Obama Makes Wal-Mart an Example to Push Energy Efficiency

President Barack Obama held up Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as an example as he seeks public support for an energy and environment initiative that’s been met with skepticism from business groups and Republicans, who say it will kill jobs.

Speaking at one of the company’s outlets today in Mountain View, California, Obama announced a set of plans to promote energy efficiency and solar power use, including upgrading government buildings.

Wal-Mart’s commitment to renewable energy shows there are “cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create new jobs,” he said. “It will be good for the economy long-term. And if we don’t, that will be bad for the economy” because of the impact of global warming.

Obama is seeking to make addressing climate change part of his legacy in office. This week the administration released a National Climate Assessment that supporters and critics say lays the groundwork for new efforts to curb emissions blamed for global warming.

The president took a dig at Republicans in Congress who have expressed skepticism about climate change.

“Climate change is real, and we have to act now,” he said. “Inside Washington, we still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate.”

Obama’s Agenda

Obama’s strategy includes promoting greater use of renewable energy and making buildings and vehicles more efficient. Solar panels were recently installed on the roof of the White House, and Obama routinely mentions home appliance energy-use improvements and stronger fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks on his list of accomplishments.

The U.S. could save $1 trillion by refitting all U.S. buildings -- government, commercial, industrial and residential -- with more energy-efficient systems, said Mike Lamach, chief executive officer of air-conditioner maker Ingersoll Rand Plc, who Obama invited to today’s event.

Buildings consume 40 percent of energy in the U.S., he said, making them an obvious focus for conservation. Air-conditioning and heating systems are the biggest consumers of that energy with 40 percent followed by lighting at 20 percent.


“It’s a no-brainer, with the technology that exists today, to go in and retrofit buildings,” Lamach said. “It’s good for the environment, it’s good for U.S. energy independence, and more and more it’s saving companies money.”

Obama selected the Wal-Mart store in the heart of Silicon Valley for his remarks because the company is committing to double the number of onsite solar energy projects at its U.S. stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers by 2020, according to a White House fact sheet. That pledge is part of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company’s previously announced goal to produce or procure 7 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy by the end of the decade, according to the fact sheet.

In highlighting Wal-Mart’s efforts on energy, Obama picked a company that hasn’t always aligned with the administration or its supporters. Wal-Mart has come in for criticism from unions, which have historically supported Democrats, and has said it’s neutral on Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage. The company’s political action committee and executives direct the majority of their campaign contributions to Republicans.

Political Contributions

Wal-Mart’s PAC has donated $576,000 to federal candidates in the 2014 election, of which 53 percent went to Republicans and 47 percent went to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign giving.

Jim Walton, the youngest son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, is a major Republican donor, contributing $200,000 to a super-political action committee that aided Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for president.

Alice Walton, Sam Walton’s youngest child, also gave $200,000 to a pro-Romney super-PAC, while also giving $25,000 in November to a super-PAC that’s urging Democrat Hillary Clinton to run for president.

Christy Walton, the world’s richest woman and the widow of Sam Walton’s other son, donated $50,000 in 2011 to a super-PAC that promoted Republican Jon Huntsman’s White House bid. While her donations skew Republican, she has donated to some Democrats including Obama in September 2008 and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey in 2013.

Choosing Wal-Mart

Groups supporting organized labor are criticizing Obama’s choice of Wal-Mart, saying it sends a mixed message about his commitment to raising wages for the lowest-paid U.S. workers. Obama is pushing Congress to increase the U.S. minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and has praised companies including Costco Wholesale Corp. and the Gap Inc. for increasing their minimum pay without the government requiring them to do so.

A fundraiser Obama attended last night for the Democratic National Committee was co-hosted by Yahoo! Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer, who is on Wal-Mart’s board.

Clinton, a possible Democratic candidate for president in 2016, used to serve on Wal-Mart’s board. Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, lived in Arkansas when he was the state’s governor.

A Wal-Mart worker named Charmaine Givens-Thomas planned to attend last night’s fundraiser and give Obama a petition signed by about 200,000 people asking him to meet with Wal-Mart workers to hear about their working conditions and pay.

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