Business coalitions form to back climate change bill
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WASHINGTON -- Clad in a pinstripe suit, Josh McNeil made the rounds on Capitol Hill yesterday, lobbying for climate change legislation.
Mr. McNeil, who met with staff members for Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, is a typical kind of advocate for the bill, which would force drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. From the group's Philadelphia office, he runs Pennsylvania operations for the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group.
But as the influence battle escalates in the Senate over the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, introduced last week, Mr. McNeil has some atypical allies.
A delegation of more than 150 businesses supporting the bill, which is sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., arrived in Washington yesterday and will flood senators' offices today to urge movement on the legislation. They range from companies that would directly benefit -- such as solar panel makers -- to ones that just want consistent federal guidance on carbon emissions.
Some of them, including computer giant Apple, have left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the organization's opposition to the House of Representatives climate bill, which passed in June.
"The fact that [Apple is] saying, 'We have to do this' is something that other industries and people who stand in opposition to this bill in the Senate and the House really need to start paying attention to," Mr. McNeil said.
Representatives from the diverse group of businesses attended a reception last night with Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and will hold a news conference today. They are part of a group called We Can Lead, sponsored by business coalitions Ceres and Clean Economy Network.
Seven companies with Pennsylvania ties are in the group, including McCandless-based renewable energy vendor Vox Energy Solutions, Lawrenceville-based contractor Limbach Facility Services and real estate management company Jones Lang LaSalle, which has an office in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Dan Probst, chairman of energy and sustainability services at Jones Lang LaSalle, said the company is promoting energy efficiency incentives, which would benefit its real estate clients and create job opportunities to retrofit buildings.
Mr. Probst said the fact that the coalition of businesses on board with the Kerry-Boxer proposal includes big companies like Nike and Starbucks shows a desire for clearer federal guidance on emissions. Though placing a price on carbon and creating a cap-and-trade system could be unpalatable to big industry, it beats dealing with a patchwork of shifting state and local regulations, the group contends.
"I've been on several calls with people like the head of Duke Energy who are in support of the bill," Mr. Probst said. "I think they acknowledge this is something we're going to have to face sooner or later, and they'd rather have legislation that forces us to address it now."
Still, climate change legislation has many foes in Congress and industry -- especially coal, an enormous job-creator and energy producer in Pennsylvania. The bill's opponents claim that it would force job losses and higher utility bills on a population already reeling from recession.
The bill's supporters say it will create a jobs boom in the efficiency and renewable energy fields.
Mr. Casey and Mr. Specter, who will help shape the bill as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, have said that they want to see more aid to the coal industry before voting for the legislation -- and their votes are crucial, as Republicans have shown little willingness to climb aboard.
"[The senators'] principal concern is making sure that this bill is the best thing for Pennsylvania," Mr. McNeil said. "They want to ensure that manufacturing in Pennsylvania is taken care of. ... They want it to be a bill that all of Pennsylvania can get behind."
First Published October 7, 2009 12:00 am