A day after Apple became the latest major company to quit the US Chamber of Commerce over its reactionary stance on climate change, Chamber president Tom Donohue went on the offensive, claiming Apple CEO Steve Jobs had "forfeited the opportunity to advance a 21st century approach to climate change."
Yesterday Donohue sent a pissy letter to Jobs talking up Chamber's efforts to "tackle climate change in a way that will strengthen our economy" and concluding that "it is a shame that Apple will not be part of our efforts." As he often does, Donohue emphasised that the Chamber represents "more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region." It was as if to say that Apple, and not the Chamber, was on the fringe of the climate issue.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As I reported in detail today, the Chamber has offered few ways for its members to influence its policy work, and that's especially true in the case of climate change. Interviews with current and former board members reveal that the Chamber's leadership violated its written rules by pursuing an obstructionist approach to climate legislation without getting a vote of approval from its board or committees. And even the board--made of of huge, often petro-intensive companies--scarcely resembles the overall US business community.
On Monday, Apple's vice president of worldwide government affairs had sent a letter to the Chamber exhorting Donohue to think different. "We strongly object to the Chamber's recent comments opposing the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases," she said. "We would prefer that the Chamber take a more productive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis."
Apple Computer’s announcement Monday that it was quitting the US Chamber of Commerce was just the latest high profile defection from the country's most powerful business lobby—and one of the most prominent opponents of climate change legislation. In the preceding two weeks, three majorelectricutilities and Nike also said they'd be leaving the Chamber’s board of directors or dropping out altogether to protest its antiregulation stand. But yesterday Nike made it clear that its parting of ways with the Chamber went beyond a simple policy disagreement, describing a lack of transparency and accountability that conflicted with the organization's own supposedly democratic principles and suggested the outsized influence of a few Chamber members in setting its climate stance.
The Chamber claims to speak for more than 3 million businesses spanning Wall Street to Main Street. But in its zeal to please a few powerful industries, it has taken a hard-line position on climate change that seems to be out of step with part of its membership. The organization opposes the Waxman-Markey energy bill and is threatening to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it regulates greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that such a move would dramatically increase "the price of everything that uses energy." It has also questioned the fundamental scientific consensus around global warming, even proposing a public hearing on climate science that would be "the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century." Though he has backed away from the Monkey Trial idea, Bill Kovacs, the Chamber's vice president for the environment, technology, and regulatory affairs, still asserts that the minority views of climate change "whistleblowers" and skeptics are being ignored by policymakers.
In embracing this aggressively narrow climate policy, the Chamber appears to have gone around its usual policy-making process. According to the Chamber's internal rules, its policies and positions are developed by committees and then approved or rejected by its board of directors. But Donald J. Sterhan, chair of the Chamber’s energy and environment committee, says that its board of directors and its committees never formally endorsed the climate stance. "There was no vote taken," he says. He adds that his committee held "really more of an information discussion" than a policy debate on the issue. The final decision to challenge the EPA's regulation of greenhouse gasses, he explains, was "Bill [Kovacs'] position on this, and his finding." Still, Sterhan says that the energy committee could have voted to change the policy if any of its 60 members had filed a motion to do so.
One Chamber member disputes that claim, however. "Several [energy committee] members raised the issue of how they could influence or change the Chamber's policy," says a spokesman for a company that participated in the energy committee meetings and had also worked with the US Climate Action Partnership to craft what became the Waxman-Markey bill. He asked that his company not be named because it was concerned about the Chamber's response to its criticism. Members of the energy committee that questioned the Chamber's climate stance "were told that basically this was not the forum to do it," he says. "There's basically no outlet for changing the policy."
Several Chamber members representing USCAP recently met with president Tom Donohue to request that he alter the group's climate stance, according to the spokesman. "They were totally rebuffed," he says. Donohue "said that they should continue the dialogue, but offered no methods or avenues for changing the Chamber's position."
In an interview with Greenwire published yesterday, Nike backed other board members who say they never voted to approve the Chamber's climate policies. "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. We're convinced that's not really where the action on climate change is being made."
The Chamber declined to respond to most questions for this story, but spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel says, "The Chamber's polices are developed by its members through numerous policy committees in a democratic process. The committees make recommendations to the full board, who then formalize policies based on a majority vote."
On its website, the Chamber says that it asks for the views of its members "on certain key issues through meetings, mailings, and surveys." But most important decisions are supposed to go through its board and policy committees. New members of the board must be selected by the board's nominating committee and and approved by its sitting members. Though the board officially strives for a diverse membership, of its 118 members, only 1 represents a local chamber and only 6 are from small businesses. The rest are highly capitalized regional, national, or international corporations.
An unusually large portion of the more than 100 board members come from companies tied to the production or burning of fossil fuels. At least 49 of 118 board members represent oil and gas companies, chemical companies, utilities, transportation companies, the construction industry, or companies that build machines that burn large amounts of petroleum. Three of the five members of the board's senior council represent such interests. Only two board member companies, Siemens and Alpha Technologies, earn a significant portion of their revenues from alternative energy technologies.
Other members of the Chamber's board appear reluctant to challenge other members on anything that doesn't affect their bottom lines. "We tend to engage and focus when it has something to do with investors," said a spokesman for San Francisco-based Charles Schwab when asked about the board's discussions of climate change. "That's the business that we are in and that's the topic that we are sort of exclusively engaged in. So on this other topic, I don't think we would have much to offer."
Apple quit the US Chamber of Commerce today, and sent Chamber president Tom Donohue an exhortation to think different:
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. However, because the Chamber's position differs so sharply with Apple's, we have decided to resign our membership effectively immediately.
At this point, it might be time to announce a new subgenre of corporate communications literature: the trade group smackdown. Donohue has gotten so many similar letters from other large companies that it's starting to feel routine. Not that Apple isn't a major feather in the cap of climate campaigners. Now, I'm half expecting to see an ad casting Donohue as PC Guy.
Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann are supposed to be the oil and vinegar of the Republican Party. He's an anti-war, anti-Patriot Act, radically pro-civil rights libertarian. She's a Bible-thumping Bush acolyte who dreams of nuking Iran and likens gay sex to bestiality. But there they were on Friday, sharing the stage at a town hall organized by Paul backers, where Bachmann called him "one of the leading advocates for freedom in our capitol." What gives?
Bachmann's role is telling in what it says about how she and other Bush-era Republicans are trying to reposition themselves. As recently as last year's GOP presidential primary, Paul was ridiculed by the GOP mainstream for his opposition to America's costly military adventures abroad; the leading conservative website, Redstate.com, even banned his supporters from shilling for him in blog comments. Paul's votes against war funding were part of his general practice of opposing almost every government spending bill, a habit that earned him the nickname "Dr. No."
Now, of course, the once-lonely Dr. No finds himself surrounded by a Party of No. And the new GOP refuseniks want his blessing so they can obscure how their past fiscal recklessness tanked the economy and mobilize Paul's considerable grassroots machine against Obama.
That job requires some contortions. "Next year the government is going to spend more money on welfare in one year than they spent on the entire eight years of the war," Bachmann told the crowd, essentially arguing the GOP has been the party of fiscal restraint, even though Bush racked up record deficits. And now that Obama is trying to correct those excesses, she feels taxpayers' pain: "Sales tax, gas tax, every-time-you-turn-around tax," she complained. "In other words, at the rate your government has been spending, the fruits of your labor have already been spoken for."
Bachman, who has been tutored by Paul as of late during his Thursday "Liberty Luncheons," was so enamored of her new anti-tax identity that she couldn't contain herself. The "government takeover of healthcare" will literally tax away everything Americans make, she suggested, transforming the country into a communist economy: "In other words, 100 percent of your check has already been spoken for. You can't have everything that you make confiscated by the government. It doesn't work."
This and Bachman's other genuflections the the gods of the free market and small government were met with huge cheers, suggesting that Paulites are willing to forget how she and the rest of the GOP spent eight years undermining both of those things. It was almost as if the crowd was thankful to her wing of the party for royally screwing up, thereby confirming the libertarian notion that government is never the answer. Kick the dog enough, and it will lick your hand every time you whistle.
Pacific Gas and Electric, the Northern California utility, has pulled out of the US Chamber of Commerce, citing what its chairman, Peter Darbee, called its "disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort reality" in the debate over climate change.
Darbee's often harshly worded letter to the Chamber, excerpted on the company's blog, expressed dismay that the Chamber "neglects the indisputable fact" that climate change is "a threat that cannot be ignored."
With 3 million member businesses of all sizes, the nation's biggest business lobby has come under increasing fire for taking a hard line against this year's climate legislation. In May, a letter from Johnson & Johnson and Nike asked the Chamber to stop speaking about the issue as if it represented the entire business community. PG&E is the first business to move beyond those objections to publicly break with Chamber over its position. "[N]ot every issue is created equal," the company, a major investor in green power, said on its blog, "and sometimes companies decide they have to take a more decisive stand on really big ones."
It remains an enigma why the Chamber, which has called for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on climate science, is working so hard to undermine climate legislation. The NRDC recently pointed out that Chamber president Tom Donohue has deep financial ties to the coal industry. The Chamber stresses that it position on global warming was hammered out by the its Environment and Energy Committee, which is chaired by Donald J. Sterhan, the owner of an affordable housing company. But a web search reveals that the Montana native is also a board member of the Billings Petroleum Club. The club's members often include people outside the oil industry, yet the club's September 2009 newsletter, the Gusher, lists numerous oil companies as sponsors, among them Devon Energy, Montana Wyoming Oil Company, and Petro-Hunt.