http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2006-04-02/senator-inhofes-climate-of-confrontation

Magazine

Senator Inhofe's Climate Of Confrontation


The Reverend Richard Cizik is an evangelical Christian and a die-hard Reaganite. So he was surprised that a closed-door meeting called late last year by conservative Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was all about Cizik's evil deeds. Inhofe called Cizik, government affairs chief at the National Association of Evangelicals, a liberal wolf in sheep's clothing. "I sat there with my mouth open," recalls a meeting participant.

Cizik's sin? He believes that climate change is a growing problem, and that Christians have a duty to protect the planet by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. In contrast, Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, has famously derided global warming as a "hoax." He has been on the offensive against those he considers heretics. That has left business in doubt about the regulatory environment.

Seeking Tax Records

Last year, Inhofe demanded six years of tax and membership records from two groups of state and local air-pollution control officials after they testified that his proposed clean air legislation was too weak. On Feb. 7, the day before evangelicals kicked off a campaign for carbon controls, Inhofe sent a preemptive letter to senators asserting "there is, in fact, no movement in that direction" among evangelicals. Now he is requesting information on all employees and projects at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Inhofe is "using the power of government and the power of office to threaten," says Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science.

Inhofe's backers say he is providing a badly needed voice of reason amid environmental alarmism. Inhofe spokesman Bill Holbrook says the senator was traveling and not available to comment. But Inhofe has argued consistently that global warming science is uncertain and carbon curbs would ruin the economy.

This may sound like another inside-the-Beltway spat, but the business consequences could be huge. Adding to the scientific evidence of global warming, Science published two papers on Mar. 24 warning of a possible large sea level rise. Executives such as Jim Rogers, CEO of Ohio utility Cinergy Corp. (CIN), believe the U.S. inevitably must join other nations in curbing carbon. They want clear rules so they can plan future power plants. "Climate change is a key issue for Corporate America," says Mindy S. Lubber, president of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies. U.S. businesses are behind overseas rivals in developing climate-friendly technologies, she adds.

Companies are caught in the middle. In this political climate, "business leaders are holding back from saying publicly what they believe privately," says William Reilly, Environmental Protection Agency chief for George H.W. Bush and a DuPont director. Adds an industry rep: "If we say anything positive, the environmentalists come after us with a vengeance. If we say anything negative, Inhofe comes after us with a vengeance."

Some green conservatives are speaking out more. "Inhofe is to the right of Attila the Hun on climate change," says the Reverend Jim Ball, director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. Meanwhile, Environmental Defense and the Ad Council were set to unveil an ad campaign on Mar. 23 aimed at boosting public awareness of climate change. If more Americans come to believe the problem is urgent, eventually even Inhofe may not be able to hold back the tide.

To hear big business tell it, the regulatory reforms of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act are driving companies out of public financial markets and starving small businesses of capital. But that message apparently hasn't reached Little Business. A record 881 small companies filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission in 2005 to register new stock issues and raise $16.3 billion in new capital, according to a study by researchers SME Capital Markets. That's up from 435 in 2003. Critics note that the SEC has deferred SarbOx' Section 404, the internal-audit requirement that businesses consider burdensome, until 2007 for little companies. But small-business CFOs interviewed for the study say they would have gone public even if 404 applied to them, because they see no choice for raising capital.

Advocates for shareholders are making headway in their bid to prod companies to disclose soft-money political donations. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Staples (SPLS) are the latest businesses to agree to reveal and give their boards oversight on soft money donations -- the large contributions that companies and individuals can make to state parties. In addition, Amgen's (AMGN) board has endorsed a shareholder resolution calling for oversight and disclosure. Shareholders will vote on the plan at its May annual meeting. Companies that earlier agreed to disclosure and oversight are Morgan Stanley (MS), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Schering-Plough (SGP), PepsiCo (PEP), Coca-Cola (KO), and Eli Lilly (LLY).


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