Why Businesses are Hungry for a Strong EPA (and a Note on Keystone XL and DAPL)

CEO, Rose Marcario, CEO  /  5 Min Read  /  Activism

Activists march against the Dakota Access Pipeline. November 2016, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota. Photo: Colin McCarthy

As we were set to publish today’s post arguing that America needs a strong EPA—not only to protect the environment but also for the economy—we were halted by headlines describing President Trump paving the way anew for approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

This bad news further shows the Trump administration’s willingness to see the United States left behind economically as our biggest global competitors, most notably China, take advantage of a future in which our energy is not derived from fossil fuels. It illustrates Trump’s true colors on climate change, which will be exacerbated to the detriment of all Americans when our leadership does favors for the fossil fuel industry, while refusing to move forward policies that expedite our transition to renewable energy. It sends a negative and isolationist signal to the 176 co-signers of the Paris Climate Agreement who depend on the United States to see our commitments through in order to meet the accord’s vital objectives.

More than anything, Trump’s decision today rejects the voices of millions of people who poured onto the streets in cities across the country in 2014 representing the majority of Americans concerned about climate change and telling Washington to reject Keystone XL, and the thousands who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Reservation.

Clearly, Trump’s Washington still sides with big corporate interests over the concerns of the people—but, as we saw this past weekend, the people will not be silenced. We commit to fighting harder than ever for leadership willing to confront climate change and embrace the clean energy revolution. The following post outlines America’s need for a strong EPA in an era of environmental crisis and tectonic economic changes.

Why businesses are hungry for a strong EPA

We recently got the news that the President has chosen Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma, to lead his Environmental Protection Agency. Given Trump’s views of climate change as a “hoax,” we expected the worst in his choice to lead an agency charged with defending America’s clean air and water—and we got it.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Pruitt has spent his career actively fighting against the core mission of the agency he will soon lead if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A strong ally of the oil and gas industry, Pruitt helped lead a lawsuit brought by 27 state attorneys general to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, fought protections against mercury, arsenic and other pollutants from “clean” power plants, and challenged standards for soot and smog pollution that crossed state lines. According to an investigation by the New York Times, Pruitt organized “an unprecedented, secretive alliance” between Republican state attorneys general and large fossil fuel companies to attack the EPA, stamping his official signature on letters drafted by oil and gas lobbyists to the EPA and other federal agencies. The energy industry has rewarded Pruitt handsomely with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

At Patagonia, we’re concerned that Trump and Pruitt will seriously compromise an agency responsible for ensuring clean air and water in America—which directly translate into better human health, economic growth and stronger national security.

And, most of all, we’re outraged that Trump and Pruitt intend to undermine the EPA at the very moment we need it to provide a crucial boost to America’s ability to thrive in a fast-expanding new energy economy and remain competitive globally.

We don’t have to look back too far to see what the world would look like without a strong EPA. In 1969, just a year before the agency was established by President Nixon and Congress, an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River—polluted from decades of industrial waste—caught fire near the Republic Steel mill, causing about $100,000 worth of damage. The fire was not unusual. Thick oily sludge fouled the Great Lakes and their arteries; the Chicago and Buffalo rivers repeatedly caught fire. The smog in Los Angeles was so great in the sixties that children’s lungs were compromised. Tires and trash lined the East River in Manhattan. Poisons from industrial plants were dumped into bayous, rivers, streams and lakes—killing fish, polluting drinking water and destroying wetlands.

We can’t afford to slip backwards. The EPA was created as a backstop to prevent irresponsible businesses, including multinational companies, from poisoning our water and air—and thereby hurting our health, our economy, our security and our ability to prosper.

But EPA is not only an enforcer—indeed, it will be a key driver of our future economic growth. The EPA provides a standard set of environmental guidelines that spans the entire country—which makes sense, since pollution is not contained by state lines. This common set of standards allows business to work with more certainty in a climate full of uncertainty. Its guidelines allow businesses to understand what is required up front and take steps early to avoid environmental or human degradation. Without the EPA, what awaits business is costly court battles and/or cleanups—or worse, business just passes those costs to taxpayers.

We need an EPA that will keep pushing our economy forward, not back. We cannot return to an era when the skies were polluted and rivers caught fire, and we cannot afford a future where we cede the enormous opportunities presented by clean energy to our competitors abroad.

Led by market forces, a clean-energy revolution is taking place whether Trump, Pruitt and their fossil fuel industry supporters like it or not. Under the headline “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels,” Bloomberg News reported that record clean energy investment now outpaces coal and gas two-to-one. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, one-eighth of U.S. electricity came from renewable sources in 2015, while coal production reached its lowest levels since 1986; auto fuel economy reached a record high, while energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were down 12 percent form 2005 levels.

Much of this is happening because of the innovation and resolve of private companies who see significant opportunities for business success through investments in clean energy and innovation. Google, a company that uses as much energy in a year as the city of San Francisco, recently announced that next year all its energy, worldwide, will come from renewable sources. At Patagonia, we’ve long worked to demonstrate that caring for our planet is not in conflict with healthy growth of our company, and we’ve also made big investments in residential solar that are generating significant returns, in addition to many other efforts to lessen our environmental footprint. In addition, a healthy environment, protected by the EPA, helps drive $646 billion in consumer spending on outdoor recreation each year, which supports 6.1 million American jobs.

And businesses are hungry for this new energy economy. Patagonia has signed onto Low Carbon USA along with hundreds of other businesses, including Intel, General Mills, Adidas, Nike, IKEA, Kellogg Company, The North Face, Unilever, Virgin, Starbucks, and Levi-Strauss.

But the United States is far from leading this new energy frontier. Our rivals threaten to beat us to the benefits if we cannot capitalize on these opportunities fast enough. China plans 150 gigawatts of installed solar capacity by the end of the decade, triple what it has today as the world’s biggest solar generator. Climate change will continue to damage our way of life without strong leadership on behalf of the environment. That’s why the EPA is absolutely necessary to keep us competitive globally and ensure prosperity for all Americans—especially many rural, working-class citizens whose communities were often decimated by industrial pollution until the EPA came along.

In his victory speech, Donald Trump promised the American people “crystal clear water.” We hope he keeps his promise and adds clean air and protecting wild nature as well—and we hope Congress considers this promise and America’s moral, economic, health and security imperatives when considering Scott Pruitt’s nomination.

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