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Tina Casey headshot

Will Congress Listen When BICEP's 475,000 Jobs Talk?

The new Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition made a splash in the heat of last year's presidential campaign when it came out swinging in favor of extending the production tax credit for wind power. Now, the group is out with another well-timed announcement. Last week, BICEP released a "Climate Declaration" in support of clean energy, signed by some of the nation's best known brands and leading employers, smack in the middle of confirmation hearings for Obama's nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.

Together, the 33 signatories account for 475,000 jobs and $450 billion in annual revenue. That's something to keep in mind as certain members of the U.S. Senate have been using the McCarthy nomination as an opportunity to score points and bash the EPA for its "job-killing" role in the U.S. economy.

BICEP spotlights the bottom line impacts of climate change

BICEP is an initiative of the sustainable business leadership organization, Ceres, and the interesting thing about BICEP is that it consists almost entirely of companies and trade organization that do not develop or sell renewable energy technology, nor do they produce renewable energy except as an add-on to existing facilities (by installing rooftop solar panels on a retail store, for example).

In other words, those 475,000 jobs are not "green jobs," but their preservation and growth depends on clean energy and climate management goals.

This is most clearly demonstrated by the group of Climate Declaration backers that have a straightforward interest in transitioning the global energy landscape out of fossil fuels and into sustainable energy, such as the Outdoor Industry Association, The North Face and Aspen-Snowmass. For companies like these, the continued preservation and growth of fossil fuel production is a direct double whammy. It degrades outdoor recreation areas, while also contributing to a warming trend that threatens the continued existence of cold-weather recreation opportunities in the U.S.

For other companies in the BICEP lineup, such as KB Home, climate action represents a new market niche with new opportunities for growth, including new partnership opportunities. In KB's case, a partnership with SunPower has resulted in strong sales for new home packages that include solar installations.

Climate action and resource stewardship

Aside from these direct connections, the companies involved in BICEP demonstrate that corporate climate action is entwined with a broader awareness of the need for sustainable resource stewardship in the context of global population growth and the expansion of consumer markets into previously undeveloped communities.

Among the best known examples are retail companies including Starbucks, Levi Strauss & Co., and IKEA. Quite simply, these companies depend on various overlapping combinations of agricultural, forestry and water resource stewardship in addition to climate stewardship, in order to keep making their products.

Levi Strauss & Co. is especially forward-looking because the company has gone out of its way to articulate the connection between resource stewardship and the general welfare of communities that host its manufacturing facilities, proposing a next-generation approach to corporate social responsibility that goes beyond the factory walls.

Fossil fuels and job killing

This community stewardship approach contrasts with an emerging picture of fossil fuel production, in which some jobs are created at the expense of overall well-being and economic sustainability. Coal is a particularly notorious example, as aside from global climate change impacts there are significant regional public health impacts associated with emissions from coal-fired power plants, as well as an economically depressing effect on local coal mining communities.

As for other forms of fossil fuel production in the U.S., the fracking boom has raised issues regarding water contamination and serious threats to infrastructure in populated areas, in the form of earthquakes associated with wastewater disposal from both gas and oil drilling.

Meanwhile, aside from major high-profile disasters like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the recent tar sands oil pipeline spill in Arkansas is just one reminder that the nation's aging network of oil pipelines poses an ongoing threat to the quality of life, and consequently the economic growth, of inland communities.

The Climate Declaration

In this context, the Climate Declaration is an important reminder that fossil fuel jobs are just one piece of a broader U.S. economic picture that has always deployed change as an instrument of strength, growth and power.

The brief statement begins with the assertion that, "The very foundation of our country is based on fighting for our freedoms and ensuring the health and prosperity of our state, our community, and our families." It identifies climate change as a threat to health and prosperity, and it identifies human activity in the form of air pollution as the cause of that threat.

The statement concludes that energy conservation, alternative energy and domestic job creations are the weapons that are necessary to "maintain our way of life and remain a true superpower in a competitive world."

The subtext could not be more clear. While part of the coal industry's lobbying effort leans on a nostalgic view of the role of coal mining and coal miners in American history, BICEP draws out the counter-argument that misplaced nostalgia breeds a false complacency in the face of an overwhelming threat to the "way of life" in America.

That brings us back around to Gina McCarthy, who as head of the EPA Office of Air and Radiation has played a leading role in crafting new regulations for power plant emissions. Though she has indicated a rational, "flexible" approach to applying the new standards, the bottom line is that over a long career in air pollution regulation that has spanned both Democratic and Republican administrations, McCarthy has established a reputation for recognizing the public health and economic development nexus of the American energy landscape, and that bodes well for the future of clean energy.

[Image: Courtesy of BICEP/Ceres]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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