Policy Matters

6 'good for business' policies to push for 2017

Business is taking over in Washington, and some think that’s good for business across the country. But for companies that value environmental sustainability — and for communities everywhere — it may be disastrous. The president-elect and the people he is choosing to help him govern are not known for their sustainable values. Just the opposite.

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, questions the impact human activities have on the climate and is hostile toward the EPA’s purpose. Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has a career-long history of thwarting action on climate change on behalf of his fossil fuel company’s interests. He is Trump’s choice for Secretary of State. Trump’s choice to head the Department of the Interior, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, has stated his support for retaining public lands for sportsmen, but says climate change is not settled and has earned a rock-bottom environmental voting record of 3 percent from the League of Conservation Voters. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has strong ties to the fossil-fuel industry, denies that manmade climate change is real and has stated his desire to end the Energy Department. Perry is Trump’s choice to head that same department.

It looks as if short-term business profitability will rule. But business leaders can get the ear of policymakers when others can’t. So those who value people, the planet and long-term, sustainable profitability must speak up to voters in their communities and elected policymakers at all levels.

Here are six statements that can change minds about what is "good for business."  

1. Business needs to keep the Clean Power Plan

Companies already suffer big costs from climate change fallout: rising health care costs; more stress on the energy grid; supply chain disruptions; and lost sales. Extreme weather events are increasing in number and severity, and every day bad weather shuts a business is a day of lost money.

Climate change damage has a domino effect that hurts business throughout our economy. Rising sea levels endanger tourism, manufacturing and other industries in coastal areas. Changing rainfall patterns have caused a multi-year drought in California which in turn raises food prices and weakens consumer spending throughout the U.S.

American business needs consumers with money to spend, and renewable energy projects are a better job creator than polluting fossil fuel projects. A 2012 Cornell University study found that renewable energy projects, per unit of energy, created three times as many jobs as fossil fuel projects. Renewable energy retrofitting also can spur economic activity right now.

But if the Clean Power Plan is rolled back, these dangers will increase and these benefits will be lost. The plan sets the first limits (both flexible and achievable) on dangerous carbon pollution from existing U.S. power plants. It lets states craft their own implementation plans which will spark investments in clean, renewable energy and provides useful energy efficiency measures to create jobs and build a sustainable economy. Bottom line: It’s worth keeping.

2. Business needs to keep Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Another EPA rule in danger of being rolled back is the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which set limits on technology-based emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants, under Clean Air Act Amendments passed in 1990. Now it’s under attack.

Even after the EPA went back and factored in costs as part of its assessment, and even though most affected companies already have come into compliance, those who dislike the very idea of the EPA still want the option to pollute our air with toxins. Sustainable business leaders won’t hear of it.

3. Business wants bills such as the Portman-Shaheen Energy Act

Increased energy efficiency is key to slowing climate change, but it also delivers important cost savings for business and consumers. The bi-partisan Portman-Shaheen Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, signed by President Barack Obama in April, does just that.

ESIC incentivizes the use of efficiency technologies commercially available today across the country, which quickly pay for themselves through energy savings. The bill will help the United States transition to a more energy-efficient economy while driving economic growth and private sector job creation.

A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that the previously enacted provisions and ESIC will create more than 190,000 jobs (PDF), save consumers $16.2 billion a year and cut CO2 emissions and other air pollutants by the equivalent of taking 22 million cars off the road — all by 2030.  

Business is based on common sense and running the numbers, so there’s no excuse for "pro-business" policymakers to shy away from energy efficiency bills such as Portman-Shaheen. Sustainable business leaders need to say so.

4. Business needs the Clean Water Rule

Ample clean water is essential for our economy. Business needs clean, safe water for manufacturing, tourism, food production and more. Lack of clean water lowers people’s ability to learn, work and produce; and raises public health care costs across the board. Yet clean water remains a goal, not a reality, for many communities and the businesses they support.

Trump has committed to making clean water a priority, even promising "triple funding for state revolving loan fund programs to help states and local governments upgrade critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure."

This promise will not be kept with his choice of Pruitt as EPA Administrator. In 2015, Pruitt led a multi-state lawsuit against Obama’s Clean Water Rule protecting source water for one-third of Americans. As with his suit against the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt and his allies blocked implementation of the Clean Water Rule. Business leaders need to tell representatives to fight attacks on the EPA and its common-sense rules such as the Clean Water Act.

5. Business needs the EPA's budget maintained

Some companies save money by compromising the environment, but business and other taxpayers get the bill. The EPA’s regulatory authority defends responsible businesses against unfair competition as it safeguards our environment. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Elk River chemical spill in West Virginia, the Flint water crisis in Michigan and numerous other manmade disasters prove the devastation caused by neglecting sustainable practices.

Displacing even one of the natural cycles harms regional firms that need the environment to provide the resources that become goods and services.

But rising sea levels, invasive species, toxic air, polluted and scarce water supplies, unchecked harmful chemicals, excessive trash, extreme weather disruptions, soil degradation, crop failure, lost income and social unrest are costly to every business. A robustly funded EPA is absolutely essential, and sustainable business leaders need to say so.

6. Business insists government use sound science in all decision-making

This is more than a policy; it’s a stance. The alliance between irresponsible business and dogmatic social skeptics has done untold harm to business and society already. Sustainable business must demand that science, with its requirement of replicable, proven results, be policymakers' key advisor. Scientific innovation, learning and application have made the U.S. a leader in good outcomes from problem-solving inventions to public health.

But widespread misunderstanding of basics, such as the meaning of "theory" in science, risks a return to unsustainable fossil fuels and erosion of science-based protections for workplace safety, women’s health, air and water quality and other elements of a dynamic economy. Rejecting science threatens our economy and our democracy. So sustainable businesses of all kinds, whether they use science to make products or simply want healthy customers, must demand that policymakers use scientific knowledge to the fullest extent possible.

With business in charge of Washington, most concerned organizations and citizens are likely to be ignored. As business executives, however, sustainable company leaders can be heard. For at least the next two years, sustainability’s message must come in the voice of "what business needs."

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