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“We will have a very long memory”: the Greens call the companies bluff on climate change

Environmentalists and their supporters in Congress have a message for these companies: Pick a side. As much of the country still recovers from the death and sinking of Hurricane Ida and after a summer of heatwaves and wildfires around the world, they promise businesses will have a lasting impact. on their reputation if they question what might be their best opportunity. to fight against climate change.

“It’s a very difficult test for companies: was that bullshit? Said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power, a group whose leaders include veterans of the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. “There’s a train and either you get on it or we’ll have a very, very long memory.”

Activist groups have also privately warned that companies belonging to the Chamber and Business Roundtable could lose their place in business climate coalitions ahead of the start of the UN talks on global warming in November, told POLITICO an advisor to these coalitions. If they want to avoid this public reprimand, they must formally distance themselves from pressure groups, said the adviser, who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

Such efforts can start to produce cracks in professional organizations. Some House-owned companies are writing a letter publicly criticizing the lobby’s stance on climate grounds, three people familiar with the effort told POLITICO.

But the House says it is not backing down by opposing the $ 3.5 trillion package, which Democrats are still pulling together from a series of skeletal drafts and proposals in several House committees. .

“This is not a climate bill; it’s a kitchen sink and everything bill, ”said Neil Bradley, House policy manager, in an emailed statement. “A glance at the committee drafts that have been released shows that it is literally all the policies that the majority have not been able to adopt because they lack sufficient support, all rolled into one. law Project. We are not going to solve climate change or any other political problem that way. “

Just a handful of votes in the House or Senate could condemn the bill – which slams both factions on the doors of a handful of lawmakers in a lobbying frenzy. The results will not only shape the size of government and define the expenses the country’s legislature can afford, but also whether the United States can credibly meet President Joe Biden’s goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas production. greenhouse during this decade.

At least a few companies are trying to find common ground, distancing their own perspective on the bill from that of the House without attacking the group. These include the software giant Salesforce.

“The position of the United States Chamber of Commerce on [$3.5 trillion] The reconciliation package does not reflect Salesforce’s view on the need for immediate and bold climate action, ”said Patrick Flynn, the company’s head of global sustainability, in a statement. “We are actively working to improve the Chamber’s position on the climate.

Those kinds of statements will not wash off, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.), a climate advocate who says companies should quit their trade groups if they are serious about their climate change rhetoric.

“It’s a bunch of bullshit and I think they know it,” Whitehouse told POLITICO of the statements. “American businesses built the largest and most powerful lobbying apparatus in history, which now dominates Congress – and they built it for a reason. … They know full well that the other little statements they might make will not withstand the pressure of the apparatus they have built.

Other companies say they cannot support the Democrats’ bill, despite their support for aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gases.

Hugh Welsh, chairman of chemical and pharmaceutical company DSM North America, said that while he was pushing the House to strengthen its stance on the climate, he agreed with his stance that he is not wise for Democrats trying to force the bill through Congress onto the party line. votes using budget reconciliation. He said such a partisan process could lead a Republican-led Congress to repeal the bill later. In addition, he said the bill’s tax increases could outweigh climate incentives and benefits.

“There are parts that I support, others that I do not support,” Welsh said of the bill. “The White House tells us that you are either for everything or for nothing. It’s a tough position to occupy when it comes to everything and the kitchen sink.

The forces deployed against the bill’s revenue-raising provisions are powerful, said Alex Flint, executive director of the free-market climate group Alliance for Market Solutions. “We all talk about lobbies in Washington for one reason or another, but the ‘don’t raise my taxes’ lobby is very powerful. And this lobby comes out in force with reconciliation. “

In addition to being too partisan to last, the NAM, the Business Roundtable and the House have said increases in corporate taxes and other measures likely needed to pay for the provisions will hurt U.S. competitiveness. while hitting consumers.

“As the House moves the budget reconciliation process forward, the Business Roundtable remains deeply concerned about potential tax increases on U.S. job creators that would thwart the benefits of infrastructure investments,” the Business Roundtable said in a statement.

The time to take a stand is getting shorter and shorter. The House faces a September 27 deadline for a crucial vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $ 550 billion in new spending. The fate of this bill is tied to that of the $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation package, and liberal and moderate Democrats fought for months over which bill Congress should pass first.

People working with business-focused climate groups have told companies they also have a September 27 deadline, the business climate adviser said: By then they must publicly support the climate goals of the reconciliation bill and commit to opposing lobbying that would lower income growth. provisions, such as the increase in corporation tax.

“Meetings have been and are happening with big companies,” the person said. “The request has been made.”

The reconciliation bill would include hundreds of billions in climate spending, such as tax credits for renewable energy, incentives for buying and manufacturing electric vehicles, money to improve efficiency energy from homes and penalties for fossil fuel companies for their pollution from global warming, according to Democrats’ proposals. have floated. The Chamber’s energy and trade committee will hold markup on many key climate provisions on Monday.

Meanwhile, environmental groups and other progressive organizations are working to avoid their own potential divisions – especially if moderate Democrats’ efforts to lower the price of the bill force Congress to choose between spending initiatives. climate, health and social issues of the package.

Environmental activists are also struggling to keep their Democratic Party allies, which control the House, Senate and White House, in line to keep their climate promises.

The Sunrise movement and other progressive groups are planning events across the country on September 20 to pressure Democrats, including on Capitol Hill, as well as protests in Arizona against Senator Kyrsten Sinema and one in California for the president Nancy Pelosi. Sinema and fellow moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia have been the party’s most skeptical of the reconciliation bill and its price tag.

Ellen Schiales, spokesperson for the climate group, said the organization had worked with the offices of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) And Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) to fight for the most progressive climate provisions of the bill.

“All [environmental] group has its own priorities, but overall a lot of these groups have been really unified, ”she said, citing strong specific support for a Civil Corps climate project that would provide jobs for young people from across the country. the whole country in various environmental projects. They also support a version of a clean energy standard without support for natural gas, forcing utilities across the country to gradually increase their energy mix while phasing out fossil fuels – unless they capture their emissions. .

Progressives and environmental groups saw a positive sign last week when two House Democrats – Representatives Henry Cuellar of Texas and Stephanie Murphy of Florida – indicated that only the climate provisions of the bill should be allowed to increase the deficit, even though they blushed. to the overall size of the package.

“Any reconciliation bill must be fiscally responsible and must also take bold steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change, which will save us money in the long run,” Murphy said in a statement. “In my opinion, tackling climate change is both morally necessary and financially responsible. “

But climate activists have said they will not accept any attempt by the moderates to remove non-climate provisions from the $ 3.5 trillion bill in hopes of enhancing its bipartisan appeal. They said progress on climate change would be incomplete without the progressive package.

“We are pushing for the full Build Back Better package,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters. “We don’t negotiate with ourselves.