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CEOs descend on Capitol Hill to talk carbon pricing, admit goal is a long shot

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CEOs descend on Capitol Hill to talk carbon pricing, admit goal is a long shot

The heads of roughly 75 companies descended on Washington to press lawmakers to adopt a federal price on carbon, but several of the CEOs acknowledged in a press briefing that the prospects of this Congress passing such legislation is unlikely.

"I think everyone understands not much is going to get done in this Congress given the polarized, divisive state that we're in. But that does not discourage us," said Hugh Welsh, president and general counsel of DSM North America, a unit of Koninklijke DSM NV. "This might be the first time that we're here on the Hill but it definitely won't be the last time." Welsh said he would return with a larger group of companies in the future.

The lobbying effort, which was organized by climate advocacy group Ceres, comes as a growing number of energy and other companies are pressing for federal action on climate change. Participants in the event noted the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the world needs to slash emissions over the next decade to limit and mitigate the physical impacts of climate change such as extreme storms, flooding, wildfires and droughts.

SNL Image

The heads of some of the companies who came to Washington to lobby lawmakers on the need for a carbon tax outline their strategy during a May 22 press briefing in the Capitol. Pictured seated at the table (from left) are Stonyfield Farm Chairman Gary Hirschberg, Seventh Generation CEO Joey Bergstein, DSM North America President and General Counsel Hugh Welsh, National Grid Rhode Island President Terry Sobolewski and Rossignol Skis CEO Francois Goulet.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Despite the Democrats in 2019 taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which opened the door for increased dialogue on climate issues, Republicans still control the Senate. The Trump administration has also moved to roll back environmental regulations and the president has pledged to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During the May 22 press briefing, the company officials stressed the need for federal leadership to address climate change. "We need a price signal. We need a real price on carbon. ... Until we engage the entire market, we're not going to be able to move with the kind of speed that this crisis now requires," said Stonyfield Farm Inc. Chairman Gary Hirshberg.

Several officials stressed the need for a bipartisan approach. Jeff Eckel, the CEO of Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital Inc., said more than half of the meetings for the day were slated to be with Republican lawmakers.

Eckel and National Grid PLC Rhode Island President Terry Sobolewski were among those who said they are playing the long game. "In our mind, having the conversation in any form creates value, creates the opportunity no matter the odds," Sobolewski said.

"This is a very long battle that we have on climate change," Eckel added. "Whether it's this administration or the next administration, this is the right answer that will get implemented once the country takes it seriously."

Other participants in the lobbying campaign include Seventh Generation Inc., Rossignol Skis AG, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, PG&E Corp., BP PLC, PepsiCo Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. BP recently supported a resolution asking it to expand its climate reporting and most of the company's shareholders May 21 voted in favor of the measure. Also, Shell has set targets to curb its downstream emissions.

When asked by reporters whether the CEOs feel comfortable being in the same lobbying group as fossil fuel companies, Welsh responded, "We'll need them as partners in order to make this transition."