Chamber of Commerce Goes on Spin Cycle

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The US Chamber of Commerce now wants you to know that they really do support climate legislation—just not any legislation they’ve ever seen. The group issued a statement on Tuesday arguing that their views on climate change “are mainstream, commonsense views” that “are shared by a broad majority of the American people, the business community, and a growing number of Democrat and Republican legislators.”

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to support strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change,” said Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue in the statement. He also posted a new op-ed on the Chamber’s site that was notably toned down from the “Let’s Put a Lid On Cap-and-Tax” piece he penned in July.

The sudden desire to paint themselves as pro-climate action comes on the heels of three big-ticket departures from the group over their stance on climate change. The country’s largest electric utility, Exelon, announced that they are leaving on Monday, following the departure of California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM.

Donahue reaffirmed that the Chamber opposes the Environmental Protection Agency moving forward on regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and that they oppose the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House in June. But, he says, that shouldn’t be construed as them opposing all action.

“Some in the environmental movement claim that, because of our opposition to a specific bill or approach, we must be opposed to all efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, or that we deny the existence of any problem. They are dead wrong,” said Donahue. “The Chamber has in its public documents, Hill letters and testimony, as well as dozens of concrete policy recommendations, supported efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere while keeping our economy healthy.”

Yet the Chamber spent more than $17 million dollars in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress, much of that in opposition to cap-and-trade policy (though they’ve also been busy opposing reforms to health care and labor policy). They’re also threated to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if they move forward on regulating carbon dioxide, and formally filed suit against the EPA for granting California the right to set higher automobile emission standards.

And there’s the whole problem of the group’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, William Kovacs, calling for a “Scopes monkey trial” on climate science. He later tried to back off the comment, but the group has been actively fostering climate change skepticism well beyond this most recent event (despite telling the New York Times this week that they’ve “never questioned the science behind global warming.”) The Wonk Room put together a handy list of eight other examples of the Chamber raising doubts about climate change, dating back to 1992.

Convincing the public—and their members who are supportive of climate legislation—that they haven’t been leading forces of delay and denial might be a tough sell at this point.

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