Colorado firms skewer U.S. Chamber for fighting climate change legislation

Count a growing number of Colorado businesses among those deeply disenchanted with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its stance that climate change legislation is largely based on junk science and will further derail the American economy.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Mr T in DC: CC Flickr)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Creative Commons photo by Mr T in DC via Flickr)

Earlier this month, heavy hitters like Apple, Exelon, Levi Strauss and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. outright quit the nation’s leading business organization. Nike resigned from the Chamber’s board but maintained its membership, and companies like Duke Energy, General Electric, Alcoa and Johnson & Johnson have disavowed the chamber’s positions on global warming.

“It’s our professional opinion that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out of step with the leading edge of economic recovery,” said Paul Sheldon, senior consultant with Longmont-based Natural Capitalism Solutions, which has provided corporate sustainability consulting to companies representing 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, including Goldman Sachs.

“We have tracked 13 different studies which document that those companies that come into clean sources of energy, sustainability and responsible corporate behavior are outperforming their competitors before, during and after an economic downturn,” he added.

A Scopes monkey trial

In addition to opposing the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that narrowly passed the House in June, the Chamber took heat in August for statements by Vice President William Kovacs that the organization wanted to see a “Scopes monkey trial” on the effects of global warming on public health, referring to the famous creationism versus evolution case in 1925.

“In the past, [Chamber officials have] said such things as, ‘Global warming would benefit Americans because the reduction in wintertime deaths because of cold weather would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat-stressed-related deaths,’” said Micah Parkin, Colorado organizer of the grass-roots climate change activism group 1Sky. Parkin added that 117 Colorado businesses signed a letter supporting the Senate version of Waxman-Markey.

“That brings home the point of just how many Colorado businesses do not concur with the U.S. Chamber’s position on climate denying, and just how many businesses here actually spoke out,” she said. The letter was addressed to U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The Senate is currently debating its version, the Boxer-Kerry bill.

Parkin said her group is working to give a voice to businesses and regional Chambers that feel disenfranchised by the position of the U.S. Chamber, which she said spent $26 million lobbying Congress in the first half of 2009 — twice the amount of the next biggest spender, Exxon Mobil.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chamber President Tom Donohue has backpedaled on Kovacs’ comments, saying the chamber is not interested in arguing the science behind global warming and is essentially being targeted by an “orchestrated pressure campaign” by environmentalists.

On Monday, the chamber was punked by an activist group called the Yes Men, which staged a fake press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., announcing the Chamber was supporting Boxer-Kerry. Some media organizations, including FOX News, ran with the announcement before the real chamber corrected the hoax.

Chamber defections

Notable among the recent Chamber defections was PNM Resources Inc., a New Mexico utility, and Chicago-based Exelon, the nation’s largest power company. Representatives of Colorado renewable energy companies say those forward-looking power companies understand the profits to be realized and the jobs to be created by backing clean energy.

“Those utilities recognize that they are energy companies and not necessarily tied to any specific energy technology, and those companies that embrace renewable energy going forward are going to be the ones that are going to lead the U.S. economy in the future,” said Christopher Koch, owner of Boulder-based Pele Power, which installs geothermal heat pumps.

Among Colorado utilities there are varying levels of support for renewable energy and disbelief in climate-change science. Investor-owned Xcel Energy has been more supportive of funding conservation initiatives and renewable projects than the member-owned utility Tri-State, which supplies power to rural electric co-ops around the state that also diverge widely in terms of backing clean energy.

For instance, the state’s largest co-op, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, tends to debunk global warming and resist putting too much money into renewable sources. The IREA is heavily invested in a new coal-fired power plant near Pueblo, and defends the expenditure based on the lower price of coal-fired electricity despite the possibility it will increase if climate change legislation is passed.

Increasingly, oil and gas companies are battling with the coal industry over carbon caps and emission permits that may be a part of the final Senate bill, with natural gas proponents in particular touting their product for being 50 percent cleaner burning than coal.

“There was an inherent flaw when Congress set off down the road of favoring one fuel source over another,” American Petroleum Institute chairman J. Larry Nichols recently told the New York Times. “You knew there had to be a feeding frenzy among various competing fuels trying to protect themselves.”

Udall and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter have both advocated adding more incentives for natural gas — a plentiful resource in the state — as part of any final climate change bill.

“I believe [Waxman-Markey] gives short shrift to natural gas,” Ritter said in July. “There’s one mention of natural gas if my memory serves me, and it is about a research project for conversion to natural gas [transportation] fleets. There should be far more done with natural gas and incentivizing the production of natural gas because it’s such a cleaner burning carbon fuel.”

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