Green firms uniting to flex political muscle

The Boston Globe, July 11, 2010
By Mark Arsenault

Stonyfield Farm is slapping its familiar cow logo on more than just containers of yogurt these days. The New Hampshire-based organic food maker is one of more than 50 local companies to lend its corporate name to a political lobbying campaign aimed at persuading Congress to support climate and energy legislation on Capitol Hill.

The green-friendly businesses — including many young tech companies not yet household names — are the regional face of a multimillion dollar lobbying effort aimed at key senators across the country. Their effort is backed by some of the world’s most recognizable consumer brands and Fortune 500 companies, and guided by experienced political hands with deep connections to the Obama and Clinton administrations.

The TV, radio, and print campaign, bolstered by in-person jawboning of legislators, demonstrates the political reach of green-technology and alternative energy companies, which have progressed from the cluttered basements of inventors and entrepreneurs into an emerging political force seeking to apply pressure at the highest levels of government.

“We’re among those businesses saying let’s get on with it’’ and pass climate and energy legislation, said Ken Colburn, environmental policy director for Stonyfield Farm, where efficiency efforts the past three years have cut carbon outputs while saving $7.8 million. “What will it take for Congress to get that message? Gosh, I really don’t know.’’

Solar companies, wind-energy developers, battery manufacturers, and others want the federal government to establish a system of raising money from emitters of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change — either through a direct carbon tax or vouchers purchased by polluters — and steer some of that money into the development of clean energy technologies.

The businesses are backing proposed climate and energy legislation sponsored by Senators John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent. The Kerry-Lieberman proposal calls for an auction of carbon-emission permits and would use the money generated to provide billions in incentives to reduce greenhouse gasses.

“Green groups and alternative energy companies view this as a cash cow,’’ said Ron Bonjean, a Washington political consultant and former top Republican adviser on Capitol Hill. “And with that they want to take the power in their own hands and start engaging, with either new lobbying or more intense lobbying.’’

But in the political arena, alternative energy groups are up against some of the most powerful lobbies in American politics — coal miners, oil producers, and electric utilities.

“The small green groups are definitely overshadowed,’’ said Bonjean. “It’s hard for them to make a dent in the process.’’

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