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Chesto Means Business

Boston group brings corporate America to D.C. to push for climate bill

Ceres, the Boston-based environmental nonprofit, is leading a lobbying blitz in Washington, D.C., calling for a price on carbon emissions. Above, the LyondellBasell oil refinery in Houston.
Ceres, the Boston-based environmental nonprofit, is leading a lobbying blitz in Washington, D.C., calling for a price on carbon emissions. Above, the LyondellBasell oil refinery in Houston.(Michael Stravato/New York Times/File 2016)

Members of Congress are used to hearing from the usual suspects — the enviros and other lefties — about the pressing need for a law that would curb carbon emissions.

But corporate America has joined the crusade. It will be tougher for lawmakers to write off or refuse to meet with the companies who employ their constituents.

Witness the lobbying blitz underway in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Ceres, the Boston-based environmental nonprofit, corralled executives from some 75 or so companies across the country to schlep to D.C. and make the case for a climate change bill. In particular, these business-world emissaries want a price put on carbon pollution — potentially through a straightforward tax, or a program for capping and trading emissions allowances. Ceres and its allies aren’t backing one particular solution over another. Their goal: to create a financial incentive that puts the entire US economy to work in the fight against global warming.

Ceres has embarked on similar efforts in the past. But Ceres lobbyists say this initiative, dubbed “LEAD on Carbon Pricing,” is the largest so far — in terms of the number of companies involved and the scope of industries at the table. They say every state is represented in some way. Who’s on board? We have tech (Salesforce, Wayfair, Autodesk), consumer goods (Unilever, Mondelez, Pepsi), energy (National Grid, Exelon, PG&E), to name just a few.

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Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management joined Ceres on these forays before. (His Boston firm specializes in socially responsible investing, including in companies that pay attention to their environmental footprints.) But a corporate coalition this diverse represents a different kind of voice. Self-interest, no surprise, is a motivating factor. Many big companies want to do the right thing, he says, but they also want to make sure their rivals play by the same rules.

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Smith knows carbon pricing still has plenty of critics in Congress. His side needs to build more comfort among Republicans that this isn’t just a Democratic issue. It’s why he made a point of holding most of his meetings this time around with skeptics, not believers.

For some businesses, the ravages of climate change have become too difficult to ignore. It’s no surprise to see PG&E on the list of Ceres supporters. The California utility, besieged by deadly fires, could be the first major corporate bankruptcy attributed to a warming planet. But it probably won’t be the last.

The skiing industry is also feeling the heat, as the snowpack slowly melts away. Jessyca Keeler of Ski NH, the New Hampshire trade group, trekked to Washington after getting an invite from the National Ski Areas Association. New Hampshire’s ski resorts have invested $20 million in the past five years to improve the efficiency of their snow-making machines, she says. But Keeler says more must be done. While the resort owners don’t endorse a particular bill, she says they recognize that putting a price on carbon is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions in a way that’s relevant to reaching global climate goals.

Ceres lobbyists say the businesses are spurred in part by recent studies, including one from several agencies within the Trump administration, that underscore the growing risks of global warming. But they’ll need more to join the cause, to persuade the naysayers in Congress. They don’t want a repeat of the Waxman-Markey failure nearly a decade ago, when a 1,400-page climate change bill died in the Senate after narrowly passing in the House. (Cosponsor Ed Markey recently resumed the fight by championing the “Green New Deal” manifesto.)

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Ceres’s crusade this week highlights the Boston group’s growing clout in the business community, something that could prove crucial to getting a climate bill done. Corporate America is knocking now. Maybe Congress will listen more closely.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.