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Corporations pushing climate action return to Hill for virtual visit

Coalition of over 330 companies will log on for virtual lobbying for climate change action

A climate change protester holds a sign near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 23, 2019.
A climate change protester holds a sign near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 23, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Last May, when handshakes were still hearty, representatives from more than 75 companies arrived on Capitol Hill to call for federal climate action, including a tax on carbon.

The group, organized by the sustainable investment and climate advocacy group Ceres, is back this year. Sort of.

“I particularly am excited to be able to have Hill meetings not wearing shoes,” said Brad Figel, vice president of public affairs at candymaker Mars Inc.

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Emissaries like Figel from more than 330 companies will log in, sign on and unmute their computers and telephones Wednesday as part of a campaign to pressure Congress to tackle climate change, shift to a low-carbon economy and prepare for the baked-in systemic shocks of a steadily warming planet.

The event, which organizers said is the largest push to date from businesses to prod Congress to address climate change, marks the latest private-sector effort for a federal carbon tax, though not all the companies included today are calling for a price on carbon, which many climate scientists and economists say is a must-have component of any serious plan to lower carbon emissions to safe levels.

Tech companies like Adobe, Microsoft and eBay, clothing makers such as Nike, Eileen Fisher and Levi Strauss & Co. and manufacturers like Ingersoll Rand and Dow are among the firms involved.

A bipartisan group of former Cabinet members and economists in February called for a carbon tax of $40 per ton.

“This plan will spur, not impede, growth,” former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said. The Climate Leadership Council, which counts Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP PLC as members, is organizing that effort.

While taxing greenhouse gas emissions is a deal-breaker for most Republicans in Congress, groups like Ceres, the CLC and the nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby have long maintained that any serious climate law would need bipartisan support to remain durable.

Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at Ceres, said the group will meet Wednesday with more than 80 congressional offices from both parties and both chambers.

Growing alarm

She attributed the sharp uptick to growing alarm over climate change, the expansion of the call to tax emissions and the ease of virtual meetings.

“Over the past year, the consequences of the climate crisis have become even clearer and more dire — and more and more companies have increased ambition to reduce emissions and call for climate-smart policies,” Kelly said in a statement, adding that Ceres also tried to include more small businesses this year.

[Treasury IG: A decade of carbon-capture tax credits were faulty]

Patrick Flynn, vice president for sustainability at Salesforce, a cloud-computing company, said the U.S. can address the coronavirus, climate change and economic meltdown with an aggressive overhaul. “We are at the beginning of the most important decade that humanity has ever faced, and tragically and unexpectedly we are seeing rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in every aspect of society,” he said.

Absent significant and rapid decarbonization, the world is on track to exceed the goal the international community reached at the Paris climate summit in 2015 to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“We can solve the climate emergency, the economic crisis and the public health crisis,” said Flynn. “At the same time, we cannot have any lasting solutions if we try to solve any of them separately.”

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, likened responding to the pandemic and the economic damage it has triggered to rebuilding after a hurricane strikes.

“You don’t just rebuild it the way it was,” Castor said. “There is no substitute for a broad, ambitious federal policy that touches the transportation sector and energy sector and builds on the science that we know and helps inform policymakers on the importance of resilience as we climb out of the economic devastation of the public health crisis and the climate emergency.”

Figel said Wednesday’s effort may amount to a dry run for the future of congressional lobbying and advocacy.

“I think the pitches need to be direct, but in many ways I think this could be the future of how a lot of advocacy works in Washington,” he said.

As Kelly put it, this new style of outreach jibes well with the subject. “This may be the future, and we’ll be saving a lot of carbon miles.”

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