03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clean and Green: The New Voice of American Business

The assumption that a sound economic foundation and a strong environmental policy are somehow at odds with each other is now being understood by a growing number of businesses for what it really is: an urban legend that belongs back in the 20th century. Many American businesses - big and small - have begun to make the case for the economic opportunities posed by a comprehensive federal climate policy.

Proponents of this type of policy are now standing behind a Senate bill called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. For a peek at the jobs a clean economy brings with it, see Stacey Williams' video clips of average Americans speaking in their own words about the their jobs in the clean economy.

Business voices are coming together in Washington, D.C. before members of Congress and the Administration to lobby for passage of the Senate bill. Leaders are making the case that it meets our country's need for good jobs, technological innovation as well as a more holistic national security strategy. Exemplified by the We Can Lead initiative, business leaders are finding that they are now a part of a diverse coalition of military hawks, environmentalists, evangelicals, veterans groups and labor coming together to support American energy independence.

Jeffery Maurer, a Vice President at Clipper Wind, has come to Washington, D.C. this week to make the case for the kind of jobs Clipper is creating in states such as South Dakota, Utah, Indiana, Iowa and New Mexico, among others. Clipper hasn't only created jobs over the past year, over half of Clipper's hires are military veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have seen firsthand the value of energy independence and understand what it means for renewable energy such as wind power to become a pillar of a comprehensive energy policy for the country.

In an interesting twist, private sector proponents of the Senate bill are now facing a challenge in a traditional ally - the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a nutshell, this organization does not support a market-based solution for carbon emissions and is spending millions of member dollars to ensure that it is defeated. Recent defections by high profile companies such as Apple, Nike and three large utilities from the Chamber reflects a schism that is emerging among American businesses over what a price on carbon will mean for our long-term prosperity.

It boils down to the fact that while some leaders see growth and opportunity in a carbon market, others would prefer to dig in their heels and support a status quo. The status quo is one in which American business risks losing its edge in clean technology to competitors such as China. The NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman has already painted a clear picture of what China's bet on clean energy will mean for the United States over the long term.

The same debate that has begun to emerge among businesses leaders lobbying Congress in support of comprehensive climate legislation is also playing out at the state level. In my home state of California, a number of business-oriented groups are speaking up and challenging the yesteryear message of the California Chamber of Commerce and other interest groups with ties to polluters. Organizations such as the California Chamber continue to argue for delaying, potentially indefinitely, implementation of the state's landmark climate law, AB 32.

A new business coalition, the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy and the affiliated California Green Chamber of Commerce, are helping to amplify the voice of companies and business associations around the state who are calling for job creation and a clean energy future for California through continued implementation of AB 32. CA-BAGE members take the position that the state's clean energy and climate security plan will fuel economic growth in the state, while also insulating our economy from the volatility of fossil fuel markets and the hidden costs of climate change.

As one of the globe's largest economies, California's strong environmental policies have clearly had a positive impact on both consumers and business. With California's expertise and history of energy efficiency and clean energy policies, electricity bills have been lower per capita while energy costs increased across the country. Then, there is job creation - the state's efforts to cut global warming pollution will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. And consumers are supportive of companies that tackle climate change - people are more likely to trust a business that supports the environment and more likely to buy its products. This is a message that has been heard by businesses in California who want to compete in a global market, lower their cost of doing business, and also do right by the planet.

It is this message that is gaining traction with business leaders on both coasts and through the American heartland. As business leaders from both ends of the political spectrum band together in support of American energy independence, leaders in Congress should take note of this new voice of business that has come together in support of a clean American economy.