Getting US Business Behind Climate and Energy Legislation

With the upcoming release of the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman energy bill amidst a contentious environment on Capitol Hill, we’re starting to see the big push to get business support for the legislation. The Politico interview with Sen. Graham makes the case explicitly:

“The package represents major victories for the business community, which was virtually shut out of House deliberations on an energy reform bill that passed last year. …. But the partisan atmosphere in Washington could wipe out those gains if the corporate world doesn’t stand behind it, Graham said.”

So the question is, what is their pitch to the corporate world? Ignoring large energy companies for a minute, since it sounds like their needs are being taken care of explicitly in the bill, how is your average company going to benefit from this bill? This is the question they need to have a good answer to when they roll it out next week.

From what I’ve heard they are banking on the idea that this bill is more “business friendly”, but I’m not sure that resonates with your average business. Cap and trade will now be limited to utilities (though it sounds like they’re going to rebrand it) and there’s limits on the EPA. But a vast majority of US companies would not have been governed directly by the House bill, so this won’t be a big sales point, unless there are folks out there who are really worried about what the EPA might do, but, again, unless you’re in the energy business or one of a small number of CO2 producing industries, this probably wasn’t a huge worry.

So based on my experience in the corporate world, here is my advice to the team on how to sell to the US business community:

  1. Don’t dwell on details between the House and Senate bills. If you aren’t in the energy business the two bills won’t look that different – a cap and trade system coupled with long, long lists of energy company and efficiency incentives and programs. Dwelling on the details is not going to be motivational.

  2. Lay out an energy vision and/or strategy. Here’s the key line in the interview:

    “If our country doesn’t get an energy vision and start incentivizing alternative sources of energy, this whole international movement to clean up the planet is going to pass us by, and we’re going to be following China instead of leading China,” he added.

    Great, so what’s the vision? What will our energy landscape look like in 2035? All nuclear? All solar? Half solar, half biofuels? 10% coal, 50% natural gas, 20% wind and 20% nukes? How about transportation? How much can we really get with efficiency long-term? Without this vision its hard to decide whether the bill will drive us toward the vision or not. Maybe the answer is that we’re going to bet on 4 or 5 clean approaches plus nuclear and hope that 3 deliver to give us a majority of clean energy by some date. That’s fine – lets just state what the vision is and how the bill gets us there.

  3. Address the two big business questions. First, business is going to want to understand the potential impact to the economy in the near term. They know this isn’t going to be free, but a lot of companies are just starting to get their feet back under them and they don’t want to turn the clock back twelve or twenty four months. Second, businesses want to understand the long-term benefit. They’ll be pleased with the climate risk reduction, but what will really get their support is a clear message of “cheap, clean energy”. They’d love to hear that there’s a point in the future where the latest Mideast uprising won’t spike their energy prices; a point where they don’t have to factor in annual electricity increases into their budget; a point where they can design energy-using products that will be cheaper to use for their customers than the year before; and that there’s a point in the future where the energy required to run their business isn’t based on some dwindling resource, or environment-scarring process.

All business want these things, and when you combine them with the climate benefits you can generate some excitement for the bill.

Through the climate bill process the energy companies have been front and center in the discussion. That’s important, since they have to help implement our future energy system. But if we want to get the broader business community on board now, we have to step back from the details in those months and months of discussion and deliver a message that has broader appeal.