Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why Won’t American Business Push for Action on Climate?

Many U.S. corporations have adopted environmentally friendly practices and touted themselves as green companies.  But when it comes to government climate policy, these businesses have been largely silent and support politicians who oppose taking any action.  

(Illustration Credit: Luisa Rivera) Click to Enlarge.
When President Trump imposed restrictions on immigrants and refugees, dozens of technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, filed a legal brief opposing the new rules. CEOs at Ford, Goldman Sachs, Nike, and Starbucks spoke out against them.

When Indiana and North Carolina curbed anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, leaders of big companies strongly objected.  PayPal canceled plans to expand in North Carolina, and the NBA moved its all-star game out of Charlotte.

But as President Trump prepares to back away from the Paris climate agreement, roll back the Obama administration’s signature climate change initiatives, and appoint an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who has repeatedly fought the agency, the leaders of corporate America have for the most part been muted or silent.

This poses a problem for environmentalists and their allies in Congress, particularly on the climate issue. 

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and a persistent advocate for climate change action, puts it this way:  “One of the dirty secrets that we have to live with is that even the good-guy corporations don’t show up in Congress to lobby for doing something about climate change.  Collectively, they do zero or less than zero to support climate legislation… That leaves the field to the bad guys.” 

Without support from business, the environmental movement will struggle to defend itself against what David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, calls an “incredible onslaught from both Congress and the administration.”  What’s more, if environmentalists are to have any chance of convincing the federal government to enact stronger laws or regulations to curb climate change — a long shot, admittedly, for now — they will need big companies to use their political clout to turn around the Republicans who control Congress and the White House.

The reluctance of Fortune 500 companies to speak up on behalf of environmental protection is striking because it comes after decades of efforts by environmental nonprofits, ranging from The Nature Conservancy to Greenpeace, to develop partnerships with business.  This work has paid off:  Many companies have pledged to reduce their own carbon footprints, curb waste, and buy renewable energy.  But few are willing to spend political capital on behalf of the environment.

The nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA is a case in point. “He’s not just bad on one thing,” says Fred Krupp, president of the business-friendly Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).  “He’s bad on everything.”  It’s the first time that EDF has campaigned against an EPA nominee, but the group has few business allies in the battle.

Read more at Why Won’t American Business Push for Action on Climate?

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