Bad trade, toxic chemicals and climate change: What you can do

Policy Matters

Bad trade, toxic chemicals and climate change: What you can do

Oil and gas refinery by Tomas1111 via Shutterstock

From issues as big as tackling the effects of climate change to relatively smaller-scale ones like creating safer chemicals, responsible and sustainably-focused business owners have an essential role to play in voicing their opinions to policy makers.

Here are three of the latest policy issues the American Sustainable Business Council is working on, and how like-minded businesses can get involved.

1. Trade deal gone wrong

An international trade agreement now being negotiated would grant leading multinational corporations new powers to challenge government policies that promote sustainability and clean energy. Of greatest concern, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would allow corporations to sue governments in an international tribunal and potentially force the reversal of sound regulations here and elsewhere.

To date, negotiations have been conducted in secret, and Congress is planning to invoke “Fast Track” to push the legislation through without debate. This would be bad. Congress should not sidestep its constitutional responsibility to review treaties. Instead, Congress should reject the Fast Track option and hold a full and open public debate on this important legislation.

What’s at stake?

Drafts of the TPP agreement contain many troubling provisions, which deserve a full public debate:

• Hindering alternative energy producers and extending the dominance of coal and oil by blocking regulations and limiting deployment of smart grid and other infrastructure.

• Putting at disadvantage organic farmers and others who adopt safer and more environmentally sound agricultural practices.

• Preventing state and local governments from setting “buy local” or “buy American” policies.

• Discouraging innovation by extending patent protection on pharmaceuticals while restricting governments from negotiating lower prices.

What can you do?

Write your legislators and add your name to the other businesses endorsing Rep. Mark Pocan's (D.-Wisc.) letter to end the secrecy of the TPP draft. Learn more here.

2. Standing against climate change

In May, scientists found the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased dramatically, to 400 parts per million (PPM), a level not seen in millions of years. This means that even if we stopped emitting all CO2 immediately, temperatures likely will still rise over the next few years. However, the worst effects of climate change likely could still be averted with immediate and significant action.

Recently, President Obama announced that his administration would begin issuing several executive orders aimed at tackling climate change. While this is a worthwhile first step, action is still needed from Congress if our response is going to be truly meaningful.

What’s at stake?

Despite the prevailing narrative that action on climate change is bad for business, the opposite is true. Climate change, if left unchecked, will create hardships for individuals, communities and businesses. From damage to infrastructure to adverse health impacts, from higher fuel prices to lower property values and further strains on the energy grid, climate change poses grave environmental and economic challenges.

On the other hand, taking action to avert the worst effects of climate change, such as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, will create jobs and a more resilient economy, while making us more energy-independent.

What can you do?

Sign the Climate Declaration that the American Sustainable Business Council is sponsoring with Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a project of Ceres. Businesses can show their support for action on climate change by signing on. See recent small business owners' opinions on energy and environment policy. Find other climate-related campaigns to plug into.

3. Taking toxins out of chemicals

Reforming the nation's decades-old chemicals laws -- the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) -- is gaining momentum with the recent introduction of the bipartisan Chemical Security Improvement Act (CSIA). The bill was introduced by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) along with 20 bipartisan co-sponsors. It is a start of reform (PDF) that proves that economic growth and protections for health and the environment are not at odds. 

We can and must provide safe, environmentally benign alternatives to hazardous chemicals and do so at a lower cost. This is what consumers want, and what is driving change in the industry and should guide the reform of TSCA. While the bipartisan nature of the CSIA is laudable, elements in the bill need to be fixed to ensure a chemical safety system that effectively and efficiently drives innovation in cleaner and safer products.

What’s at stake?

Reforming TSCA will spur innovation in cleaner and safer products, creating business profits and more jobs, enhancing safety in the workplace as it improves the health of our communities and environment. If the legislation is not improved, weak safeguards will remain and state regulators potentially will be barred from removing hazardous chemicals from commerce.

What can you do?

Add your name to the list of business endorsers of toxic chemical reform. Learn more about what should be improved (PDF) in the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. See recent polling of small business views on toxic chemicals.

Image of oil and gas refinery by Tomas1111 via Shutterstock