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Companies for, against, climate bill

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As Congress begins debate on climate change legislation, American businesses are watching very closely. Some are worried that a new law could bankrupt them with energy costs. But others see a bright future under carbon limits. Julie Grant reports.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Transcript: Julie  Grant, November 20, 2009

As Congress begins debate on climate change legislation, American businesses are watching very closely. Some are worried that a new law could bankrupt them with energy costs. But others see a bright future under carbon limits. Julie Grant reports:

Jeff Holmstead is an environmental attorney and has been working on clean air issues for two decades now. He led the Air Division of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush Administration and has worked on some of the most significant environmental regulations in the nation’s history. But he says the current climate change bill is the biggest thing he’s seen.

“It’s a big deal. Much bigger than really any other environmental legislation or regulation than people have had to deal with in the past.”

Holmstead says the stakes are just so high. He says the costs could reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars for American businesses.

“And there’s just also enormous amounts of uncertainty as to how we would fundamentally change our society, which has really grown up largely using fossil fuels. Whether we can truly switch away from that in the kind of time frame that people are talking about.”

But a big shift away from fossil fuels isn’t scaring off everybody. Some businesses are actually lobbying for climate change legislation.

Commercial: “Climate change is real. But solving it is a real opportunity. If we build clean energy technologies in America, we’ll generate the jobs that will power the 21st century and jumpstart our economy. We need a can-do plan that caps greenhouse gas pollution and creates jobs here at home.”

This commercial is not made by a bunch of tree-huggers, liberals, or Al Gore. It stars the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and corporate CEOs from Deere and Company and the Eaton Corporation. Eaton makes everything from circuit breakers to hoses to hybrid trucks.

“Yeah, Eaton is a power management company that sales about 15-billion dollars and 70,000 employees worldwide.”

That’s Joe Wolfsberger. He’s in charge of environmental programs at Eaton. The company wants Congress to approve climate change legislation and to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Wolfsberger says it could be a great kick-start for the economy and help create jobs.

“We also see a very big opportunity for Eaton and other companies, especially in this power management area. We’ll be able to provide solutions for people to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions going forward, to help reduce the amount of fuel they consume on the road as part of their operations.”

The company has already created new hybrid transmissions for delivery trucks. They’re used in lots of UPS, Fed-Ex, and Wal-Mart trucks. Wolfsberger says it improves gas mileage 50% to 70%.

Wolfsberger says a lot of companies are still questioning whether climate change is real. He says Eaton CEO Alexander Cutler gets asked about it a lot.

“And his response to them is, ‘it doesn’t really matter if the data is good or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s a normal climatic cycle. The question is, if you as a company can do better, you should do better.’”

But that may be easy to say when your company will benefit from climate change legislation. It’s a lot tougher when your business is producing natural gas or making steel and depends on heavy use of fossil fuels.

Environmental attorney Jeff Holmstead says the price of reducing greenhouse gases is going to be a lot higher for these types of companies if a bill passes. He says that’s what the debate is all about.

“Should we be spending a hundred billion dollars a year, should we be spending a trillion dollars a year? I think most people believe we could significantly reduce our CO2 emissions, it’s just a question of how much we’re willing to pay, and also what we get for that.”

And this what Congress will be debating in the coming months – whether the possibility of higher energy bills is worth the chance to have a more stable climate and more energy independence.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Copyright © 2009. The Regents of the University Of Michigan. Used with permission.

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