A New Zero Emission Coalition?

A new Zero Emission Coalition may be rising focused on innovation – there is bipartisan support for carbon capture use and storage, nuclear energy, and renewable energy. Congress enacted a two-year budget deal which extends and expands key financial incentives for investment in advanced low-carbon technologies. Leaders from both parties demonstrated their commitment to reducing carbon emissions while protecting and creating jobs and investing in new American industries and technology. The budget deal included the FUTURE Act, legislation sponsored by Senators Heitkamp, Capito, Whitehouse, and Barrasso to reform and extend the section 45Q tax credit and boost carbon capture.

Some of the most important financial incentives in the bill include an extension and expansion of the section 45Q tax credit for carbon capture use and storage technologies including direct air capture and the conversion of captured carbon into useful products; the extension of the nuclear energy production tax credit which is important for facilities under construction and could help advance small modular reactors; and the extension of tax credits for energy efficiency investments, small renewable energy projects, combined heat and power projects, fuel cells, biofuels, and certain electric vehicles.

American innovation in advanced low-carbon technologies can help decarbonize the U.S. economy, provide for job growth, and create opportunities for export to the world. The bipartisan effort moves the ball forward, when coupled with the work of businesses, cities, and states, as the U.S. advances toward goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. With these goals in mind, I want to share some lessons learned from this bipartisan action on technology innovation.

Build bridges between industry, labor unions, and environmental groups

As co-founders of a coalition of industry, labor unions, and environmental groups supporting the extension and expansion of the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon capture, we focused on a practical policy approach that would deliver real and lasting climate progress. This effort was successful only because all of these stakeholders were at the table.

Coal companies, oil & gas companies, labor unions, and environmental groups each have their own champions in Congress. A broad coalition combines strengths of each individual partner and helps build momentum when policymakers see their peers – not just their political opponents – supporting a policy. It’s a useful counter-narrative to the idea that industry, organized labor, and environmental groups are always at odds with each other. The breadth of the coalition provides resilience during political changes.

Building personal relationships among representatives of industry, labor unions, and environmental groups helps to make sharing of ideas about messaging and strategy easier. Site visits to demonstration projects are a great way to build a sense of shared purpose among individuals from diverse organizations. Strong personal relationships help make a broad-based coalition more effective.

Focus on the multiple benefits of climate solutions

We must acknowledge that it is ok that different stakeholders and various policymakers support a policy for different reasons. In the case of the Section 45Q tax credit, coal companies, oil & gas companies, labor unions, and environmental groups did not share the same grand vision for energy and environmental policy writ large.

The carbon capture coalition was built on the foundation of a small area of consensus around the need for improved financing policies to encourage investment in carbon capture use and storage projects. Over the last few years, coalition participants were involved on both sides of litigation involving the Clean Power Plan. Through it all they stayed focused on the area of consensus. This is partly because there was an agreement that the multiple benefits of carbon capture – reducing carbon and other pollutant emissions, creating and protecting jobs, and boosting energy production – would always be discussed together in communications. This pragmatic agreement helped keep the coalition focused and effective.

Research suggests that the majority of Americans support clean energy and action to mitigate climate change. At the same time, it is often lower on their priority list than other issues. Talking about climate policy in terms of the multiple benefits provided can help move climate policy nearer to the top of that list. To benefit from the partnership, the coalition needed to be consistent in its messaging, always talking about reducing carbon emissions, protecting and creating jobs, and creating new American industries – all at the same time.

Support Business Action on Climate Change

Finally, it is useful to take a look at how far we have come. The environmental laws of the 1970s were instrumental in establishing a baseline of environmental quality. The pollution issues then were obvious and required building a level playing field of direct requirements. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also successfully used market-based mechanisms that were also championed by the private sector. These were successful in reducing the lead content in gasoline, addressing acid rain, and mitigating the interstate movement of ozone precursors.

Since those early days, business focus on sustainability has increased dramatically while political polarization has weakened the federal government’s ability to successfully adopt new environmental regulations. In our current environment, partnering with businesses makes sense to find policy solutions – and in many cases they are eager to do so. The coalition seeking incentives to capture carbon is a great example of this and so is our Business Environmental Leadership Council, a multi-sector group of Fortune 500 companies focused on strengthening business action and support for effective climate policy. Consumer choice, social media engagement, and investor activism will continue to be stronger drivers of business action on sustainability. The road ahead involves working with these trends to advance practical solutions for climate change.

The bipartisan action advancing a suite of clean technologies, all of which can create jobs, new businesses and move us forward on climate mitigation can signal the emergence of a new Zero Emission Coalition.