Brainstorm Green

Green businesses: Don't abandon Washington

April 18, 2012: 2:08 PM ET

Corporations interested in green energy may be frustrated with Washington, but their voices need to be heard in D.C., says former EPA administrator Cathy Zoi.

FORTUNE -- Along with the rest of the country, more big companies are concerned about sustainable energy. The problem is that corporations interested in taking those concerns to policymakers in Washington are frustrated, given the political gridlock they have encountered there.

An audience member from Microsoft (MSFT) asked a panel at Fortune's "Brainstorm Green" conference if it would be more effective for concerned companies such as Microsoft to pursue green energy as they see fit and sidestep Washington altogether.

No, says Cathy Zoi who has worked for the White House and is now a partner at Silver Lake Kraftwerk Fund. "Do what you're going to do, but please do not abandon Washington," she told the audience. "This is important for Microsoft and Google, because you guys are thinking about reliable, affordable electricity, and Washington needs to know that you care about it."

The fossil-fuel industry is a well-oiled machine in this way, she says, and government representatives hear from those companies all the time. Leaders from green-geared companies need to throw their voices in the fray, she says.

Those leaders might have more traction with the government than they think. Clean energy, more and more, is gaining bipartisan support across the country. "Many states with Republican governors are doing significant things," says William Reilly, a senior advisor at TPG Capital. He mentions Arizona's governor Jan Brewer, who is "not known for being a tree-hugger," yet has been a huge advocate for solar power in the state.

"Any outcome of the [2012 presidential] election is going to require some cooperation by both parties in the senate," adds John Podesta, chairman and counselor at the Center for American Progress. Unlike the previous political climate in Washington, he says, "there's no reason why conservative Republicans couldn't support some of the policies being put forward."

All panelists agree that there's hope for progress on environmental policy, despite a busted Washington. Zoi says, "I get very sad when I hear smart people with great ideas who say Washington is so broken that I'm not going to go there."

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Shelley DuBois
Shelley DuBois
Writer - Reporter, Fortune

Shelley DuBois writes on management issues for Fortune.com. Before joining Fortune, she was a producer for National Public Radio's Science Friday and worked for Wired. Shelley has a graduate degree in science, health and environmental reporting from New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.

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