Big businesses often oppose increased government regulations. But the Clean Power Plan—the Obama administration's attempt to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants—is drawing backers in the big box business world.
“This is really not a political issue; it’s a strategic issue, it’s a business issue,” says Mark Buckley, Vice President of Environmental Affairs for Staples. “It’s really rooted in practical economics for us.”
In fact, his company is actually lobbying for President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Staples was among 365 companies, including General Mills, Nestlé and Unilever, that sent letters to state governors—urging them to comply with the new regulations. States like Ohio and West Virginia are fighting the plan in court; the letter asks them to stop fighting and implement it instead. They say businesses are already hurting from climate-related events like extreme weather. Buckley says they want the government to deal with climate now, so companies know what to expect and can plan ahead.
“Well-thought-out policy and well-thought-out regulations can help provide the guardrails for the highway that moves us to a different energy future,” Buckley says.
But many fossil fuel-heavy businesses, like traditional manufacturers and utilities that rely on coal, don’t want to be pushed into a different energy future. And in some states, like Ohio, lawmakers are listening to them.
Ohio State Senator Troy Balderson opposes the Clean Power Plan. He also wants Ohio’s temporary freeze on its renewable energy portfolio standards—which provide incentives to build wind and solar—to continue indefinitely.
“I’m not...the anti-solar, the anti-wind guy,” Balderson says. “Let the businesses decide their own renewable choices. To me, let the economics play it out. Don’t mandate something.”
Before the freeze in 2014, Ohio’s renewable mandate helped Staples build a 2.2 megawatt solar array, which powers their distribution center in central Ohio. Staples’ Mark Buckley says when the state was still mandating the use of renewables, it provided the support Staples needed to get the project done.
“Sending the market signal that there’s a certain carve out of energy that needs to come from these renewable sources is the the thing that actually drives the project financing and makes these projects make sense for businesses like Staples,” he says.
The Clean Power Plan will mean more incentives for renewable energy projects. But many companies are weighing this against the costs of moving away from coal and other forms of energy they’re used to.
“I think companies have a decision to make,” says Victoria Mills of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Are they going to put their resources into fighting a change and lobbying against something like the Clean Power Plan because they want to stay with the status quo? Or are they going to think ahead about how they want their business model to change and the places where they can innovate to be a provider of clean energy and a user of clean energy?”
Mills says it’s the uncertainty that’s difficult for many companies. They want to plan five, 10, even 20 years out. To do that, they want to know what kinds of energy they’ll be using—and how much it will cost.