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The Iron Chef and Climate Change: What A.B. 32 Means for Small Business

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In the first nine months of 2009, over $300 million was spent by corporate interests to lobby Congress on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Bill - more commonly referred to as the Climate Bill. Over a third of that has been spent by petroleum companies alone, while the U.S. Chamber spent over $65 million to lobby on a variety of issues, including climate.

Greenbacks have carpeted Capitol Hill in connection with the debate over climate change legislation, effectively muting the many small business owners who support climate change legislation. Unlike Apple, Nike, and Exelon, American small business owners simply don't have the bandwidth or the budget to raise their voices in opposition to the short-sighted position the U.S. Chamber has taken on the Climate Bill.

An important study has just been released, however, that provides some critical data on what climate change legislation will really mean for small businesses here in California. As A.B. 32 moves into an implementation phase in 2011, California businesses of all shapes and size will face the realities of what this legislation will mean for their bottom line. Mary Sue Milliken, Iron Chef competitor and small business owner, agreed to have her business scrutinized as the subject of a study commissioned by The Union of Concerned Scientists on the financial impacts of California's climate change legislation on small business.

Milliken co-owns a business, The Border Grill, a Mexican restaurant that has been operating for over twenty years and employs 79 people. Perched a few blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, it is a favorite of both locals and tourists alike. The Border Grill served as an optimal case study candidate because restaurants represent the largest sector of small business by category and account for over 10% of small business employment statewide. Restaurants are typically above-average users of energy - suggesting that the "average" small business in California will experience even less impact than the The Border Grill.

As Milliken discovered when the study was released this past week, the study projected that having her business comply with the demands of carbon legislation was, effectively, negligible. Even in the more extreme cost scenarios where the projected costs of compliance where passed along to the consumer, a customer's bill of $20 in 2010 became $20.03 in 2020.

While the UCS study really focused on costs to small businesses, the costs to California of not addressing climate change include potentially severe damage to California's recreation, tourism, real estate and forestry sectors. The benefits of job creation and certainty in business planning that climate change legislation brings is, for the most part, not addressed by the study. Citing the business' longstanding commitment to sustainability, Milliken identifies some of the intangible benefits that "come back in a million ways"; employee retention and customer loyalty are two critical benefits Milliken ties directly to to The Border Grill's business commitment to more sustainable business practices.

There is some irony in the "grassroots" veneer crafted by the creative folks behind the multiple campaigns engineered to defeat climate legislation. But dig a little deeper into the people behind the "stories" on some of these sites (check out the postings on EnergyCitizens.org) and you'll see that the 'roots are actually pretty limp. As the climate debate has migrated from the Hill to the national airwaves, I'd vote for the likes of Mary Sue Milliken to represent the real face of American small business as the debate moves forward.