This story reminds of a point I’ve been meaning to make. Too often discussions of corporate green initiatives — or just corporate involvement in green matters — devolves into whether it’s "good" or "bad," whether corporations are sincere or greenwashing, whether executives are green at heart or roleplaying with devious motives.

It doesn’t really matter.

James Rogers is the head of a company that’s deeply invested in coal. He foresees regulations on carbon — regulations that will directly affect his business — and he wants to get involved in shaping them. Naturally, he wants to shape them in a way favorable to his business interests. That is neither a shocking moral indictment of Rogers nor some sort of anti-capitalist raving. It’s just a statement of fact.

Here are a couple of revealing passages. First:

Mr. Rogers does not see contradictions or hypocrisies, but trade-offs and consensus-building to make progress. “We’ve got to find common ground among the stakeholders — consumers, industry, regulators, policy makers and environmental groups,” he said. “They won’t all be entirely satisfied, but there has to be enough common ground so each of them can buy in.”

Have a look at that list of stakeholders. Notice anything missing? Right: the public. The public makes it into the list only as “consumers,” with the attendant implication that the only public interest is in keeping short-term prices as low as possible. But of course the public interest is much larger than that. Who’s fighting for the larger public interest? Right: the environmental groups. They are not just another “special interest,” but citizen groups organized to fight for broad public interest. This is a point the corporate right has a strong and longstanding interest in obscuring. "The public" and "the coal industry" should not be considered equal-status stakeholders.

Here’s another crucial point:

[Duke Energy] supports a cap-and-trade system, capping carbon dioxide emissions and then giving or selling allowances to companies, effectively permitting them to generate a certain amount of emissions.

The most contentious issues, [industry and environmental lobbyists] said, would be the levels set for carbon dioxide emissions and the division of pollution-permit allowances.

Rogers is involved in the political process because he wants the highest possible levels set for CO2, and the most generous possible allocation of allowances to his industry. To the extent he can advance the ball on getting climate legislation passed, he is helpful. To the extent he works to weaken it, he needs to be fought. Our emotional reactions to or moral assessment of his involvement is irrelevant.