Beyond that, many business leaders are galvanized by two forces: the desire to have a seat at the table when policy is written, and the desire for certainty about the regulatory environment. It's a pattern that has emerged on other issues in the past, especially when business sees the risk of a patchwork of state regulations.
"We've seen the movie before. There's no need to sit around and wait for the end. That's where a lot of companies are coming from now," says Truman Semans of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Va. [Editor's note: ]
The Pew Center supports both USCAP and another coalition called the Business Environmental Leadership Council, a group Mr. Semans directs. While not lobbying for any specific bill, both groups support concrete steps by government to reduce carbon emissions.
The membership roster doesn't look that different from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The leadership council includes Intel, Alcoa, Whirlpool, and the electric utility PG&E. In all, the companies in this group have a market capitalization of $2.8 trillion – a sizable chunk of the roughly $50 trillion in corporate stock traded worldwide.
Among companies on record as favoring action on climate change, many are nonetheless preparing to lobby against proposed solutions that they worry could harm the economy – or their particular business. This is a delicate question that will be central to the debate.
The leading policy option, for example, would set a cap for emissions in most of the economy, and would encourage creation of a market to buy and sell the rights for those emissions.
"When Congress determines how expensive a cap-and-trade will be, it'll make it very difficult to pass," predicts Paul Cicio, who heads Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a coalition of manufacturing firms worried about policies that cap emissions before enough alternative fuels are available.
Still, Mr. Cicio recognizes the political momentum for new policies. "The majority of companies have come to the political reality that Congress is very serious about taking action," he says.