Small business should lead ‘going green’ charge

Posted Aug. 20, 2010, at 6:20 p.m.

I am a small-business owner, the kind you often hear discussed among policy makers. I work hard and employ three people. It has enabled me to buy and sell one house and to build and sell another. I built my shop. I established my business by caring for my employees and my community.

I want my business to thrive for two inseparable reasons — to earn a decent living and to build my community. I want to be part of watching my community grow and progress.

For small business to successfully keep pace, we need predictable and affordable energy. Heating my shop with waste oil and recycling everything we generate are two ways for us to sustain our competitiveness. I am looking for new ways to power my business.

Small businesses can benefit more from restructuring energy markets than most businesses. We adapt quickly. Because our energy costs represent a higher percentage of our expenses, tax credits for retrofits and energy efficiency measures can mean a lot less overhead. These stabilize our costs and mean more profits and more possibilities for expansion and new jobs.

Washington can help us with that. It can act on an energy reform package that reduces our dependence on foreign oil by generating private-sector competition to produce lower-cost clean energy technology. They can act on a package that would help thousands of Mainers transition from blue-collar to green-collar jobs. This would create a new era of innovation and industry in Maine.

Such a package could give small-business owners the tools and resources to save money and profit from establishing a green economy. It could offer technical assistance, energy audits, and low-interest loans to the small-business backbone of American industry.

On Dec. 2, the Environmental Protection Agency will celebrate its 40th birthday. In the years before the EPA was created, the concept of government regulation of the environment and the industries that interact with it was less than a decade old. There were many people who disagreed with the concept of sweeping regulation and protection of the environment, arguing it would be overreach.

Maine’s own Sen. Ed Muskie stood up for those regulations more than almost any other, fought for their passage and brought them to bear for our nation. In the words of Leon Billings, the senator’s chief of staff, “Ed Muskie discovered and charted a new frontier in public policy. He explored it. He mapped it. He articulated it. Like Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, which brought back maps and journals and knowledge, Muskie left his new frontier for the next generation to settle.”

We are that next generation. In Maine, we are fortunate to have two senators who can make the difference. They can once again show the country what real innovation and forethought look like. We have often led the way. We can do so again today.

We owe ourselves the opportunity to reshape energy policy for our country. We owe our land, our water, our resources, our businesses and our families this opportunity to be bold and visionary again by shaping our energy destiny together.

In September, that is what our leaders in Washington must do. It’s important to discuss and debate this, as Sen. Muskie encouraged 40 years ago. Our conversation needs to be about how to best regulate existing energy resources, and how to promote the development of new sources of energy.

A caution: We must not confuse honest debate with political distraction. We can’t afford to put this off for the next Congress. We can’t afford to wait for the next disaster. Our opportunity is here. Let’s have the debate. For our families, communities, and for small business in Maine and across America, let’s get this bill done, now.

David A. White owns MDI Imported Car Service and is a spokesperson for more than 2,300 members of the Maine Small Business Coalition. His e-mail is importedcarsvc@roadrunner.com.

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