Biden's business allies are helping the White House coax the private sector into backing climate change push

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US President Joe Biden delivers remarks and participates in the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate Session 5: The Economic Opportunities of Climate Action from the White House in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2021.
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President Joe Biden's allies in the business community have been helping the White House try to coax the private sector into supporting the administration's climate change agenda.

Several business leaders who are working with the White House told CNBC that the effort is a major divergence from what they saw during the Trump administration.

For instance, executives say are less worried about a tweet from the president if they try to make a push for new climate policies. Former President Donald Trump was known to target corporations that appeared to oppose him on key issues.

“There's no longer the fear of the tweet, which I think was a legitimate fear from a lot of the business leaders in trying to speak out on these issues,” Hugh Welsh, president of DSM North America whose company is a member of the group CEO Climate Dialogue, told CNBC on Monday.

Biden has proposed a more aggressive climate change policy than his predecessor did. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement in 2017 and lifted Obama era regulations on methane gas, among other initiatives that could end up hurting the environment. Biden brought the U.S. back into the the Paris climate agreement on his Inauguration Day.

Biden has also made addressing climate change a key part of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Biden's proposal pushes for a $174 billion investment in the electric vehicle market. It's all part of the president's goal to get the country to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire who ran for president during the Democratic primary, is among several business leaders who have been actively engaging the White House and administration leaders on their climate proposals.

Steyer has been speaking with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and White House climate advisor Gina McCarthy on the need to work with the private sector on what will likely be one of the president's most expensive initiatives, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

Steyer spent millions to defeat Trump and has invested in climate change initiatives. He has a net worth of $1.4 billion, according to Forbes.

Steyer was also a speaker at Morgan Stanley's annual climate conference, this person noted. Steyer told executives and investors at the meeting that they shouldn't invest in fossil fuel companies, as a way to combat climate change.

This person declined to be named in order to discuss private matters. Representatives for Morgan Stanley did not return requests for comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

The Chamber of Commerce and the CEO Climate Dialogue have also been engaging the White House on climate initiatives. The Chamber opposes Biden's plan to raise corporate taxes, but it backs an infrastructure overhaul.

The CEO Climate Dialogue has almost two dozen members including companies from Wall Street and the energy sector. The goal of the organization is to promote the use of the private sector and a more market-based approach to securing net-zero emissions by 2050.

Welsh, of CEO Climate Dialogue, told CNBC that the group has been in touch with the Biden White House to help improve relations with corporate leaders.

“The group has been involved with Gina McCarthy and some of the others in I guess rebuilding relationships with the White House after the last four years,” Welsh said.

Marty Durbin, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, told CNBC that the group has been in touch with McCarthy and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Durbin said the Chamber has been trying to encourage Granholm and members of Congress to fully fund climate based research and development projects. The group also has been looking to encourage the new administration to work with the private sector on green policy proposals.

“We've got to figure out how do we allow the private sector to be in a position to finance, deploy and commercialize these technologies. That's how we are going to see emission reductions at the end of the day,” Durbin said.

Members of a fundraising group called Clean Energy for Biden are also acting as a bridge to the private sector. Dan Reicher, a co-chairman of the organization, told CNBC that he helped outline a spending proposal to increase energy output from the nation's dams.

The document, which was sent to the White House and endorsed by nearly a dozen organizations and trade associations, argues that only 2,500 of the approximately 90,000 dams in the United States generate electricity. The proposal's is estimated to cost over $60 billion over the course of 10 years.

“If fully enacted, this $63.07 billion proposal for spending, over 10 years, will create approximately 500,000 good-paying jobs, restore over 20,000 miles of rivers enhancing their climate resilience, and secure more than 80 gigawatts of existing renewable hydropower and 23 gigawatts of electricity storage,” the proposal says.

It also calls for Biden to order the creation of a committee to coordinate on dam improvements and regulatory issues.

Reicher says the outline was sent to Phil Giudice and David Hayes, two of Biden's climate policy advisors, and members of Congress, among others.

The Clean Energy for Biden group is evolving into 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) nonprofits, both called Clean Energy for America, Reicher added.

The Clean Energy for America website said that while backing Biden's climate agenda it will also be “supporting candidates at federal, state, and local level through fundraising, mobilizing the clean energy workforce, and serving as an early resource.”

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