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Policy Matters

Lawmakers heat up debate on climate change, Keystone and clean water

Are you up-to-date on what the current Congress is doing for (or to) businesses? Here's where three major issues stand.

Voluntary corporate sustainability and environmental initiatives are essential, but they're not complete solutions by themselves.

We also need laws, oversight and guidelines to set the entire competitive floor at a level that protects the environment and ensures a quality and quantity of jobs consistent with human dignity. Such a platform will unleash even more innovation, but in sustainable directions.

Responsible and sustainably focused business owners can make a big difference in policy fights by countering what policy makers hear from the traditional business community.

The 114th Congress has been in power for only a short time, but already it is trying to make its mark on energy and environmental issues. So far, that mark has not been positive. Rather than moving to cut emissions or protect our air and water, the biggest policy debate so far has dealt with constructing another pipeline to carry dirty oil across the country.

While it’s still unclear what kind of impact these debates ultimately will have — any legislative effort can face President Barack Obama’s veto pen, or even fail to make it out of Congress — these issues could have a major impact on American businesses and our economy, both in the long and short term.

Here are updates on three pro-sustainable business policy items the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) is working on in conjunction with many other organizations.

1. Slow down climate change

In his recent State of the Union, Obama committed to taking action to fight climate change. Soon after, he announced his proposed 2016 budget, which among other things includes more funding for clean energy and energy efficiency, a boost in funding for the EPA, and support for states that exceed emissions levels set under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan for power plants.

While it’s unlikely this budget will pass in its entirety, it’s encouraging to see that climate change remains a priority for Obama. In particular, increased funding for the EPA, and for states that go above and beyond in meeting their proposed power plant rules, would help ensure that those rules have the maximum impact when it comes to cutting our carbon emissions.

Small business polling conducted by ASBC found that American business owners are concerned about climate change and the impact it will have on their operations.

What’s at stake? Congressional Republicans will introduce their proposed budget shortly, and then both sides will need to come together to hammer out a compromise.

For businesses, the costs of inaction on climate change are high. Extreme weather events disrupt supply chains and force many small businesses to shut permanently. Rising sea levels endanger tourism, manufacturing and other industries in low-lying coastal areas. Changing rainfall patterns have caused an extended drought in California, which is raising food prices and threatening consumer spending throughout the U.S.

And for job creation, polluting fossil fuel projects are no match for green 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. 

What can you do? Business owners need to speak up on how climate change is a threat to their business, and demand strong action in the budget and elsewhere. Find your senator and representatives. Call the White House.

2. Stop Keystone

One of the new Congress’s first orders of business was working to pass legislation calling for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, despite a veto threat from Obama. Previous Congresses had considered legislation authorizing the pipeline, although they had never passed both houses. The new Congress managed to send a bill to Obama’s desk; the president responded by vetoing the bill, and Congress does not appear to have enough votes to override him.

A final decision on whether to build the pipeline, however, has not yet been made; the federal government continues to review the pipeline’s environmental impact.

What's at stake? From a strict business standpoint, investments in renewable energy would create far more jobs than the pipeline, and would prove more useful to America’s long-term energy independence, without risking any potentially devastating oil spills.

What you can do? Even if Obama’s veto is upheld, as is expected, the debate is far from over. The final determination on whether the pipeline can be completed will still rest with the White House. It’s still crucial for business owners to add their voices to ensure that this pipeline does not get built.

3. Protect Clean Water

With the EPA set to release its final “Waters of the U.S.” rule sometime this spring, the debate surrounding the rule has gotten only more heated. A joint House-Senate hearing on the rule featured a number of claims from lawmakers that the EPA was creating new jurisdiction for itself, prompting Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to reply, “I’m confused, because I think people are arguing against some mythical rule.”

What's at stake? Claims that the rule would allow the EPA to regulate ditches or do away with agricultural exemptions have been debunked, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy indicated that the new rule would incorporate input from the previous comment period in order to “provide more clarity” on what the EPA could and could not do.

Regardless, protecting clean water is a priority for small businesses. Polling from ASBC found that a strong majority supported the rule, and some have spoken out publicly on how this rule would help protect their livelihoods.

There is a possibility, as with the EPA’s climate rules, that members of Congress could attempt to pass legislation to strip the EPA’s regulatory power on this issue.

What you can do? Business owners need to encourage their members of Congress to let this rule go forward.

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