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Despite claims on its website that it wants the U.S. to address climate change, the U.S. Chamber is the nation’s most vocal and active opponent of legislation that would deal with the crisis. It steadfastly opposes legislation that is a cornerstone of building a clean energy future, which would create millions of jobs and be a boon to small business, especially in the construction industry which, ironically, makes up a significant portion of the U.S. Chamber’s membership.
"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." - New York Times Editorial, 9/29/09
The U.S. Chamber’s backwards stance on global warming can be traced to CEO Tom Donohue’s personal ties to the most backwards elements in the energy industry. Don Blankenship, chairman of Massey Energy where 29 coal miners died in April 2010, sits on the U.S. Chamber board and publicly refers to climate legislation proponents as “greeniacs.” Donohue has also embraced the arguments of academic climate skeptics, many of whom are on the payrolls of coal and oil firms. “Is the science right? Is science not right? I don’t know,” Donohue told Politico.com in October 2009.
Only two months earlier, the U.S. Chamber’s senior vice president for environmental policy had called for a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century . . . It would be the science of climate change on trial.”
Although the public outcry forced the U.S. Chamber to quickly retract those inflammatory comments, the organization’s extremist stance triggered a spate of high-profile defections, including major utility companies like Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric. “We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis,” Apple Inc.’s chief of government relations said in a letter to Donohue when it quit the organization. “Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the Chamber at odds with us in this effort.” Other companies that have quit or rebuked the U.S. Chamber because of its lobbying against legislation to limit carbon emissions include PMN Resources, Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Mohawk Fine Papers.
Some firms quitting the U.S. Chamber have also criticized its anti-democratic handling of internal decision-making. “We just weren’t clear in how decisions on climate and energy were being made,” said Brad Figel, Nike’s director of government relations. “They’re not being made at the board-of-director level, because we’re a member of the board of directors. We were not consulted.”
Local Chambers of Commerce are also turning their backs on the U.S. Chamber because of its extreme and backwards stance on climate change. They include local affiliates in Greater New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Eastern Connecticut, and Greater Seattle. “They ran aggressive anti-science, anti-climate action ads that were extremely partisan and offensive to people working on a solution," said Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Co., a member of his local Chamber, told the Denver Post. "We want them to be proactive on a solution.”
After the Environmental Protection Agency finally moved to begin regulating carbon emissions, the U.S. Chamber announced a major legal campaign to reverse the decision. It continues to spearhead opposition to a comprehensive legislative approach to climate change. “No organization in the country has done more to undermine such legislation,” the New York Times editorialized.