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Originally published November 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 3, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Seattle mayors' meeting a cozy climate for business

The economics of climate change and its effect on businesses were a chief topic at the two major events Friday, the final day of the two-day conference.

Seattle Times environment reporter

Mayors weren't the only people to show up at the U.S. mayors' climate conference in downtown Seattle.

Corporate America was a constant presence, drawn by the prospect of capturing business, influencing policy and promoting its environmental image.

Company lobbyists milled in a hallway of the Edgewater Hotel, chatting up some of the more than 100 mayors gathered here.

The 29 sponsors of the event, ranging from Microsoft to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, had their names displayed on a poster and on brochures that went to each mayor.

Some of the sponsors even had a chance at the podium, intermingling talk about greenhouse gases with subtle pitches for their products. Going green, clearly, is tied for some companies to earning some green.

"I think it's really about exploring potential partnerships," explained Lynn Cutler, a former high-level official in the Clinton White House who now works for a Chicago law firm and is co-chairwoman of the national Mayors Business Council.

In her purse, she carried brochures she gave out to mayors for a client — a company that cities can hire to track people's recycling and reward them with shopping coupons.

The economics of climate change and its effect on businesses were a chief topic at the two major events Friday, the final day of the two-day conference.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at a lunchtime speech before the mayors, called for a federal tax on greenhouse-gas emissions, coupled with a cut in employment taxes.

The issue spilled over into a Friday afternoon Seattle hearing by the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. There, Bloomberg, a former Republican turned independent, sparred with committee Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

Sensenbrenner warned that joining the international Kyoto climate-change treaty would hurt U.S. businesses unless developing countries such as China also joined.

"From the moment that treaty was drafted, it was clear that it would have heavy impacts on the economy," Sensenbrenner said.

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Bloomberg told the committee that America should take the lead, not wait for others.

"We're complaining that we're not going to do it because the other guy's not doing it. It doesn't make any sense to me at all," he said.

But for much of the meeting, the mood between mayors and businesses was a friendly one.

McKinstry, a Seattle company and one of the chief sponsors, delivered a presentation to the mayors about how they could improve the energy efficiency of their government buildings.

The firm has a fast-growing division that does just that. It included a coupon for each mayor to get a free energy audit of 10 city buildings.

Others came with a message urging mayors to think twice about how city's regulate greenhouse gases.

A representative of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, called on mayors to give businesses flexibility in how they meet environmental targets, such as how to build a "green" building.

The mayors' conference launched a new climate-change alliance with businesses, the Climate Protection Council. Charter members are the automakers alliance; the chemistry council; the chemical manufacturer DuPont; Johnson Controls, a company that works on energy-efficient buildings and makes batteries for hybrid cars; compact fluorescent light-bulb maker TCP; Wal-Mart; and Waste Management, a national trash-hauling and recycling company.

The mayors' conference declined to say how much each company paid to sponsor the climate conference, or to be on the climate council.

But the partnerships made some uneasy.

David Suzuki, founder of the British Columbia-based David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental group, said environmentalists are ambivalent.

Companies such as Wal-Mart can have tremendous influence by ordering products made with less environmental impact, he said. At the same time, he said, they rely on an unsustainable push for more and more consumption.

"We have to get off this hypersized consumption," Suzuki said.

He also questioned the presence of the auto industry.

The automakers' alliance, which represents nine major car companies, has fought efforts to require increased fuel efficiency in cars.

"I think it's always good to be talking," said Matthew Godlewski, the alliance's vice president of state affairs, of the reason for helping sponsor the event.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, whose administration is counting on tougher car standards to cut greenhouse gases here, said the automakers would be frustrated if they hope to stymie how mayors tackle car pollution.

"My hope is they're here to work with us and not try to thwart us. But I do think we need to listen," Nickels said.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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