U.S. Chamber in 2010 Offers Little in the Way of Moderation on Climate Legislation

This past year was filled with internal strife and embarrassment at the US Chamber of Commerce. The business group faced serious criticism, from many angles, that undermined its credibility, not the least being its obstructionist stance on clean energy and climate legislation. From the defection of board members to confusion over its own membership to the “Yes Men follies”, it was mostly a year the Chamber should want to forget

That’s why a reasonable person might wonder whether US Chamber President Tom Donohue’s “State of Business” address would offer any perspective or reflection on the US Chamber’s difficult year. But then, after all, this is the US Chamber we’re talking about.

So much for reasonable!  It looks like the Chamber is willing to go to new extremes in sending signals to “climate change moderates” that they are not welcome in the group.   What’s the matter, Mr. Donohue?  Didn’t you have enough members bail out on you and distance themselves from you in 2009?

Not surprisingly, Mr. Donohue chose to ignore last year’s woes. While his speech was largely unremarkable, Donohue did take some time to reiterate the US Chamber line on climate. But he did so in a highly partisan way, which is odd given businesses usually try to work across party lines and not within them.

Nevertheless, the pugnastic Donohue remarked that:

“The Chamber also supports a strong climate change policy—both domestic legislation and a global agreement. But the bill passed by the House last year would tie economic activity in knots and eliminate jobs from one end of the country to another. That’s why a growing number of Democrats in the Senate are running from this approach just as fast as they can.”

Do the US Chamber’s members agree that climate change– with implications for our economy, national security and environment – should be a partisan issue? After all, an awful lot of companies out there support strong action on climate change, and have expressed their dissatisfaction with the US Chamber’s position on the issue.

Maybe Donohue thinks he is running the US Chamber of Republican Commerce. I think that would be another surprise to the many companies  that work on both sides of the aisle to advance their companies’ interests.

And some of what he had to say would surprise those who actually look for facts. For instance: 

  • Donohue claims that the Chamber has identified hundreds of projects – including renewable energy projects – killed by so-called “NIMBY” (Not in My Backyard) opposition. But, I looked at the report on which Donohue is basing this claim when it came out last April. I found that even the Chamber documents far more problems with “traditional” energy sources that with renewable energy projects.
  • Donohue claims – again – that the US Chamber “supports a strong climate policy – both domestic legislation and an international agreement. But, once again, the US Chamber focuses on what it opposes rather than what it will support. As I’ve covered once or twice before.
  • Not surprisingly, Donohue labels the Waxman-Markey bill a job killer. But independent analysis shows that a bill like Waxman-Markey will create 1.9 million jobs, boost GDP by up to $111 billion and increase family incomes by nearly $1,200 per year if lawmakers take full advantage of economy-boosting energy efficiency options.
  • Even more conservative studies by the Energy Information Administration at the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office make clear that a climate bill isn’t the demon the Chamber makes it out to be.

What Donohue failed to mention is that over the past year, the Chamber suffered an extreme crisis of confidence as many of its member left the organization or otherwise expressed their displeasure due to the Chamber’s stance on top policy issues, including climate and clean energy. As we head into 2010, we can only hope that the Chamber will move in a new, more productive direction on climate and energy – though from Donohue’s speech today it looks sadly like more of the same.

For more fact-checks of today’s speech by Donohue, visit http://mediamattersaction.org/factcheck/201001120002.

Also, Change-to-Win issued a Scorecard on the US Chamber’s most embarrassing, credibility-crushing moments of 2009


Quit the U.S. Chamber over climate: Apple, Exelon, PNM Resources, PG&E, PSEG, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Mohawk Paper.

Quit the U.S. Chamber Board over climate: Nike.

Refused to join the U.S. Chamber over climate: NRG Energy

Reduced payments to the US Chamber over climate: Duke Energy

Companies whose views on climate are not represented by the U.S. Chamber: Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Alcoa, Duke, Entergy, Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Seventh Generation, Dow, PEPCO, Cisco Systems, small businesses in Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pax World Management Corp and over 1,000 other businesses of all sizes.

Local Chambers distancing themselves from the U.S. Chamber: San Jose Chamber of Commerce, Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Aspen Chamber of Commerce and Resort Association, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber.

Editorials and columns noting that the U.S. Chamber is damaging its reputation and credibility: BusinessWeek, PRWeek, Fortune Magazine's Marc Gunther, Newsweek, L.A. Times, Washington Post, Time, Marc Gunther (2nd story).