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Decoding the US Chamber's Climate Position

Pete Altman

Posted November 9, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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The US Chamber would like you to know that it hasn't changed its position on climate, no matter what its recent letter to the Hill might have implied. According to a fresh blog post by Bruce Josten, the letter's author, the position stated in the letter "has been our position for the last two years and only represents a change to those who have willfully misrepresented it in the past."

But if the US Chamber is annoyed that observers mistook its letter to mean the federation was at long last locating its senses on this issue, it only has itself to blame. After all, the US Chamber is scattering key aspects of its position in different places and using coded language to impart its views. It is getting so one needs a secret decoder ring to get a clear grasp of what the US Chamber is really saying.

Case in point: last week's letter was carefully crafted to sound as though the US Chamber is supportive of Senators Kerry and Graham's goals. As the Chamber's own letter read

The Chamber commends Senators Kerry and Graham for their recent New York Times editorial on the need for comprehensive climate legislation. The Chamber welcomes the call for a new conversation on how to address the issue, and believes their editorial can serve as a solid, workable, commonsense foundation on which to craft a bill.

But as I pointed out, the US Chamber neglected to endorse the principle which is at the absolute center of why Senators Kerry and Graham agree on the need for climate legislation. As they wrote in the New York Times:

Our partnership represents a fresh attempt to find consensus that adheres to our core principles and leads to both a climate change solution and energy independence . . . First, we agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security. That is why we are advocating aggressive reductions in our emissions of the carbon gases that cause climate change. [Emphasis added].

You might not notice the US Chamber's omission of that goal, unless you read their press release and tweet about the letter, both of which emphasized the Chamber's rejection of "top-down targets and timetables" and emphasis of a "bottom-up plan."

By leaving those comments out of its letter to Senators, the US Chamber itself appears to be the one misrepresenting its position. Or at least, muddling it to the point of incomprehensibility.

And Mr. Josten's blog post magnifies the confusion:

What we are asking Congress to do in the climate change debate, [is] find the balance that sets the nation on a path that will foster economic development, better our environment, allow upward movement in society and provide security for our nation. Achieving this balance is not easy and cannot be done by selecting one of the competing forces, e.g. environment, and placing it above all other concerns. Congress can't regulate reality and human nature. But what it can do is establish incentives and rules that foster innovation and prosperity.

So in the US Chamber's view, what Congress can do in a climate bill, is to "establish incentives and rules that foster innovation and prosperity." you wouldn't get that from its letter to the Senate. You'd have to read the US Chamber's press releases, tweets and blogs in order to really decode what it is saying. But even then, poorly defined phrases like "bottom-up plan" and Congress can establish "incentives and rules" still obscure the US Chamber's actual meaning. Language like this seems to be code for something other than what Kerry-Graham, many businesses and others are calling for, but its hard to tell what.

If the Chamber wants Congress, the media and everyone else to understand its position, it could start by making its position available in one place, instead of telling Senators one thing and then telling everyone else something different through press releases, tweets and blog posts. And the US Chamber can drop the coded language. 

Here are some straight-up questions that the US Chamber can answer in order to reduce the confusion:

  • Does the US Chamber consider emission reduction targets and timetables to be essential to include or exclude from a climate bill?
  • If the US Chamber thinks targets and timetables should be included, what does it believe should be the basis for setting emission reduction targets and timetables?
  • What emission reduction targets is the Chamber prepared to support and on what timetable?
  • When will the US Chamber lay out an actual proposal for climate legislation?
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