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Sen. Whitehouse: Most US companies oppose, stay silent on climate legislation

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Sen. Whitehouse: Most US companies oppose, stay silent on climate legislation

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said that although some companies, including in the energy sector, are pushing for federal legislation to address climate change through such measures as a carbon tax, most of corporate America is either "violently hostile" to legislation or has given up all hope that a bill can be passed.

Whitehouse was among a number of speakers at a Sept. 6 event co-hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and The Hill in Washington, D.C., that focused on whether cracks may be beginning to show in Republican opposition to climate change legislation.

Some speakers said the opposition is weakening and pointed to the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which has grown in recent months to 86 members who, by design, are evenly divided along party lines. Others noted that six Republicans in July voted against an anti-carbon tax resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and that Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania introduced a carbon tax and infrastructure funding bill, H.R. 6463, the MARKET CHOICE Act.

A consensus is emerging that carbon pricing is a necessary component to slowing the rate of global warming tied to climate change, said Anne Kelly, senior director of policy at Ceres, an organization that helps coordinate sustainability discussions between major companies and shareholders.

Whitehouse, D-R.I., acknowledged that many companies are taking steps to address climate change, which most scientists say is due to human-related carbon dioxide emissions.

"You see a beginning of leadership in the corporate community," Whitehouse said. "We're also seeing increased strength in doing something on climate in the marketplace as renewable sources of energy have begun to cross the tipping point against fossil fuel on price alone."

But those actions and emerging trends are very different from what most companies are saying to U.S. lawmakers, Whitehouse said.

"The general posture of corporate America in at least the United States Senate ... is still violently hostile to doing anything on climate change," Whitehouse said. Even companies such as Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Microsoft Corp., and Facebook Inc. that "have very strong positions within their corporate precincts abandon hope ... when they come to Congress." And the lumber and timber and property casualty insurance industries that have "a very direct financial stake in all of this come to Congress and just throw in the towel before you even start."

Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Whitehouse also said the lack of lobbying on climate issues by most individual companies combined with opposition to legislation from such trade associations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute "put together a net package in which corporate America ... is still on balance, and even setting the fossil fuel industry aside, strongly, strongly hostile to any climate action. And that, I think, is the crux of our problem."

American Petroleum Institute Vice President for Regulatory and Economic Policy Kyle Isakower said at the event that his trade group is not pushing for new climate-related policies.

"We all agree that the risk of climate change is significant and a serious issue that should be addressed," Isakower said. But "rather than focus on a policy solution at this point, especially in this very divided political climate ... let's focus on how we can achieve those carbon reductions today."