Last month, 10 major companies -- including BP, DuPont, Florida Power & Light and General Electric -- signed onto a joint policy proposal aimed at reducing global warming emissions. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the biggest private user of electricity in the U.S., also signed on in support. As global warming concerns continue to heat up, it would seem to be welcome news.
But it's far too soon to feel cozy about those companies' new stance on the environment.
Many of the companies have a long record of making political contributions to members of Congress who consistently vote against environmental protections and, in particular, efforts to curb global warming. Also, many supported President Bush, who has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to curb global warming emissions, and who has not taken any meaningful action on global warming.
In the case of Wal-Mart, my organization recently released a report looking at the company's political contributions to congressional candidates. Wal-Mart's PAC is the third-largest corporate political action committee in the U.S. and the largest PAC in the retail industry. During the 2006 electoral cycle, Wal-Mart contributed more than $1.7 million to federal candidates, other PACs and political parties.
The anti-environmental slant of those contributions creates an unpleasant picture. Wal-Mart PAC supported 33 members of Congress who scored at the absolute bottom -- zero percent -- on the League of Conservation Voters' well-respected scorecard of key environmental votes during the last Congress. The LCV scorecard is a widely accepted measure of where members of Congress stand on issues including energy, global warming and clean-water protections.
Wal-Mart's anti-environmental bias shows not only for the worst candidates, but also across the board. During the recent election, two-thirds of Wal-Mart's contributions went to congressional candidates who scored under 50 percent on the environmental scorecard.
On votes specifically related to global warming -- which Wal-Mart repeatedly has said is an important issue for the company -- we found that Wal-Mart PAC contributed to 187 members of Congress who voted against improving fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, one of the most basic steps we can take to curb global warming.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart contributed to 206 members of Congress who voted for the 2005 energy bill, one of the most harmful anti-environmental pieces of legislation in the past decade. The energy bill turned back the clock by weakening environmental laws and giving away billions in tax breaks and subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies.
Unfortunately, the political contributions of a number of the companies that recently formed the global warming partnership bear a strikingly resemblance to Wal-Mart's.
During the recent election cycle, seven of the 10 companies -- BP America, Florida Power, General Electric, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, Lehman Brothers and DuPont -- collectively gave more than $1.75 million to members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against raising fuel-economy standards. And they gave more than half a million dollars to members of the U.S. Senate who did the same. Like Wal-Mart, they also supported candidates who actively worked to block any federal efforts to address global warming.
The bottom line is this: With their campaign dollars, these companies are supporting a very different environmental agenda than they would have us believe.
Those companies should end political contributions to anti-environmental members of Congress and candidates for public office, and we've sent a letter saying so to Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott. Not to end those contributions would undermine their own stated environmental goals in the worst possible way.
Ending those contributions is a critical first step for these companies on the road to removing themselves from politics altogether. Political influence by major corporations fundamentally inhibits the ability of decision makers to make sound public policy, whether on global warming, protecting the public health, workers or our communities.
We will need clear, strong leadership from our elected officials if we are to take on global warming, perhaps the biggest challenge in human history. CEOs at companies such as Wal-Mart, General Electric, BP and DuPont have started to talk the talk on global warming. Now it's time for them to walk the walk.
Mari Margil works with Corporate Ethics International based in Portland, Ore.
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