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The 2014 Elections and the Road for Sustainable Business


By Zach Bernstein

Every year, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) holds a summit to discuss and plan strategies for creating a greener, fairer economy that works for everyone. This year’s will be held after the midterm elections, at the White House and other locations in DC, and space is still available for those who would like to join the discussion.

A lot will depend on how sustainability-minded candidates do in November. Policies that support sustainable businesses can move the economy in a sustainable direction. And those policies depend on policy makers who understand the importance of sustainability – economically and socially as well as environmentally.

Unfortunately while many campaign ads tout a candidate’s economic bona fides, often the reality and the rhetoric don’t match up.

That’s why the ASBC Action Fund decided to take a look at a few races across the country to see how the solutions match up with the rhetoric. Some are big time races; others are less-well-known. Some are federal elections, and others are more local. All of them, however, will mean a lot for the future of our economy. They will determine who takes the reins at all the different levels of our government, and thus imply which policy paths we can take to move the economy forward.


Probably the closest-watched race of the cycle, this election will help determine whether Republicans win a Senate majority -- and if Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) will become the new Majority Leader. So it’s no surprise that Democrats are heavily backing challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. On one issue, however, both are taking a position that’s bad for the economy.

Both McConnell and Grimes have announced their opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rules on existing power plants, which would require coal plants to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Both have argued the rules will be economically devastating. But in fact, the rules are a necessary step to fight back against climate change, which poses challenges like infrastructure damage, higher energy and health costs, and coastal flooding. Small businesses agree something has to be done -- unfortunately, these candidates are not listening.


The ASBC Action Fund ran an ad earlier this year thanking Rep. Gary Peters (D) for supporting the automotive bailout in 2009. Now, Peters is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Carl Levin (D), and his opponent is Terri Lynn Land (R), who previously served as Michigan’s Secretary of State from 2003 to 2011.

Peters’ campaign website also details his support for clean air and water, promotion of clean energy and hybrid vehicles, and expanding access to capital for small businesses. Meanwhile, Land’s website explains that she wishes the 2014 Farm Bill, which she would have supported, had offered more support for family farms. She also backs changes to the gas tax in order to help the state pay for more infrastructure repairs.

However, Land states that she is in favor of the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport dirty crude oil and bitumen from Canada and exacerbate climate change -- bad news for the economy and the planet. Meanwhile, there’s little independent evidence that it would have any meaningful impact on job growth.

New Hampshire

There’s a great deal of difference between the candidates in this race -- Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D) and challenger Scott Brown (R). Of particular note is a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, known colloquially as “Shaheen-Portman,” which failed earlier this year because of debates over unrelated issues, despite support from groups including ASBC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Natural Resources Defense Council. According to some reports, Brown helped block the bill in the Senate.

There are other differences. Shaheen supports the EPA’s proposed carbon rules, while Brown released a white paper saying the rules would “result in job losses for energy workers and higher utility costs for homeowners.” His energy plan includes more oil and gas development on federal lands and the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Colorado 6th Congressional District

It’s rated as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. It “stands to be the state’s — and potentially the nation’s — toughest House battle of 2014,” wrote Politico last year. But while there are differences between Democrat Andrew Romanoff and Republican incumbent Mike Coffman, what’s more interesting is where they don’t discuss their differences.

Romanoff’s website touts support for a number of environmental initiatives, including protections for air and water, support for renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Coffman’s website? Not a word - either on environmental protection or the jobs that would result from investments in clean energy.

Virginia 10th Congressional District

With Rep. Frank Wolf (R) retiring, this race is also widely considered a tossup. Republican Barbara Comstock, a state delegate, is facing off against Democrat John Foust, a Fairfax County supervisor.

Neither side offers many specific policy proposals, but there are some clear differences. For example, Comstock’s website explains that she will work to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, though does not offer many specifics on what the replacement would be; Foust’s website says he supports the law, though he feels it was “less than perfect.” Comstock also supports offshore drilling for oil and gas, which is controversial at best; Foust’s website does not directly address the issue.

Ballot Initiatives

Even Americans who aren’t seeing a big race have a reason to head to the polls. Spending on ballot initiatives is expected to top $1 billion this year. Most states will have at least one on the ballot: Oregon and Colorado will be voting on GMO labeling, Massachusetts will consider a paid sick leave initiative, and five states will vote on minimum wage increases.

With congressional action on these issues stalled in recent years, this represents an opportunity for voters to push these policies forward and show Congress how out of step it is. Especially on issues like the minimum wage, there’s strong business support.

Elections have consequences. As business leaders -- and voters -- it’s crucial Americans make sure this one sends the message that it’s time to build a sustainable economy.

Zach Bernstein is a Research Associate with the American Sustainable Council Action Fund.

Image credit: Family O'Abé, Flickr cc

American Sustainable Business Council headshotAmerican Sustainable Business Council

The <a href="http://asbcouncil.org">American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)</a> 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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