Policy Points: On Carbon and Water, Policymakers Should Listen to Small Business

Policymakers, business owners and concerned citizens gather at the Maryland Climate Change Summit in Annapolis, Md.
Policymakers, business owners and concerned citizens gather at the Maryland Climate Change Summit in Annapolis, Md. in 2013.

By Richard Eidlin

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues proposals for new regulations, lobby groups that say they represent business interests screech and holler. They say that regulations hurt business and kill jobs. And unfortunately, some policymakers listen to them.

But what do actual business owners say?

It turns out that they agree with the general public. For example, across party lines, they support proposals that protect clean water and limit the impact of climate change. Policymakers would do much better to listen to these actual business owners, rather than lobby groups that are out of touch.

Two recent polls make the point quite clearly. The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) commissioned scientific, national polls of small business owners. One set of questions focused on clean water, and the other asked about carbon pollution.

Less partisan than Congress

One interesting general point is that small business owners are considerably less partisan on these issues than Congress. Small business owners usually skew towards the right politically. In this representative sample, 43 percent self-identified as Republican, 28 percent as Democratic and 19 percent as independent.

So, when the poll finds that 80 percent favor rules protecting upstream headwaters as covered by a proposed EPA rule, that includes Republicans (78 percent) and independents (73 percent). Or when it finds that 64 percent say that government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, again, we need to understand that it includes a large number of Republicans and independents.

Clean water rules support

The EPA has proposed clarifications to existing clean water rules in a proposal it calls Waters of the U.S. Some industry and farm lobby groups have criticized it vehemently, but according to the poll, small business owners recognize that clean water is crucial for their companies — and for the economy at large. The fact that 80 percent of small business owners support the protections in the proposal should put the issue to rest.

Other findings include:

  • A strong majority, 71 percent, said that clean water protections are necessary to ensure economic growth. Only 6 percent disagreed with that statement. Even when both sides of the argument were presented, about 60 percent of small business owners supported stronger clean water regulations.
  • Two-thirds of small business owners, 67 percent, were concerned that water pollution could harm their business in the future.
  • 62 percent believe that government regulation is needed to prevent water pollution.

Support for limits on carbon from power plants

Small business owners are also concerned about the impact climate change will have on their businesses — in some cases, they have already seen it — and they support federal action to address it. But starting in June when the EPA proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from power plants, some business lobby groups attacked the effort.

Meanwhile, the ASBC small business poll found that business owners are afraid of climate change. Critics would do well to listen to the 64 percent who say that government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. As for the idea that power companies should regulate themselves, only 29 percent said that was a good approach. The bottom line again is that EPA has the support of actual small business owners.

Other findings about climate change include:

  • More than half of all business owners (53 percent) believe climate change will adversely affect their business. Of that, 19 percent – nearly 1 in 5 – say that extreme weather events associated with climate change have already affected their operations.
  • Most business owners are concerned about climate change, regardless of whether the issue is characterized as “carbon pollution” or “climate change.” Majorities of business owners said they were concerned about “carbon pollution” (57 percent) and “climate change” (53 percent).
  • When asked to consider supporting and opposing views together, 50 percent of business owners support limiting emissions from power plants, compared to 28 percent who oppose limits.
  • Fifty-seven percent say that the biggest emitters, like power plants, should make the most significant cuts in carbon emissions, rather than have all businesses cut emissions equally.

Small business is held up as the backbone of the U.S. economy, the job creation engine for the country. And yet, business policy is too often driven by a minority of lobbyists and their clients, who are clearly out of step with the majority of small business owners.

The upcoming election presents an opportunity for small business owners to make a difference by advocating for and voting for those officials who most align with the policy choices that small businesses clearly prefer. At close to 28 million, small business owners have the potential to make an impact. Let’s hope they seize the opportunity.

Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Director – Public Policy and Business Engagement.

American Sustainable Business Council

The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) is a network of companies and business associations. Its column, Policy Points, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process. The goal is to arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more green and sustainable. The column editor is Richard Eidlin, ASBC's Vice President - Public Policy and Business Engagement.

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