BEAVERTON, OR — A group of companies and nonprofits that includes Nike, Starbucks and Ceres launched a virtual coast-to-coast race Tuesday in a bid to create momentum for passing U.S. climate change legislation.

The "Race for American Jobs and Clean Energy Leadership" kicked off at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., Tuesday, the first stop of a coast-to-coast virtual tour with stops over the next three weeks in Colorado, Ohio, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

The race is sponsored by "We Can Lead," a campaign launched by the Clean Economy Network and Ceres' Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), whose members include Nike, Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, The Timberland Company, Aspen Skiing Company, Clif Bar & Company, eBay, Gap Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle, The North Face, Seventh Generation, Ben and Jerry's, Eileen Fisher, Stonyfield Farm Inc., and Symantec.

Along the way, the campaign will collect the signatures of business leaders from across the county who support the resurrection of climate change legislation in Congress. The Waxman-Markey climate change bill narrowly passed the House of Representatives last summer, but another version introduced in the Senate in late 2009 is now stalled. A trio of Senators is also working on a separate bill it hopes can attract support from both sides of the aisle, but the economic recession and 2010 election cycle present major barriers to passage of any legislation.

At the same time, companies are complaining that federal inaction is putting the U.S. at a disadvantage in the international clean energy race, while also missing opportunities for creating domestic jobs.

"We believe that building sustainable business practices will help fuel the economy and the environment," Sarah Severn, Nike's director of stakeholder mobilization, said in a statement Tuesday. "The time to act is now. The U.S. needs legislation that gives clean energy entrepreneurs an even playing field to compete globally for innovation and job creation."

Various studies in recent years point to the promise of green jobs that could be created in the wake of strong clean energy legislation. The American Solar Energy Society, for example, estimates the nine million renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs in the U.S. in 2007 could balloon into 37 million jobs by 2030 under the right blend of federal and state policies.

At the virtual race's last stop in Washington, D.C., the signatures will be handed over to Congress by participating business leaders, who will also hold policy meetings with the Obama Administration and various members of Congress.