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Tina Casey headshot

The Business Case for Pushing Bipartisan Climate Action in Congress

By Tina Casey
Could recent Senate hearings on climate change be the spark that pushes bipartisan action in Congress, which in turn could motivate more companies to take bolder steps as well?

Could recent Senate hearings on climate change be the spark that pushes bipartisan action in Congress, which in turn could motivate more companies to take bolder steps as well?

As we discussed earlier this week, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had convened an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change, the first time in six years a hearing focused on climate change had occurred in the Senate. Could it be the spark that pushes bipartisan action in Congress, which in turn could motivate more companies to take bolder steps on climate action?

Among the many topics Murkowski discussed about the impact climate change has had on Alaska during the hearing, she dropped one hint regarding the need for Congress to take action. It occurred midway through her statement, in the context of relocating communities at risk from encroaching seas:

“We have a number of communities that need to relocate in order to survive the encroaching seas, as we’re seeing more sea ice move out and more open water. But, our reality is that we don’t, at this point in time, have a clear or effective federal plan to ensure that can happen on a timely basis.”

That brings us to a caveat regarding last week’s hearing. Although it was an important step forward, it was a small one.

Senator Murkowski already has a reputation for articulating positions outside of the conventional Republican mold, so the climate change hearing was not exactly a sea change for her.

Similarly, the weight of the hearing was somewhat diluted by the ranking member on the Committee, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, whose stance on climate action tends to be on peacemaking with fossil fuel stakeholders and job holders in his home state.

A more definitive milestone by which to measure meaningful bipartisan agreement would finally occur when hardline Republican climate deniers like Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe and U.S. President Donald J. Trump finally begin to advocate for bold climate action.

What bipartisan action?

A recent article in Bloomberg painted a somewhat more optimistic picture on the pace of bipartisan movement, but points out the essential problem: Republicans in Congress are beginning to stop sowing doubt about climate change, but they have yet to act on any national policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bloomberg does note, though, that additional hearings are on the way. That provides every American business with a Republican representative (or a waffling Democratic representative), to take a page from Senator Murkowski’s playbook and advocate for climate action in terms of real-time pocketbook and quality of life impacts. And business leaders can do their part by making the economic case for the deployment of cleaner sources of electricity and transport fuel.

For additional support, businesses can turn to the increase in bipartisan support for renewable energy, which rests almost entirely on the economic benefits of low cost, zero emission power.

Another avenue is the weight of public opinion. Despite criticism from the Republican side of the aisle (and from some Democrats), the elements of the proposed Green New Deal have received strong support in public opinion polls.

We can see the shift to renewables occur across the U.S., especially in the reddest of the “red” states. We’re witnessing a surge in clean energy investment in Texas; tea party activists in Georgia have worked with the Sierra Club to advance the cause of renewables in the Peach State; wind power has been keeping the lights on in much of North Dakota.

The Green New Deal as a segue to corporate responsibility

The tenets of the Green New Deal also coincide with the foundation of corporate social responsibility, especially regarding the transition to the low carbon economy.

Finally, global oil and gas giants are also lending the weight of their authority to the clean power transition. Shell, for example, has made it clear that they support actions designed to take on climate change.

The beginning of the Trump administration saw the pullout from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and many anti-climate actions have since occurred, However, signs of bipartisan action were already in the air in Congress, and within the President’s own administration.

With a nudge from the business community, federal action on climate change could occur no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Image credit: Daxis/Flickr

Tina Casey headshot

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey