Nearly a year after enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, many states are hard at work implementing clean energy transformation. This shift isn’t politically easy, and it is logistically complex, but the 2023 state legislative sessions and ongoing regulatory efforts show big progress toward the goals of decarbonizing the grid, and cleaning up the transportation and building sectors.
That’s encouraging news, and it offers the corporate sector yet another chance to lead on climate policy?
As we do the hard work of decarbonizing, the private sector can step up with ongoing public statements in support of the clean energy transition, and companies can actively and publicly distance themselves from policies and efforts that do not align with strong climate action and leadership. This requires keeping a keen eye out for climate policy obstruction and speaking up to counter obstructive influences. It also requires stepping up to actively support the climate progress underway at both state and federal levels.
Where corporate support counts
Consider one important facet of that work: Decarbonizing the power sector. A recent national report from the NC Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University found 20 states have set clean or renewable energy standards or goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The study further reported that 21 states took at least 10 regulatory or policy actions related to decarbonizing the power sector this year alone.
Let’s zoom in on one state everyone agrees hit a home run on climate policy this year: Minnesota. Pro-climate forces cheered this spring when the state approved a historic legislative package that will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in initiatives designed to move the state aggressively toward a clean energy future. Earlier in the year, Gov. Tim Walz set the stage by signing legislation that requires the state's utilities to generate 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040.
Companies can and should lobby consistently for solid climate policies at both the state and federal levels — they should also consistently lobby against anti-climate policies.
Importantly, Minnesota has set an interim goal for utilities: to increase the amount of power they generate from renewable sources — wind and solar — from roughly 29 percent to 55 percent by 2035. More businesses should publicly support and applaud this kind of climate action to transition to a net-zero economy, as some did last fall in Minnesota via submitting a public letter of support for Minnesota’s transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Aveda, Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Ecolab, General Mills and Ikea were among the companies who signed on.
And Minnesota is far from alone. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey created a new position: the state’s first climate chief. California is leading a bandwagon of states pushing to phase out gasoline-powered cars. Colorado enacted its single largest legislative package on the issue to date, including emissions goals, tax credits, and solar and geothermal programs. The Good Business Colorado Association was in support, and climate is at the top of its legislative agenda. And there are many more examples of similar progress unfolding across the country.
That being said, the picture at the state level is far from perfect. In Texas, a state that leads in wind generation, legislators are trying with all their might to turn back the clock to the fossil-fuel economy due to ideological concerns. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is struck by the irony: "At this point, investing in renewable energy is simply a good business proposition; Texas Republicans have had to abandon their own free-market, anti-regulation ideology in the effort to strangle wind and solar power." And the regressive movement has tentacles beyond Texas.
But for the most part, the engine of jobs and productivity is proving more powerful than faux concerns about "wokeness," and the state-level clean-energy transformation is going faster than anyone predicted. Georgia, where electric vehicles are taking off very quickly, is proof positive of this dominant trend.
As many pro-climate voices as possible
States are moving so rapidly on clean energy that experts can’t keep up, according to Inside Climate News. "Writing clean energy policies and implementing them is hard. It takes experts. Those people serve on task forces, stay up late writing policy briefs, and fret over the details."
There’s so much happening that it’s causing "stakeholder fatigue" among the environmental groups and advocates at the state level, according to this good news/bad news analysis. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to move forward these policies — as many pro-climate voices at the table as possible in these critical state policy battles.
That’s your cue, companies. Instead of sitting out legislative battles in states where you do business or even landing on the wrong side as Amazon did in Oregon, what about using your power and influence for climate?
What about weighing in for clean-energy regulations, backing political leaders and groups who are in the vanguard, and being an ally in a just transition?
Companies can and should lobby consistently for solid climate policies at both the state and federal levels — they should also consistently lobby against anti-climate policies. Political contributions should align with climate leadership and action: Companies should be creating and/or participating in coalitions that have the specific purpose of lobbying in alignment with the Paris Agreement and restricting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Ready to do more on climate policy leadership? Here are key ways to begin:
- Consult the ClimateVoice Policy Guide as a strategic roadmap for the broad range of policies that need business support. Engage and use your influence across the board on climate-related policies, not just on the ones that benefit you directly in the short term.
- Use your climate-positive trade associations (such as the Clean Energy Buyers Association) to do the detailed research and tracking, but then use your own influence directly, especially to make sure you help counter the powerful obstruction often coming from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Track climate policy priorities and ways to take action via the AAA Framework for Climate Policy Leadership, which reflects a science-based climate policy agenda that advocates for and aligns trade associations with policies for net-zero emissions by 2050 and allocates money to advance climate policies. Upcoming calls to action include weighing in on reducing methane pollution from the nation’s pipeline network by July 17, filing comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supporting the new power plant standards, and opposing any congressional efforts to roll back provisions in the IRA.
- Follow the Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying, which provides a framework for companies to report how their lobbying and political engagement activities are in alignment with Paris Climate Agreement Goals.
- Use the new Framework for Responsible Policy Engagement from the We Mean Business Coalition, developed with input from over 60 companies with a focus on how businesses can benefit from responsible advocacy while responding to rising stakeholder expectations.
- Finally, know which trade associations are lobbying for your company. If your company hasn’t yet, conduct a trade association audit to ensure that these associations are advocating for climate policy progress and not serving to obstruct progress, as is the case with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Climate policy action right now is taking off in the states, and companies that profess to care about climate should show up where the action is.