Bryan McGannon: The Surprising Pro-Environment Business Segment

earth-newThe climate proposals recently announced by the President will divide the business community. Fossil fuel companies will be alarmed and clean energy businesses will be encouraged. But one segment of the business community seems united in its support of limits on power plant emissions and other policies to protect the environment: small business owners.

New polling of small business owners across the country show that they strongly support the kind of proposals that the President is pursuing. The results of the poll, commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), make small business owners out to be surprisingly pro-environment.

Consider the anchor of the President’s proposal:  new EPA regulations for existing power plants that will limit how much carbon pollution they may emit. In the ASBC poll, 63% of small business owners support proposed efforts by the EPA to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Why? Small business owners have a stake in avoiding the rising energy and water costs, supply-chain disruptions, declining property values and other dangerous side effects of climate change. Business owners understand the cost of not taking preventative action to mitigate climate change. It means fewer resources, higher externalities, and a more difficult economic environment.

Think about the widespread business costs of recent climate events. Hurricane Sandy cost millions of dollars in repairs, and the livelihoods of many small business owners and their employees were swept away with the rising tides.  Massive draughts have ravaged the Midwest, leaving business owners often without a product to sell, or whole farms destroyed.  To account for these loses, insurance steps in, driving up the cost of insurance to all business.  Even if your business is fortunate enough to escape adverse weather, you will often still bear the costs of climate change.

The EPA proposal will also help provide the clear signal businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors are looking for in long-term energy and environmental policies. As the regulations continue to be clarified, technological innovation and investment in the domestic clean energy market will begin to grow. To illustrate, the standard proposed for new power plants provides a clear path forward for the electric sector and the important domestic resources they rely on, including natural gas. Setting a clear direction for existing power plants helps  resolve the uncertainty that has constrained investments companies might otherwise consider. Without a path, these investments are often put on the backburner, putting America’s global competitiveness at stake.

The inclusion of carbon pollution limits is an especially profound step. But business owners also understand that investing in cleaner technologies and more efficient resources can be a pathway to profit and prosperity. Economic growth is boosted and jobs are created, while investors reap competitive returns.

In the poll, 72 percent of small business owners said incentives for clean energy are a priority. Strong majorities across party lines want incentives to help U.S. companies build a competitive advantage over other countries are a top, high, or middle priority, including 81% of Independents and 58% of Republicans. The positive economic outcomes associated with proactively fighting climate change – including returns on investment in renewable energy and exportable technology– are too great to ignore.

Small business owners also strongly back the president’s proposed energy efficiency measures .  In the ASBC poll, almost eight out of ten small business owners support increasing energy efficiency by 50% over the next ten years. With such overwhelming support in the business community, the United States, ever a world leader, has the opportunity to efficiently lead once again on climate change. The proposed regulations will help direct the economic and industrial opportunities that stand to flow from these new initiatives. There is a wellspring of innovation and economic enrichment waiting to be tapped.

While the private sector is moving in the right direction, active federal government leadership is needed in the short-term to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change on our economy. Small business owners are ready to embrace change and with the president’s new climate proposals, businesses of all sizes stand to see welcome shifts in opportunity and support for our ever-changing climate.

Bryan McGannon is Deputy Policy Director for the American Sustainable Business Council, a national business policy advocacy group.

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