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Tina Casey headshot

Companies Supporting Build Back Better Can Still Kick Climate Action into High Gear

By Tina Casey
Build Back Better

Earlier this week, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced that he would not support the climate provisions in the latest version of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill. That seemed to kill any chance of strong federal action on decarbonization, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, companies that have lobbied in support of Build Back Better still have an opportunity to make their voices heard.

What Is Build Back Better?

Build Back Better is an all-encompassing job creation, health care reform, tax reform and social progress bill. Among its provisions are several programs that leverage climate action as a platform for equitable economic growth. The bill is moving through Congress as part of the budget reconciliation process, so it only needs a simple majority vote to pass the Senate. Otherwise, it would require a filibuster-proof majority of 60 senators in favor.

The bill narrowly passed the House of Representatives last fall by a majority vote consisting of only Democrats in favor. The measure could also pass the Senate without any support from Republicans. However, that would require all 50 Democratic senators to vote in favor. With Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) flexing his power to hold up the bill, they are short one vote.

As of last week, Manchin announced that he was willing to support the bill only if the climate provisions were stripped out.

Lots of talk, little action on federal climate policy

For all the corporate talk about sustainability, decarbonization and net zero goals, few leading companies have been willing to lobby persistently and publicly in support of the climate provisions within Build Back Better.

The organization InfluenceMap, for example, has analyzed lobbying activity around Build Back Better by more than 400 companies and 175 industry associations. As described in its analysis, currently only 75 companies have demonstrated engagement on the climate provisions of Build Back Better, whether positive, mixed or negative.

In fact, of the 75 companies that have engaged with Build Back Better, only 38 have consistently supported the climate provisions. Another group of 13 companies supported some provisions but not others, or expressed conditional support.

A third group of 17 companies showed “negative engagement,” with 13 related to objections over tax reforms. Also, in the “negative engagement” category were four other companies. Three were utilities and the fourth was Tesla, which has earned a set-aside partly due to the social media activities of CEO Elon Musk.

InfluenceMap points out that the small measure of corporate support for the climate provisions in Build Back Better is a sharp contrast to the amount of anti-climate lobbying conducted by industry associations.

“U.S. industry associations, including major cross-sector trade associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were highly actively opposed to the Build Back Better Act,” InfluenceMap notes.

According to InfluenceMap’s analysis, only 14 companies in the S&P 100 have consistently lobbied in support of the climate provisions in Build Back Better: Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Exelon, Alphabet, Intel, Meta, Microsoft, Netflix, PepsiCo, Walmart, NextEra, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

Using a different lens, the organization C2ES (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions) solicited 27 companies for a public letter to Congress in support of the climate provisions. The C2ES cohort focused mainly on top legacy manufacturing and energy firms that have pivoted into decarbonization: ABB, ArcelorMittal, bp America, CMS Energy, Constellation, Cummins Inc, Daikin U.S. Corporation, DSM, DTE Energy, Duke Energy, Edison International, Entergy Corporation, General Electric, HP Inc., Intel Corporation, LafargeHolcim, National Grid, PG&E Corporation, PSEG, Schneider Electric, Shell, Southern Company and Trane Technologies. The list also included startups LanzaTech and Proterra, as well as Ford and Salesforce.

The picture looks much brighter through a wider lens that accommodates smaller companies. Last September, before Build Back Better was trimmed down, the American Sustainable Business Network organized more than 300 companies to sign its own letter to Congress supporting the climate provisions. Ceres engaged almost 400 companies in similar letter last December, and the organization American Clean Power solicited more than 260 clean energy employers for another letter on January 24 this year.

Raising the corporate voice on climate action

Considering the depth of the partisan divide over energy policy, it’s no surprise that none of this activity persuaded Republicans in the House or Senate to vote in favor of Build Back Better. Senator Manchin is also unlikely to change his mind, considering his various ties to the fossil energy industry.

Still, as of this writing there are opportunities to act. As is his habit, Manchin left the door open for further discussion. In addition, new legislation could be forthcoming next year, if the Democrats hold their majority in Congress after the midterm elections.

The corporate voice is needed more now than ever. On top of GOP-led opposition to federal climate policy, a new obstacle arose last month when the Republican-appointed majority on the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strip down the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate power plant emissions.

InfluenceMap advises that climate advocates can leverage corporate statements on sustainability to build a new groundswell of support for federal climate legislation.

“All major U.S. companies should be asked to clarify their positions on the Build Back Better Act in relation to their own climate commitments and the current political and regulatory context in the U.S.,” InfluencMap advises. In particular, it recommends calling out companies that have expressed decarbonization and sustainability goals but oppose Build Back Better.  

InfluenceMap also suggests that companies with a track record of support for Build Back Better can take it to the next level. To start, they can dedicate their public relations resources to reaffirming their support. These companies can also enlist the power of senior management and CEO messaging in the effort.

Advocates can also target companies that mainly object to the tax provisions in Build Back Better, or that have expressed mixed support. Such companies can be asked to step up and clarify their position specifically on the climate provisions, especially if they have established their own corporate sustainability goals.

Senator Manchin and his allies in the fossil energy industry holds an outsized influence on federal energy policy. Corporations that are truly serious about stepping up the pace of climate action need to stop touting their own achievements, and start rallying more support for federal legislation.

Image credit: Gustavo Fring via Pexels

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