The U.S. Chamber and BP

BP LogoBP spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade burnishing its “Beyond Petroleum” image, partnering with the National Wildlife Federation to sell stuffed bears in BP gas stations and making minor investments in solar energy. But the disastrous explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost 11 workers their lives and brought the region’s environment to the brink of ruin, has exposed more than its regulation-flouting drilling behavior.

It has also exposed BP’s long-standing ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – the organization that is leading the charge against making oil companies pay for environmental damage, fighting climate change legislation and lobbying to reduce regulations on off-shore drillers.

  • In the early 2000s, BP joined the U.S. Chamber-led Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth (AEEG), whose initial purpose was to push for Vice President Dick Cheney’s aggressive oil exploration agenda and oppose clean energy and climate legislation. As late as 2005, BP served on the steering committee of AEEG, which was founded partially by U.S. Chamber executive vice president R. Bruce Josten.

  • With BP backing, the AEEG spent millions of dollars in advertising campaigns promoting the idea that climate legislation would lead to massive job losses and raise energy prices.

  • After Apple, Nike, Pacific Gas & Electric and other forward-looking companies quit the U.S. Chamber board last year because of its extremist positions in the climate change debate, BP reaffirmed its intention to stick by the U.S. Chamber. “We are a member of many different trade and business organizations, through which we gain information,” a spokesman said.

  • BP and the U.S. Chamber back the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which has been described as a “an American oil-industry backed lobby group” despite offering the veneer of grassroots support for more energy exploration in environmentally-sensitive areas. Among CEA’s claims: The failure to open Alberta to oil shale extraction will raise fuel prices “by at least 60 cents a gallon” and “leave the U.S. ever more beholden to lighter-carbon Mideast crude,” according to the Toronto Star.

  • In addition to the U.S. Chamber, BP’s partners in the “grassroots” CEA include the American Conservative Union and Republican Party former House leader Dick Armey’s Freedom Works.

    BP stands to gain from the U.S. Chamber’s legal intervention in previous cases involving oil spills. In 2007, U.S. Chamber attorneys filed a brief supporting Exxon’s successful effort to overturn a $2.5 billion punitive damages award nearly two decades after the Exxon-Valdez tanker crash permanently disfigured Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Its attorneys argued “the sole possible explanation for the award here – Exxon’s net worth – is wholly illegitimate.”

And now, while BP has just promised to set aside $20 billion to pay for damages from Gulf disaster, it still belongs to the U.S. Chamber, which is an outspoken advocate of limiting oil firms’ ultimate liability.