Go green, Valley business leaders told
Former EPA chief urges Chamber group to develop Earth-friendly policies now.
By Gregory Karp

The Morning Call
November 4, 2009     


Going green can mean more green in the coffers of Lehigh Valley businesses, former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman told local business leaders Tuesday.

”Environmental protection and good business go hand in hand,” said Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003. ”They are not mutually exclusive.”

Whitman addressed about 1,000 business people at the annual meeting and awards event of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem. The Chamber, which represents the Lehigh Valley and the Phillipsburg area in New Jersey, is the largest in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

The topic of climate change is a controversial one, especially at a chamber of commerce event. Many high-profile companies, such as Nike, Pacific Gas & Electric and Apple, have dumped their memberships and resigned board positions at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the business group’s opposition to EPA efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say contribute to global warming. Other companies, such as General Electric, have publicly protested the Chamber’s stance.

Tony Ianelli, president of the local Chamber, said he doesn’t view a keynote speech by Whitman as thwarting efforts by the U.S. Chamber, nor does the local Chamber always share the same views. ”We won’t always be in lockstep with the U.S. Chamber,” he said. He said Chamber officials thought its members would appreciate Whitman’s ”pro-business approach to environmental issues.”

And a keynote by a prominent New Jersey former politician was meant as an inviting nod to the Phillipsburg Chamber of Commerce, which has merged with the Lehigh Valley Chamber, Ianelli said.

Whitman said that because of political gridlock she doesn’t expect passage of a federal climate-change bill in the current Congress, which means 2011 would be the soonest the country would see a comprehensive global warming law.

But federal regulations will come, Whitman said. It will behoove businesses to get started now on sustainability programs, rather than take a wait-and-see attitude, she said. ”They will have a seat at the table when those regulations are drawn up,” she said.

Many U.S. businesses aren’t necessarily opposed to environmental rules related to greenhouse gas emissions but they are frustrated now with a confusing ”patchwork quilt of different regulations,” Whitman said. That’s why such businesses as Abbott Labs, Frito-Lay, Miller Brewing, Coca-Cola, Alcoa and Xerox are voluntarily making efforts toward ”environmental stewardship,” she said.

”Those businesses who have been taking action and have been moving forward are finding themselves in a more competitive position,” Whitman said. ”You can grow your company even while cutting your energy use and your emissions.”

Awards presented Tuesday included:

Business of the Year: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Chuck Domino and Kurt Landes.