Sheila McNulty Business, leading the way on climate change?

It is not surprising that the US government is moving slowly to enact climate change legislation. Politicians are known for catering to special interests, not speedy decision making. And there are many special interest groups who have something to lose from tough action on carbon emissions. While many in US business are among them, a rising number of executives are savvy enough to know the imperative of moving sooner rather than later.

A group of chief executives – 83 to be exact – from across US business, have sent a letter to President Barack Obama that they hope will jar him into addressing their concerns in this week’s State of the Union address. The letter, signed by companies ranging from Exelon to Virgin America to eBay to Nike, want the US to move quickly to enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation that will create jobs and enhance US competitiveness.

These business leaders note that the US is falling behind in the global clean energy race. From the letter:

American businesses recognize this challenge and have already begun to respond an innovate. However, today’s uncertainty surrounding energy and climate regulation is hindering the large-scale actions that American businesses are poised to make. We need strong policies and clear market signals that support the transition to a low-carbon economy and reward companies that innovate. It is time for the Administration and Congress to embrace this policy as the promising economic opportunity that will empower American workers to compete and American entrepreneurship to lead the way.

Why are these leaders so concerned? Well David Crane, president and chief executive of NRG Energy, the electricity generator, notes that the industry needs clear rules and strong policies that will help them address climate change while keeping power affordable. They cannot act in a vacuum. Gary Hirshberg, chief executive of Stonyfield Farm, notes that business can only do so much on its own:

At this point, the rules need to change: there needs to be a price or tax on carbon. This incentive for genuine innovation needs to be firmly in place in order for the US to compete effectively in the global race to a clean energy economy.

The timing could not be better for such legislation. Not only is the American public aware of the harm caused by carbon emissions and supportive of change, but forcing a clean technology revolution would be a good way to jumpstart the economy. In the words of Peter Darbee, chief executive of PG&E:

As the country looks to ways to support job creation, promote economic growth and improve energy and national security, it’s clear to leading busineses that smart, sensible energy and climate policies can and should be part of the solution. We are asking leaders to recognize this opportunity and make it a reality.

Here is hoping the politicians will recognise the importance of moving quickly in this area.

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