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Policy Matters

Poll: Small businesses are ready to fight climate change

<p>ASBC research shows that the small business community, like consumers, understands the consequences of carbon pollution and wants to cut emissions.</p>

Depending on where you go for your news, you might have heard some nasty things about the Environmental Protection Agency's new rules on power plant emissions. Many in Congress accuse the EPA of trying to destroy the coal industry, and are vowing to fight them any way they can. So you might think these rules are totally unpopular with the American public — and the business community.

Actually, the opposite is true.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in early June found that 70 percent of Americans felt the government should place limits on greenhouse gases from existing power plants, and 63 percent supported cutting emissions even if it raised their energy bills by $20 a month. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll later in June found similar results, with 67 percent supporting the EPA's move to cut emissions from existing plants. Political sniping aside, there's clear support for this kind of action.

Of course, that doesn't include the small business community, right? After all, one of the most common arguments we've heard opposing these rules is that they're job-killers that will drive small business into the ground. Surely they hate this proposal.

As it turns out, that's not true either.

That's the takeaway from the American Sustainable Business Council's latest round of polling (PDF). These results make it clear: The small business community supports efforts to cut our carbon emissions, for the simple reason that they have a great deal to lose if we don't act.

Overwhelming agreement on key points

Eighty-seven percent of small business owners named at least one possible consequence of climate change — such as higher energy costs, power outages or severe storms — that they expect to affect them in the future.

Many small businesses already have felt the effects of climate change firsthand: About one in five said extreme weather associated with climate change already has affected their operations.

Sixty-four percent of small business owners said government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, compared to 29 percent who think power plants should be allowed to regulate themselves.

When they heard both sides of the argument, 50 percent of small business owners supported tighter limits on pollution from power plants. Only 28 percent opposed it.

The sample was politically diverse, but a plurality of the business owners surveyed — 43 percent — identified themselves as Republicans or Independents who leaned Republican, compared to 28 percent who identified as Democrats or Democrat-leaning and 19 percent who identified as Independents.

Small businesses aren't small-minded

Contrary to conventional wisdom, business owners align much more closely with consumers on issues such as climate change and the economy. And we're not just talking one side of the aisle: 55 percent of Republicans (along with 65 percent of Independents and 81 percent of Democrats) agreed that cutting emissions from power plants requires government regulation.

Each business surveyed had fewer than 100 employees. These companies are not making billions in profits, and so they don't have the financial resources needed to withstand the worst effects of climate change. And considering 25 percent of businesses don't reopen after severe weather events — which climate change could make more frequent — that's not an idle concern.

But that's not the only thing they're worried about. The concern shared by most small businesses in the survey was higher energy costs: 53 percent were worried about that. And 37 percent said that higher health care costs could hurt them. Forty-eight percent were concerned about power outages due to stress on the power grid.

Climate change isn't just an issue because it could wipe businesses out with one hurricane. It's an issue because it could make it progressively harder for companies to even operate normally.

Hopefully, this poll will help more policymakers realize that the smart political move is to support these rules, not fight them.

Top image of smokestacks by Mike Linksvayer via Flickr.

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