reward," the report concluded.

Although the Race for American Jobs & Clean Energy Leadership campaign has ended, Kelly indicated that We Can Lead will continue to engage with policymakers in its effort to encourage the passage of effective climate change legislation.

"Investors need a framework, not extreme volatility," she said. "The Race ended with the lobbying effort in DC, but our work is going to continue. We're going to continue to bring businesses to the Hill, and we're going to be meeting with Senators in their home districts."

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