December 15, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Corporate America’s Call for Climate Action

Mr. President, one of the brightest bright spots at the Paris climate talks last week was the robust corporate presence. Leading businesses and executives from around the world were there in Paris to voice their support for a strong international climate agreement.

That brings me here today for the now 122nd time to say that it is time for America’s leading corporations and their lobbyists to bring that same message here to Washington to help Congress wake up.

Let me use an example of two of the good guys. The two biggest drinks companies in America are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Coke and Pepsi both signed this public letter urging strong climate action in Paris:

Dear U.S. and global leaders:

Now is the time to meaningfully address the reality of climate change. We are asking you to embrace the opportunity presented to you in Paris. ….. We are ready to meet the climate challenges that face our businesses. Please join us in meeting the climate challenges that face the world.

And it is not just that public letter; Coca-Cola’s Web site says it will reduce CO

2 emissions by 25 percent and that to do so, “Coca-Cola will work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain, making comprehensive carbon footprint reductions across its manufacturing processes, packaging formats, delivery fleet, refrigeration equipment and ingredient sourcing.”

Coca-Cola also says: “We continue to partner with peer companies, bottling partners, NGOs, governments and others in addressing our greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging progress in response to climate change.”

Pepsi’s Web site heralds what it calls “its commitment to action on climate change” and announces that it has signed both the Ceres BICEP Climate Declaration in the United States and the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group Trillion Tonne Communique in the UK. These commitments, they say, “are part of PepsiCo’s overall strategy to address climate change by working across its business and with global leaders.”

Here is Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo:

Combating climate change is absolutely critical to the future of our company, customers, consumers–and our world. I believe all of us need to take action now.

I have corresponded with these companies about climate change, and here is what they have said in their letters to me.

In March 2013, Coke said:

We recognize that climate change is a critical challenge facing our planet, with potential impacts on biodiversity, water resources, public health, and agriculture. Beyond the effects on the communities we serve, we view climate change as a potential business risk, understanding that it could likely have direct and indirect effects on our business.

As a responsible global company, with operations in more than 200 countries, we have a role to play in climate protection. …..

Then in May 2014:

The Coca-Cola Company has strongly stated that climate change is happening and the implications of climate change for our planet are profound and wide-ranging. It is our belief that climate change may have long-term direct and indirect implications for our business and supply chain and we recognize that sustainability is core to our long-term value. ….. Climate protection is a key component of our business strategy.

In August of this year:

Coca-Cola joined twelve other corporations at the White House pledging our support for the American Business Act on Climate [Pledge]. Climate protection has been a key focus of Coca-Cola for decades.

In a letter of February 2013, Pepsi said:

PepsiCo applauds your efforts to address climate change by focusing Congressional attention on the issue. ….. At PepsiCo, we recognize the adverse impacts that greenhouse gas emissions have on global temperatures, weather patterns, and the frequency and severity of extreme weather and natural disasters. These impacts may have significant implications for our company. ….. Accordingly, responding to climate change is integrated into PepsiCo’s business strategy.

In September of this year, Pepsi wrote:

We look forward to providing further support on the “Road to Paris”–demonstrating that actions by business in climate are not only good for the environment, but good for business.

That is all great stuff. Here is where it gets a little strange. Coke and Pepsi have a trade association, the American Beverage Association, that lobbies for the soft drink industry, and they also support the business lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, the American Beverage Association sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and contributes to it a lot of money.

Here is the official position of the American Beverage Association on climate change from its Web site:

Each of America’s beverage companies has set goals to lower our emissions over time while continually improving efficiency. And our companies have pledged to work with government leaders, environmental organizations, and other businesses to ensure these emission reductions are happening throughout the United States.

They even have the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable. But do they lobby us about this in Congress? I have never seen any sign of it. When the American Beverage Association thought Congress might impose a soda tax to fund health care, then they lobbied like crazy–nearly $30 million worth of lobbying expenditure. They know how to lobby when they want to. But on climate, I have never seen it.

As for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, everyone in Congress knows that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is dead set against Congress doing anything serious about climate change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a very powerful lobby group, and its power in Congress is fully dedicated to stopping any serious climate legislation. They are implacable adversaries of climate action, and we see their hostility everywhere.

At one point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote to me to say I mischaracterized its position on climate change. “Even a cursory review of our stated views on climate change,” wrote Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donahue, “shows that the Chamber is not debating the existence of climate change or that human activity plays a role.”

Well and good, but here is what I wrote back.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record my full letter at the end of my remarks.

I wrote back:

I am in politics in Washington, and I see the behavior of your organization firsthand. There is no way to reconcile what I see in real life around me with the assurances in your letter that you treat the climate problem in any way seriously.

I then offered a list of the many ways the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actively opposes climate legislation and concluded:

In every practical way in which your organization brings pressure to bear on the American political process, I see you bringing it to bear in line with the big carbon polluters and the climate denial industry. And given the powerful and relentless way in which you bring that pressure to bear on our system in the service of your own First Amendment rights, I hope you will accept that I have the right to express my own views under that same First Amendment.

In sum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a terrible record on climate change. It is Coke and Pepsi’s adversary on getting anything done. So why is Coke and Pepsi’s American Beverage Association on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

The result is that Coke and Pepsi take one position on climate change in their public materials and in Paris and throughout their internal corporate effort, but here in Congress, where the rubber meets the road on legislating and where the lobbying meets our legislative efforts, their lobbying agencies don’t support their position. I actually wonder how well they know in the executive suites of Coke and Pepsi that their position is not supported by the lobbying effort they support.

Let me be clear. I am not here to ask that companies such as Coke and Pepsi take a different position on climate change than what they believe. I am here to ask companies to line up their advocacy in Congress with what they believe. My ask is simple: Match your advocacy in Congress with your policy. Don’t outsource your advocacy to entities that take the opposite position from you–not on an issue of this magnitude. This is too important an issue for great American companies to say one thing when they are talking to the public and have their lobbying agencies say something completely different when they come to Congress.

I have asked Coke and Pepsi about this discrepancy between their policy and these organizations’ advocacy, and here is what they say. From Pepsi:

The Chamber is an important partner for PepsiCo on critical tax and trade matters. However, our positions on climate change have diverged.

From Coke:

The Coca-Cola Company belongs to a wide range of organizations through which we gain different perspectives on global and national issues; however these groups do not speak on our behalf.

Well, if their positions have diverged and these organizations don’t speak for them on this issue, why keep supporting one of the leading political opponents of meaningful climate action? If you insist on supporting the entities that lobby against you on climate change, then the question becomes this: What are you doing in Congress to lobby back? What are your countermeasures to dispel the voice of these agencies that you are supporting?

Climate change is not just any other issue. It is so big an issue that the world’s leaders just gathered in Paris to address it in the largest gathering of world leaders in history. It is so big an issue that it has its own page on Coke’s and Pepsi’s Web sites and, indeed, on the Web sites of most major American corporations. It is so big an issue that our former Pacific commander, Admiral Locklear, said it was the biggest national security threat we face in the Pacific theater. To use Admiral Locklear’s exact words, climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen ….. that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

Around here in Congress, the bullying menace of the fossil fuel industry is everywhere. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is their vocal advocate. If companies such as Coke and Pepsi don’t push back against this group that they fund, that choice has real consequences here. That choice says to Congress: “This issue isn’t really serious to us.” That choice says to the individual Members over here: “If you cross the fossil fuel boys, don’t count on us to have your back.”

I recently received a letter from ExxonMobil. It says:

ExxonMobil has for a number of years held the view that a “revenue-neutral carbon tax” is the best option. ….. [A] carbon tax could help create the conditions to reduce greenhouse emissions in a way that spurs new efficiencies and new technologies.

This is ExxonMobil.

The revenue-neutral carbon tax could be a workable policy framework for countries around the world–and the policy most likely to preserve the ability of every sector of society to seek out new efficiencies and new technologies.

ExxonMobil may say that in their letter, but let me say as the author of the Senate’s revenue-neutral carbon-fee bill, I can assure you that bill is getting zero support from ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil is playing a double game, with statements such as they made in the letter to me on the one hand, but on the other hand all of its massive lobbying clout directed against doing anything serious on climate.

I suggest that it is the same with the other companies. They may have enough happy talk about climate change being serious to get them through a cocktail party at Davos, but the full weight of their industry lobbying leverage, through the Chamber and the American Petroleum Institute and a slew of other front groups, is leaned in hard against climate legislation, including revenue-neutral carbon fees. We should perhaps expect better of them. But we should certainly expect better of other companies that don’t have ExxonMobil’s massive conflict of interest.

To be fair to Coke and Pepsi, they are not alone. Congress is heavily influenced by corporations. That is no news flash. What my colleagues here all know is that virtually zero of that corporate influence is brought to bear in support of climate action. Even companies with good internal climate policies, even companies that are leaders in what they are doing within their companies and within their supply chains on climate change shy away from this issue in Congress.

The result is that, on one side, the fossil fuel industry maintains a desperate grip on Congress to stop any climate action. They lean on Congress hard to get their way. On the other side, the rest of corporate America has virtually nothing to say in Congress on climate change. Maybe they do on their Web sites, maybe in their public relations, certainly through their sustainability departments, and in some cases from their CEOs.

But from their lobbyists and from the trade associations and the lobbying organizations that represent them here in Congress, the silence is deafening.

The corporate effort in Congress to get something done on climate change rounds to zero. I am in Congress, and I am here to say we need you guys to show up. I get that it is never convenient to stand up to bullies. It is always easier if they just go away, but the fossil fuel bullies are not going away. So it is either stand up to them or keep letting them roll Congress.

If what Coke and Pepsi and other corporations say publicly are the things they really believe, then it should be important to them that Congress not get rolled by the guys who are working against what they believe. This should not be too big an ask for the corporations that stood up in Paris: Do the same thing in Congress. Do the same thing in Congress. Do the simplest and truest of things: Stand up for what you believe.

It is time to wake up, but it is also time to stand up, and what a difference you will make.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.