Small-business owners say they believe federal clean-energy investment helps drive job creation and economic growth, even with the cloud of Solyndra's bankruptcy hanging over them, a recent poll of such enterprises in six U.S. states indicates.
Results indicate 71 percent of small-business owners think government has a role in driving toward a cleaner, more competitive economy, said advocacy group Small Business Majority, which commissioned the survey.
The poll also found strong support for current and new federal Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards even if enforcement meant a possible increase in utility prices.
Small-business owners participating in the survey listed the cost of doing business and a lack of consumer demand as the two biggest challenges they face, John Arensmeyer, Small Business Majority founder and chief executive officer, said during a conference call about the poll's findings this week.
Notably, he said, only 16 percent said government regulation was a problem.
"There's a lot of discussion about impact of regulations on businesses," Arensmeyer said. "We agree that there are some dumb rules out there, but only 16 percent see that as a big issue."
Small businesses also said they support government investment in clean energy technologies even after questions were raised about whether the Obama administration pushed through a loan to Solyndra, a solar cell manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee.
Despite what happened at the California operation, small businesses said the federal government "shouldn't stop investing in solar and wind," Arensmeyer said. "[They] want the government to play that kind of role."
The survey "really shows that small businesses across country, in fairly significant numbers, understand the need for a strong partnership role of government in fostering a clean energy economy particularly as relates to the EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses and other toxic emissions," he said. "There's strong support."
Small business owners in all six surveyed states also showed strong support -- 82 percent -- for recently released EPA standards that require new power plants to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. The survey showed 76 percent favor the EPA's federal rule that new power plants reduce previously unlimited emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
"The EPA regulations limiting carbon emissions make our solar technology more cost competitive and cause a surge of activity in our industry -- new business start-ups, existing company expansions and a solidifying of this nascent industry," Michelle Greenfield, chief executive officer of Third Sun Solar in Athens, Ohio.
Results are based on an Internet survey of 600 small businesses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Nevada and Colorado conducted March 21-28. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.
Fifty-seven percent of participants said their businesses will be impacted by EPA oversight of carbon and other emissions. However, 56 percent said they back the EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions even if it means a possible increase in utility prices.
Greenfield, whose 12-year-old company designs and installs solar power systems in the Midwest, said government incentives make solar power in the state economical and feasible. She said most of the state's power comes from coal plants because it's cheap.
Green- or clean-energy incentives have created 3,500 jobs in Ohio for the past few years and government involvement in the field will help make the United States more competitive globally.
She said she tries to by U.S.-made components for her company, but that's sometimes difficult because "we haven't had as much incentive here [in the United States] as overseas."
Greenfield said government investment in the solar industry and EPA regulations can add more jobs by opening up "whole new technologies and industries that are built around alleviating those issues."
Jonathan Tobias, president of Michigan Green Cabs in Wixom, said EPA regulation of carbon emissions directly affects his business because it raises awareness about companies that embrace clean alternative energy sources.
"For every 150 old traditional [Crown Victorias] we recycle, Michigan Green Cabs can save 1.2 million gallons of fuel per year traveling the exact same distance," Tobias said, reducing pollution by an average of 70 percent. He said his company has a 25-vehicle fleet.
He said he formed his company about four years ago amid concern about the environment and wanting to take "proactive steps about quality of [the] environment that we leave" for future generations.
He's a booster for driving green because "the more efficiently I can run my business … the more money I have available to expand my business and hire more drivers."
He said one new vehicle can create three new full-time positions and one or two part-time jobs.
Plus, greater awareness means he can retain drivers "who want to work for responsible company," Tobias said.
Seventy-three percent of small business owners favor proposed rules to reduce smog and soot pollution that crosses state lines, the so-called "Good Neighbor Rule," Arensmeyer said.
The survey polled a politically diverse population, he said. Forty-four percent identified themselves as Republicans, 38 percent, Democrats, and 10 percent, independents.
Compared with previous surveys on government incentives for green and clean energy, Arensmeyer said the latest poll was "consistent with [the] view that it's going to require an active [government] partnership role."
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