Small Businesses See Economic Opportunity in Clean Energy Laws

John Arensmeyer

John Arensmeyer

Originally featured in the Huffington Post.

As time passes and the economy remains stagnant, the sturm und drang grows ever louder over whether regulations are weighing down small businesses and making them unable to pull the country out its fiscal slump. Lawmakers continue to bang the anti-regulation drum, and auto dealers from around the country are heading to Washington, DC this week to press for legislation that would stall recently proposed fuel efficiency standards for at least a year.

But what do the actual small business owners who are purportedly being crushed by regulations think? They think its hogwash.

Take Maine small business owner Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls. His family has been selling Mainers cars since 1936–and as a third generation auto salesman, it’s safe to say he understands his customer base. Adam knows for a fact that higher fuel efficiency standards will only bring in more business. He looks forward to the president’s proposed 54.5 miles per gallon requirement, noting, “people want the best gas mileage they can get because it saves money–stronger fuel economy requirements will help me give them that mileage and they’ll in turn give me more business.” Standards that increase fuel efficiency, like those requiring seat belts and air bags before them, will deliver innovations that consumers want without putting the product financially out of reach.

According to an opinion poll Small Business Majority released this week, 87 percent of small business owners feel the same way as Adam. Small business owners believe higher fuel efficiency standards are necessary if our nation is to innovate and grow the economy. What’s more, 4 in 5 respondents support even higher standards than those proposed by President Obama, saying they’d like to see standards of 60 miles per gallon by 2025.

And that anti-regulation mantra some politicians have been espousing? A mere 13 percent of small business owners surveyed in our poll say their business suffers most from regulatory restrictions. This percentage pales in comparison to the 46 percent of entrepreneurs who say their biggest hurdle to success is economic uncertainty and to the 43 percent who say it’s the rising cost of doing business.

The poll numbers speak to the fact that entrepreneurs believe the burden of economic uncertainty could be lifted if bold policies are implemented, not only in regards to fuel efficiency but also to the Environmental Protection Agency. Allowing the EPA to regulate harmful carbon emissions could help stabilize the market and set clear goals for our nation’s future in the clean energy economy. Small businesses–the majority of which are unaffected by the standards themselves–will benefit as they supply the services and products to help those who do have to meet them. Entrepreneurs could confidently innovate and create jobs knowing that the future would hold long-term financial returns resulting from the new standards. Our poll numbers prove that small employers are committed to this type of future: 87 percent of small business owners said that improving innovation and energy efficiency are good ways to increase prosperity for small businesses. Specifically, the poll found that by a 3:1 margin small business owners support the EPA regulating carbon emissions from power plants and other harmful emitters.

While these poll results might surprise the people who claim regulations are crushing small businesses and our economic recovery, these are the facts, straight from America’s job creators. It’s worth mentioning here that the poll represented a broad political spectrum–34 percent of respondents identify as Republicans, 25 percent as Democrats and 41 percent as independents. And only 12 percent of those surveyed say they generate revenue from the new clean economy.

With that said, Congress should review all regulations carefully and examine how they will impact small businesses. But it’s easy to see why small business owners favor policies that will spur innovation and economic opportunity, helping them reap cost savings and create jobs.

Small business owners see archaic business models as no longer acceptable. They believe that businesses small and large, from local dry cleaners to major power companies, will need to innovate to survive–and smart national standards will help them do so.

TRAIN supporters on the wrong track

John Arensmeyer

John Arensmeyer

Right now, the country has a jobs problem. Unemployment is still dangerously high, the economy is stuck in neutral and small businesses have been unable to play their traditional role as job generators because they lack customers and access to capital. But instead of trying to find ways to help their fellow Americans find work, some lawmakers are focused on preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job. Despite research showing otherwise, they claim the EPA is bad for business.

This is not where small business owners need lawmakers to concentrate their efforts.

Their latest attempt to derail the EPA, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act, or TRAIN Act, would create an executive branch committee to study the impacts of EPA regulations. Lawmakers are scheduled to vote this week on the act, which would require agencies such as the Department of Commerce and others to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on EPA regulations used to limit pollution. But the TRAIN Act would require they focus solely on the cost component of the EPA’s rules, and ignore the benefits they provide. Leaving out the benefits in a cost-benefit analysis is sure to skew the results. Everything has a cost. To determine which regulations are constructive and which aren’t, lawmakers must determine if the benefits outweigh the costs. Clearly, a balanced picture is not the goal of this act.

Our research shows small business owners actually support the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act. National opinion research we released Sept. 20 found 76 percent of small business owners favor the EPA regulating carbon emissions through the Clean Air Act, and 58 percent said they believe the EPA’s regulation of carbon emissions will impact their business in a positive way.

Additionally, the economic benefits of the Clean Air Act are estimated at more than 4 to 8 times the costs of compliance, according to the Office of Management and Budget. This is an important detail that those calling for passage of the TRAIN Act completely disregard.

There is a legitimate role for government in passing laws that address private sector business activity and solve business and economic problems. The Clean Air Act does this, and we know small business owners favor policies that help improve the economy and their ability to do business. Our national opinion poll also found that 87 percent of small business owners believe stimulating innovation and improving energy efficiency are good ways to increase prosperity for small businesses.

If only some in Congress were as pragmatic and bottom-line oriented as business owners. Of course the private sector should be carefully considered as Congress reviews each bill, but not all regulations are bad. Despite rhetoric claiming otherwise, regulations aren’t anywhere near the top of most small business owners’ concerns. In our poll, only 13 percent of small business owners said regulation is their biggest problem. Conversely, 46 percent cited economic uncertainty as their biggest concern and 43 percent said it was the rising cost of doing business.

Trying to pass a bill that could kill any regulations that affect small businesses could remove an important tool that can stimulate small business innovation and contain energy costs.

Lawmakers should stop wasting their time trying to tear down something that works, and instead focus on ways to help the country’s primary job creators get back on track.

New Resource Can Help Employers Get a Last Minute Tax Credit

John Arensmeyer

John Arensmeyer

For those employers who have waited until the last minute to file their taxes, the countdown is on. September 15 is the deadline for small business owners who filed extensions to finally pay the piper. But it’s not all bad news. Entrepreneurs who act quickly have the opportunity to pocket some extra cash by taking advantage of health care tax credits.

Created under provisions of the new health care reform law, the small business tax credit is designed specifically to offset the cost of health insurance for the job-creators America depends on most—small business owners. In California, nearly 80 percent of all small businesses are eligible for the credit. Employers who’ve requested an extension on their taxes have until September 15 to file returns, while sole proprietors have until October 17. While that may not seem like much time, there’s a new resource available for California small businesses that clearly explains the ins-and-outs of health insurance and helps determine tax credit eligibility. Business owners who have already filed their 2010 taxes may still be able to claim by filing an amended tax return. For those who don’t qualify for the credit this tax year, it will still be available in years to come.

To help small businesses determine if they’re eligible, Small Business Majority released the California Health Coverage Guide on September 13—a comprehensive website featuring everything California small business owners need to know about health insurance that includes a tax credit calculator; a handy tool for entrepreneurs who want to file for a tax credit immediately.

Virginia Donohue of San Francisco is a small business owner who has already benefited from the tax credit. The owner of Pet Camp said, “I have really been hanging on the last couple of years, waiting for reform.” Health insurance became so expensive for her business that Virginia inevitably had “nowhere left to go. I already have the highest co-pay you can buy.” Her $8,000 tax credit has shown Virginia that health reform is starting to work. Employers like her, who for decades have prided themselves on offering insurance, can be found all across the country.

The Coverage Guide will be an excellent resource for busy employers who are looking for a quick tax credit estimate this week, but the website’s impact will reach far beyond the September 15 deadline. Along with the tax credit calculator, the guide offers comprehensive information on all matters health care, meant to simplify the task of researching health insurance so small business owners have more time to focus on boosting business.

Small businesses are the nation’s most prolific job creators, and for this reason they need all the support they can get to put our economy back on the right track. Being prepared for forthcoming changes as the Affordable Care Act is implemented is crucial to small business owners who can get ahead by taking advantage of all it has to offer. These important tax credits make smart business sense and are good for everyone’s bottom line.

For more direction on claiming the credit, even if you’ve already filed your taxes, check out this information from the Department of Health and Human Services.