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The US Chamber's Continuing Climate Credibility Crisis

Pete Altman

Posted October 13, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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If the media briefing late last week before Columbus Day was supposed to make things better for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the face of an onslaught of major defections over its climate extremism, well, let's put it this way:  MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED.

If the Chamber was hoping to leave its troubles behind the 3-day Columbus Day weekend, well, that didn't work out too well either. Turns out, it was a busy long weekend for those commenting on and distancing themselves from the US Chamber. Here are the highlights:

Continuing Negative Editorial Reaction.  Check out "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is feeling the heat; The business group's stand on climate legislation has cost it members and credibility" from the Los Angeles Times:

There are two ways of handling the coming climate changes, which, according to a recent U.S. government review of the available science, will jeopardize water supplies, destroy transportation infrastructure, blight crops and harm human health: We can impose a price on carbon and thus make those who produce or benefit from it pay a little now, or we can force all taxpayers to fund the far higher cost of repairing the damage later. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to sell the latter approach. Don't buy it.

More Corporate Leaders Break Ranks.  The Hill's Jim Snyder reports that the Silicon Valley Leadership Council, which represents around 300 Silicon Valley employers,

felt the need to respond to comments from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive this summer questioning the science behind global warming.

Along with the Environmental Defense Action Fund and Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, the Council is helping to pay for a modest print advertising campaign urging the big business lobby to change its ways and support climate legislation in Congress.

 

Here's the ad:

My favorite parts:

Silicon Valley is ready to lead the world in the next great technological revolution: clean energy...That's why we've been so disappointed by the opposition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to clean energy legislation now moving through Congress...It's time for the "voice of American business" to move forward, embrace a market-based cap on carbon pollution, and help lead a new century of American prosperity .... If you won't, other cutting edge companies are likely to move forward without you -- and to speak out in favor of policies that help us create a new, healthy energy future.

The US Chamber Doesn't Speak for All Local Chambers.  You only have to go to South Carolina - that well-known hotbed of climate activism! -- to find this statement from Frank Knapp, Jr., President and CEO of The S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce:

In today's (10-11-09) New York Times, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham co-authored an opinion editorial outlining his support for comprehensive climate change legislation ...

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce applauds Senator Graham's position of creating a bipartisan effort to develop "a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution."

Since 2007, the Small Business Chamber has been an advocate for climate change legislation that would protect our state's small business tourism industry from the negative consequences of global warming: rising sea levels destroying our beaches, barrier islands, ocean-front structures and landmarks (http://www.scsbc.org/view_press.asp?id=241).

We have also clearly called for climate change legislation that will jump-start our economy with new jobs. As president and CEO of the Small Business Chamber, I personally appeared in a 2008 television ad along with the CEO's of Deere & Company and Eaton Corporation promoting the job-creation benefits of climate change legislation.

Here's the ad that Frank Knapp is talking about, by the way:

And, here's a comment from the Director of Public Policy at the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, on where the local chamber stands on the issue. As the Duluth News Tribune explains:

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, a member group of the U.S. Chamber, hasn't dived into the issue, but the local chamber has passed a sustainability resolution that includes energy, said Andy Peterson, director of public policy.

"We have members far to the left and members far to the right, and it's our job to sort of find consensus, or at least common ground, on where we can go,'' Peterson said.

Sounds like the US Chamber could take some lessons from their local affiliates. And, sounds like the local affiliates - like some of the Chamber's corporate members - aren't completely bought into the Chamber program.

Tough Questions About the Real Size of the Chamber's Powerbase. Does the Chamber really speak for 3 million businesses?  It turns out that those numbers just don't add up:

By counting the memberships of 2,800 local chambers as its own, the US Chamber is being deeply misleading. Unlike many true grassroots organizations, there is usually little or no relationship between the local chambers and the national organization. The Chamber "is not a governing body, chartering agent, or a regulatory agency for chambers of commerce," its website explains, "and we have no say in how chambers decide to run themselves." Nor do most local chambers have any say in the national group.  They do not get to cast votes for the Chamber's leadership, which is beholden to a board of directors that is exclusively selected by other sitting board members, most of whom represent large corporations. Only one of board's 118 members represents a local chamber of commerce.

Apparently, the Chamber's claim to "represent" the 3 million individual members of local chambers is solely based on the fact that those local chambers are members of the national group-even though many of those chambers' individual members do not have a direct relationship with the national body. To get an idea of the tenuousness of this connection, consider the American Highway Users Alliance. Like the Chamber, the AHUA has worked to undermine climate legislation, and counts the American Automobile Association as a member, which itself has 51 million members. The AHUA has never pretended to speak for those 51 million drivers.

Even Tougher Questions About How the Chamber Makes Decisions.  Here is an overview of a piece now appearing in the New Yorker:

One of the interesting questions about the Chamber is how it actually reaches its decisions, since by all accounts it doesn't ask its three million plus members to vote on policy issues. As I point out in my article, many of the companies on the Chamber's board of directors have come out publicly in favor of government action against greenhouse gases-in fact, there's a surprising overlap between the Chamber's board and the membership of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Yet those companies don't appear to be exerting much influence over the Chamber's policy stands. Nike suggested that this was because the Chamber "has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors," and in another interview said that the board didn't actually make the final decisions on climate policy. Donohue said that Nike's comments weren't quite accurate, and that the board did vote on broader climate-change principles, as part of what the Times called a "consent calendar, where members are voting on several items at a time."

Strikingly, though, the Chamber's board was not given the chance to approve the organization's opposition to current cap-and-trade legislation-that decision was made by the Chamber's staff. That would tend to lend credence to my argument that group decisions often reflect not the collective judgment of members, but are rather disproportionately influenced by the opinions of those who are most engaged with the issues. Along the same lines, the Times article quotes an unnamed official who is "knowledgeable of chamber energy policy," saying, "Companies with the largest contributions tend to hold more sway with chamber staff on setting final policy positions."

Growing Pressure for Bipartisan Action ... Over the Chamber's Explicit Objections.

Washington is abuzz about the joint New York Times oped by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC):

Failure to act comes with another cost. If Congress does not pass legislation dealing with climate change, the administration will use the Environmental Protection Agency to impose new regulations. Imposed regulations are likely to be tougher and they certainly will not include the job protections and investment incentives we are proposing. The message to those who have stalled for years is clear: killing a Senate bill is not success; indeed, given the threat of agency regulation, those who have been content to make the legislative process grind to a halt would later come running to Congress in a panic to secure the kinds of incentives and investments we can pass today. Industry needs the certainty that comes with Congressional action.

An oped about which my colleague Dan Lashof blogs,

It's hard to overstate the significance of this joint declaration. It ensures that the Senate bill will be bipartisan. It demonstrates that there is a pathway to 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. And it establishes comprehensive energy and climate legislation as the next item on the Senate agenda after health care reform, meaning there is a very real shot at Senate passage prior to Copenhagen.

The Prospect of Even More Damage to the Chamber's Reputation.   Leave it to PR Week to point out the danger of the Chamber as being perceived as a mouthpiece for the radical right-wing fringe.

But, seriously now, is that reputational damage a surprise?

Earlier this year, Chamber President Tom Donohue agreed to appear as a major speaker on a Chamber event program with the infamous Glenn Beck.  As ThinkProgress points out:

Beck has called President Obama a "socialist," a "Marxist," and a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred of white people." It may not come as a surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with its right-wing agenda of blocking health care reform, clean energy legislation, and workers' rights, is embracing Glenn Beck's hate and fearmongering.

All of which reminds me of PR firm founder Marinna Ein's comments on the Chamber, in Newsweek:

"It's devastating...I suspect that all of the [chamber] membership is asking itself at this point, Who's leading us, and why aren't more efforts being made to find consensus."

 

Running tab of the Chamber's Climate Credibility Crisis (with new feature-Editorials discussing the Chamber's credibility crisis):

Quit US Chamber over climate:  Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, Levi Strauss & Co.*

Quit US Chamber Board over climate: Nike.

Say Chamber doesn't represent their views on climate: Johnson&Johnson, General Electric, San Jose Chamber of Commerce, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy, Microsoft, Toyota(?).

Says the US Chamber is damaging its reputation and credibility: BusinessWeek, PRWeek, Fortune Magazine's Marc Gunther, Newsweek, LA Times.   

Learn more at WhoDoestheChamberRepresent.org?

* UPDATE 11/12/09: Levi-Strauss informed us that the company did not leave the US Chamber over climate concerns, as Greenwire had reported. 

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Comments

June PetersonOct 15 2009 11:22 AM

Sounds like it's time for local chambers to boycott the U.S. Chamber.

Comments are closed for this post.

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