September 22, 2020

Time to Wake Up: Business Roundtable vs. Corporate Inaction

As delivered on the Floor

Mr. President, this is a “Time to Wake Up” good news-bad news speech.

The good news from last week is on business community support for carbon pricing. What is carbon pricing? Well, remember that IMF–the International Monetary Fund–pegs the fossil fuel subsidy in the United States at more than $600 billion per year, so the energy market is dramatically tilted to favor fossil fuels. Carbon pricing helps set that right, helps make an even playing field. It is economics 101. And carbon pricing makes a lot of sense.

What happened last week? The Business Roundtable, made up of all of these giant American corporations and more–these are the top 50 that I could fit on this chart, but there are 200 of them–came out in support of carbon pricing. Their report warned that the consequences of climate change for global prosperity and socioeconomic well-being are significant. The world simply cannot afford the costs of inaction.

The Business Roundtable’s report went on to urge companies to “align policy goals and [greenhouse gas] emissions reduction targets with scientific evidence.” Listen to the scientists. We could do more of that.

The BRT said that a key component of science-based climate policy should be a price on carbon. Here is what they said:

“A price on carbon would provide an effective incentive to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions and mitigate climate change, including through the development and deployment of breakthrough technologies. . . . Establishing a clear price signal is the most importantconsideration for encouraging innovation, driving efficiency, and ensuring sustained environmental and economic effectiveness.”

So this is big news–these are big companies–and this is good news. These companies at the Business Roundtable employ more than 15 million people. They have more than $7.5 trillion in revenues. Their unified voice is a good thing and a big deal.

With all of that good news from all of these big American corporations, what is the bad news? The bad news is that corporate America often shows one face to the world and a very different face to Congress, and the face they show to Congress is not at all aligned with this policy they just announced to the world. This discrepancy, this misalignment, is a persistent problem, and it needs to be fixed.

The problem has three dimensions. One, even these companies don’t pay much attention to climate change in their lobbying and election activities. For most, it is zero attention.

By the way, that silence is deafening around here, and that silence by these companies is compounded by the trade associations through which they consolidate their lobbying work. Most trade associations do nothing on climate.

Here is Coke and Pepsi’s trade association. By the way, here are Pepsi and Coke on the list of companies that joined the Business Roundtable pro-climate, pro-carbon-price statement. But when they lobby, here is their American Beverage Association, the trade association. As you can see, they haven’t been spending much money lately, and they haven’t been spending anything on climate.

In 2009 and in 2010, they spent a lot of money. Why? Because we were starting to work on ObamaCare and there was an idea that the companies that sold sugary beverages that created health issues should help pay the cost of the health issues that their sweetened beverages created. So off to battle went the American Beverage Association with millions and millions of dollars in spending.

This, by the way, is just the number of lobbyists. This is their spending. So if they cared about climate change and wanted to put a little bit of lobby pressure on, this is what they are capable of doing. This is what they are doing.

Here is a pitch, in my hands right here, entitled “TechNet: Remaining Legislative Priorities for 2020.” This is 13 pages of advocacy for all the things the tech sector wants from Congress through their trade association, TechNet–13 pages. The list goes on and on. “Top priorities,” and then page after page, in small print, of all the priorities, of all the things that they want Congress to do for them–and there is not a single mention of climate change, not a single mention of carbon price.

What do you think Congress will respond to–general noise made to the world or your specific asks to Congress?

Here is the list of companies whose CEOs signed that Business Roundtable report and came out for action on climate and a carbon price and who are also in TechNet, which, the week before, came here with 13 pages of legislative priorities that didn’t include either climate change or carbon price.

You have to line things up, you guys. These are big players. Look at them: Honeywell, Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, Visa, GM, Apple, Comcast, Oracle, Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, and PayPal–all on both sides of the issue within the same week here in Congress. So those are the trade associations that do nothing on this issue.

It gets worse because there are trade associations that are our worst enemies on climate action. In fact, InfluenceMap has done some research and tracked which groups and which corporations are the most climate friendly and which are the most climate hostile. If you look all the way over, right next to Marathon Petroleum in hostility is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There was actually a tie. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers were. statistically tied as the two worst climate obstructers in America. So they are out here, having worked hammer and tongs to stop climate legislation and prevent a carbon price, and you have the Business Roundtable statement supporting action on climate change and supporting a carbon price.

So here are the companies that are members of the Business Roundtable and came out last week for action on climate change and supported a carbon price and that are also members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which relentlessly opposes all serious climate action and, specifically, a carbon price.

Look at them all. Look at them all. I don’t know if the camera can pan in on that, but these are some of America’s biggest corporations. I would bet you that, if this group said, “Hey, we have just made a new decision over in the Business Roundtable, wearing our Business Roundtable hat,” and went to the Chamber and said, “We are not going to do your opposition any longer; we are not going to support your opposition to climate action; we are actually serious about being for climate action and a carbon price”–if all of those companies actually said that to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and threatened to quit if they didn’t clean up their act at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that would make a very big difference.

And around here that would make a very big difference because the Chamber is the biggest kahuna of lobbying. It is electioneering all the time, usually against Democrats, almost inevitably for the worst candidate on climate, and they are over in courts and in regulatory agencies opposing climate action all the time. So why support that if what you really support is doing something on climate, including a carbon price?

So the National Association of Manufacturers was the other group in a tie with the Chamber for America’s worst climate obstructer. These are all the companies whose CEOs signed the Business Roundtable statement supporting climate action and supporting carbon pricing and are members of one of the two worst climate obstructers in America, at the same time. So that creates a little bit of a problem.

Now, I should go back to the Chamber one just briefly and put a caveat in here. We don’t know who all the Chamber members are. It is a very secretive organization. Many of its members report that they are members of the organization, and that is how we can assemble a list like this. But if the company doesn’t report that they are members, we don’t know.

So this is not necessarily complete, but this is all that we can know out of this secretive, very oppositional, worst climate obstructer organization–the Chamber of Commerce.

There are some other odd discordances among these Business Roundtable leaders. We go back to Business Roundtable membership who signed on this; that is, companies like Google, Amazon, AT&T, and Verizon, which are on the BRT list. There is Verizon right there. They are donors to something called the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is the group that put that flagrant, some would say almost nutty, climate denier Myron Ebell onto the EPA transition team. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a dramatic antagonist to either anything serious on climate or a price on carbon. Yet companies that signed this Business Roundtable statement support the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Many people will remember when we came to the floor in groups of Senators to talk about the web of denial and the web of front groups that the fossil fuel industry set up to hide their hands and do their dirty work and stop climate action in Congress. That is the Competitive Enterprise Institute right there–right there, right smack in the middle of the web of fossil-fuel-funded climate denial, and Google, Amazon, AT&T, and Verizon were all supporting that group while supporting the Business Roundtable.

Now, none of this would matter much if Congress was just a sideshow and it was really up to corporations to do their own thing, but that is not the case. Action in Congress is actually the main event in succeeding on climate. That is why the fossil fuel industry has worked so hard to set up this web to deny climate science and to obstruct climate action here in Congress.

So when these Business Roundtable companies come to Congress through their other groups and say, “Don’t bother on climate” or “Don’t do a carbon price,” it matters. And it makes it a little hard to really take action in Congress based on their statement that they support climate action and a carbon price when, through other groups, they are funding the opposition to the position that they claim to support.

So, to the BRT, thank you for what you did. I don’t want to under appreciate that. It is a big deal. It is a good, good thing. But now you have to make it real. You have to make it real in Congress. No more zero effort from you. No more zero effort from your trade associations. No more support for our biggest climate obstructers from you.

If you want the results of what you asked for, you have to align your actions in Congress with your values. Align what you say in that statement with what you do through your groups here in Congress. That ought not to be much to ask–to align what you do in Congress with what you say you want to do to the outside world.

I have a few suggestions, if you are interested. One, think about commissioning a lobbying and electioneering audit of your own company. If you are the CEO, commission an audit of your own company’s lobbying and electioneering so you actually know what your company is doing on climate.

I suspect a lot of the CEOs signed this in good faith. They don’t know. So commission an audit. Learn what your company is really doing on climate.

Do an audit of your trade associations. If you are a member of a trade association, get in there and see what they are up to. I bet that you will find that what I say is true.

Three, demand that your trade associations declare where they get their money. It seems obvious that the reason that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers became the two worst climate obstructers in America is because they were paid to. If you, CEOs on the Business Roundtable, had known that, this might not have happened. We might not have been here by now.

It is very likely that the Chamber and the NAM leaders snuck up on you, taking floods of fossil fuel money that they didn’t tell you about and selling out their organizations to the fossil fuel industry, leaving you high and dry, having to explain why you are supporting the two worst climate obstructers in America.

So do your audit, and then give those trade associations a deadline to align with your policy or you will quit–you will quit on the deadline if they haven’t. Don’t let them slow-walk you through endless discussion and process while they are still loading up on fossil fuel money and running fossil fuel errands in your names. Don’t let them do that.

Finally–finally–recommendation five, ask your lawyers. Ask your lawyers, particularly if you are on the board of climate obstructer groups: If these groups were trafficking in fraudulent information, what is the board’s responsibility? That is a lawyer question.

If they loaded up with fossil fuel money, how was your due diligence on the board of that organization in detecting that warning signal that your trade association had loaded up with fossil fuel money and was arguing against your position when it came to Congress, carrying the water for the fossil fuel industry? Your lawyers may have some advice about whether you have met due diligence.

Final point, climate is not really a partisan issue. It wasn’t in 2007 to 2009, when Senator Cardin and I got here and the Senate had multiple bipartisan climate bills.

It wasn’t in 2008, when Republican John McCain had climate on his party platform as the Republican nominee. It all started with Citizens United in 2010, when the fossil fuel industry was allowed to trade up its political weaponry from muskets, corporate PACs, to tactical nukes, unlimited spending, secret super PACs, phony front groups–the whole apparatus of climate obstruction.

Today, as a result of that, the Republican Party has been so captured that on climate it is little more than the political wing of the fossil fuel industry. It doesn’t have to be that way.

To these big companies who signed this wonderful pledge: Fix your politics, push back on the fossil fuel obstruction, clean up your obstructor trade associations, wake up your sleepers, and make climate a real priority in Congress, and you will see what looks like magic begin to happen.

For you all, it is less time to wake up to climate change than it is time to wake up to your own political indifference and presumably unknowing complicity in the political logjam on climate action that the fossil fuel industry has deliberately created here in Congress.

With that, I yield the floor.