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Days after Apple announced that it would be quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to its opposition to greenhouse gas limits, the Chamber has very publicly shouted back. During a press conference this morning, the group’s president and CEO Thomas Donohue stated firmly, “We don’t have regrets about our position and we’re not going to change it.”
This louder response follows a letter sent directly to Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday, reading, “It is unfortunate that your company didn’t take the time to understand the Chamber’s position on climate and forfeited the opportunity to advance a 21st century approach to climate change.” Reasserting the Chamber’s argument against carbon trading legislation pending in the Senate, the letter says the Waxman-Markey bill and those like it would “cause Americans to lose their jobs and shift greenhouse-gas emissions overseas, negating potential climate benefits.”
This, and prior comments made by Donohue, have suggested that the Chamber would support different — maybe even stronger — measures designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But no one at the organization has said exactly what kind of legislation it would deem acceptable, and proposing that everyone wait for laws that haven’t been drafted yet seems like a stall tactic. Considering Donohue’s remarks today, the idea of the Chamber endorsing any greenhouse gas restrictions seems unlikely.
While he did say, “We, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support strong action on climate change,” Donohue immediately followed up with “We’re not changing where we are. We’ve thought long and hard about what is important here and we’re not going anywhere.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a flexible stance, especially when “what is important here” is apparently defending people’s jobs and small businesses already strained by the tight economy. To bolster his arguments, Donohue said that the vast majority of the Chamber’s members approve of its opposition to current greenhouse gas legislation, agreeing that Waxman-Markey would only put the U.S. at greater disadvantage in the global economy. “Almost nobody is pressing us to change our position.”
With supposedly no reason or inclination to change, it’s unclear what the Chamber’s 100-member committee on energy and environment is actually doing. Will it issue recommendations to Congress or its membership? Will it draft a list of reasons why change and carbon restrictions aren’t necessary? It will be interesting to see. But it’s hard to have high hopes for an organization that has cast doubt on the existence of global warming and the effects of greenhouse gases to begin with.
Donohue did apologize for the Chamber representative who called for a “Scopes monkey trial”-type hearing about global warming in August (drawing an analogy between the issue and the controversial creationism vs. evolution court case that took place early last century). He said the comment was unfortunate and that he was “madder than hell” when it happened — but, ironically, that the Chamber would still like a full hearing with the Environmental Protection Agency to address the actual dangers posed by emissions, threatening to take the agency to federal court if it doesn’t comply. Again, more stalling — unless the Chamber’s leadership really doesn’t believe in global warming, which seems too outlandish to be true.
Of course, it’s easy to paint the Chamber as the villain in the whole debacle — greener practices are all the rage and Apple’s halo of popularity is certainly helping. But the companies that have quit the Chamber so far, including PG&E, Exelon, PNM Resources and Nike (which only quit the board but retained its membership), didn’t exactly do it out of the goodness of their hearts, some reports say. The utilities in particular, could benefit from the approval of the carbon trading bill in the Senate. PG&E and Exelon both have invested in renewable energy sources to such an extent, that they would reap hefty rewards under the new laws.
It will come as no surprise if Donohue and the Chamber start to argue that these companies’ motives are impure. If only they could be more convincing in their wait for better, stronger policies. Then they could say the defectors were acting rashly for their own gain. But so far, the Chamber’s credibility is lacking. Not that Donohue is ruffled. When asked about his swelling number of critics during the press conference, he said simply, “Bring ’em on.”
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