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PNM Resources Quits US Chamber Board

Pete Altman

Posted September 23, 2009

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In yet another blow to the prestige and credibility of the US Chamber of Commerce, PNM Resources announced that it has given up its seat on the US Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and issued a statement criticizing the Chamber's stance on global warming.

Kate Galbraith at the New York Times reported on the new rift:

"We strongly disagree with the chamber's position on climate change legislation and particularly reject its recent theatrics" in calling for a review of the E.P.A.'s findings, Don Brown, a spokesman for PNM Resources, a New Mexico-based utility holding company, said in an e-mail message. Mr. Brown noted that PNM's chief executive recently stepped down from the chamber's board."

The announcement is the latest development in a growing crisis over how the US Chamber represents its members interests on federal climate policy.

The Albuquerque Journal printed PNM's entire statement:

"We strongly disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on climate change legislation and particularly reject its recent theatrics calling for a 'Scopes Monkey Trial' to put the science of climate change on trial. We believe the science is compelling enough to act sooner rather than later, and we support comprehensive federal legislation to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect customers against unreasonable cost increases."

The statement comes within hours of news of electric utility PG&E's complete withdrawal from the US Chamber and a public statement from Nike expressing its disgust over the Chamber's views on climate.

PG&E, Nike and PNM cited frustration with the Chamber's call to put climate science on trial, which Chamber vice-President Bill Kovacs compared to the Scopes Monkey Trial. Kovacs later apologized for the remark. Earlier this spring, Johnson and Johnson made public its frustration with the Chamber's position on climate.

Unfortunately for the US Chamber, more and more businesses see the passage of clean energy and climate legislation as important to their bottom lines, and understand that well-crafted policy can move America forward in a way that strengthens the economy.

In fact, we counted up how many members of the Chamber board support federal climate policy, and found that 19 companies support it while only four opposed it. With PNM Resources withdrawing from the board, I guess we're down to 18 companies.

Why is the Chamber so hard-headed in the face of all these companies that want to move forward? It is interesting to note - as I have earlier this week - that US Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue serves on the board of Union Pacific, which earns a significant portion of its revenues from hauling coal. 

Mr. Donohue has earned a significant revenue of his own from Union Pacific - over $1.1 million in cash over the last ten years and $3.8 million worth of stock. But that comes at a price, as Union Pacific puts some heavy handcuffs of gold on its directors:

"Directors may not engage in any conduct or activities that are inconsistent with the Company's best interests or that disrupt or impair the Company's relationship with any person or entity with which the Company has or proposes to enter into a business or contractual relationship."  

Gee, what happens when the US Chamber of Commerce must choose a policy position and some of its members have interests that are "inconsistent" with Union Pacific's?

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Brian SchmidtSep 29 2009 03:13 PM

I think climate-realist businesses have the choice of either leaving the Chamber to weaken and discredit its negative effect on climate policy, or stay at the Chamber and fight internally for change.

Obviously there's an incompatibility problem with these approaches. I suppose a small number of high-profile resignations are compatible with an internal approach, but one of these two options has to be the primary strategy.

Given that so many businesses are climate realists but aren't going to make climate their #1 priority, I suspect the internal strategy is the better one.

Meanwhile, thanks for the research on the UP connection. Seems even UP would have reasons to support climate action because rail should do well in a carbon-efficient world, but maybe they can't see that far ahead.

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