Other Voices: US Chamber Has "Sold its soul" and Donohue Should Resign

Last week's high-profile announcements of companies leaving the US Chamber and openly criticizing its stance on climate is feeding the news going into a new week.

As Tom Friedman wrote on Sunday in a piece urging the U.S. to recognize we are in an energy innovation race with China and other nations, and we need to step up to the game:

"Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we're always No. 1, and where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hats off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its "obstructionist tactics."" (emphasis added)

Friedman was quoting from PG&E's full letter to US Chamber President Tom Donohue, which is somewhat more fiesty than the company's original blog post:  

"Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly mark the Chamber's public stance on this issue. These reflect neither the true range of views among members, nor in many cases, an honest view of the economic and environmental realities at hand."

UPDATE: PG&E CEO Peter Darbee explained his decision on E&E TV this am.

And as independent corporate governance expert Beth Young with the Corporate Library noted in a story on NPR's Marketplace, US Chamber President Tom Donohue's ties to Union Pacific raise serious questions about why the Chamber insists on extremism and obstructionism when so many of its members support federal climate policy:

"There would always be that sort of nagging suspicion that his interests as a director of that outside corporation are influencing him in his role at the chamber."

 As a result, Young continued,

"If I were in his position, I would probably see resigning from the Union Pacific board as the cleanest way of dealing with the problem."

Odds are Donohue won't be too quick to jump off a board of directors that has earned him over $1.1 million cash and millions of dollars worth of stock grants.

But if the Chamber doesn't straighten itself out, it may find more companies finding ways to separate themselves from its climate policy. And some of them may follow Friedman's advice:

'All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.'s why they still belong to the chamber."