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Pete Altman’s Blog

US Chamber of Contradictions

Pete Altman

Posted October 5, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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Last week Tom Donohue, the US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, declared that

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to support strong federal legislation ... to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change."

Which made us wonder. If the Chamber 'continues' to support strong federal legislation, why would the companies that share that goal leave the US Chamber? (We're wondering this aloud, by the way, with an ad in today's Politico print edition and a new website highlighting the Chamber's contradictions.

And we're not alone in wondering about the US Chamber's conduct.

In an editorial entitled "Way Behind the Curve," The New York Times said

"The United States Chamber of Commerce's web site says the group supports "a comprehensive legislative solution" to global warming. Yet no organization in this country has done more to undermine such legislation."

The Boston Globe focused on the business federation's penchant for "increasingly shrill, doom-saying opposition to climate change legislation in Washington" in its editorial "US Chamber of Overstated Horrors." Said the Globe:

"The chamber went completely off the rails in August. It proposed to take the climate change debate all the way back to the 1920s, to a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.''

The San Jose Mercury News weighed in with an editorial entitled "U.S. chamber is a dinosaur on climate change." Noting that "While the United States was investing its $60 billion in clean tech, China was committing $80 billion," the Mercury News criticized the US Chamber for failing to do its job:

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which purports to be the voice of the nation's businesses, has turned into a dinosaur when it comes to clean energy."

The Mercury News encouraged others to follow in the footsteps of PG&E and other companies that have left the Chamber, saying:

"Valley companies and venture capital firms that have been proclaiming green credentials should follow suit. And the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, along with other Bay Area branches, should make it clear that unlike their national umbrella, they look to the future."

The Chamber's own members have certainly made it clear, expressing they are "deeply disappointed" with the Chamber's "opposition to climate legislation" and its "obstructionist tactics", "extreme rhetoric" and "disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges."

And a bunch of companies have come to DC this week to circumvent the US Chamber and tell Congress directly that it must legislate on clean energy and climate, as Politico reports

While the US Chamber reacted last week to the wave of criticism by issuing a statement from President and CEO Tom Donohue, the "clarified" position only showed the contradictions within the Chamber's own words and deeds. 

For example, the Chamber told Congress in a May 14th letter that

"The Chamber does not, as a matter of policy, support or oppose any specific conceptual approach to address greenhouse gas emissions, including cap and trade or carbon tax."

But as of last week's statement from Donohue, the line was

"The U.S. Chamber continues to support strong federal legislation ... to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change."

So did the Chamber change its position on May 15th, but forgot to send out the memo? Or does "support [for] strong legislation" not fall into the category of a 'conceptual' approach?

Last week's statement contained another interesting viewpoint. The Chamber said "any climate change response must include all major CO2 emitting economies." At least this time, it is consistent with its earlier statement from May, which said:

"Any legislation or regulation to address greenhouse gas emissions must...Provide an international solution that includes developing nations."

But the US Chamber knows perfectly well that Congress cannot force major emitting nations, including developing ones, to do anything. Congress' powers stop at the US border, after all. This demand seems to contradict the Chamber's historical advocacy of limited government, as I mentioned in a tongue-in-cheek blog a couple days ago.

Nonetheless, the Chamber did insist that

"We oppose the Waxman-Markey bill because it is neither comprehensive nor international."

So despite the irony, it appears that the Chamber is serious about this insistence that Congress must simultaneously legislate for the US and most of the world's governments. Which makes it perfectly fair to wonder whether the Chamber is really being sincere.

Bottom line: when it comes to climate, the US Chamber of Commerce has simply lost its voice. Leaving companies that do advocate for meaningful Congressional action to move forward on clean energy and climate policy no choice but to turn to other alliances that "share our view on the need for thoughtful, reasonable climate change legislation."

Where are companies doing that? Two coalitions are actively working to shape and advocate for climate policy: USCAP and BICEP.

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Running tab of criticisms by the Chamber's own members:

Quit US Chamber: Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E.

Quit US Chamber Board: Nike.

Says Chamber doesn't represent their views on climate: Johnson&Johnson, General Electric, San Jose Chamber of Commerce.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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