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The U.S. Chamber's Long History of Extreme Opposition to Environmental Safeguards

24 Jul 2014  |   Andrew Seifter

Tags: Clean Air

A major part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is the reduction of carbon pollution from power plants – the largest domestic source of climate pollution.  As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepared to release its Clean Power Plan proposal that would achieve this goal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out swinging.  The Chamber released a report warning that the EPA’s proposal would deal a devastating blow to the economy, kill hundreds of thousands of jobs, and send electricity bills skyrocketing. The Chamber’s “study” was based on faulty assumptions about an imagined proposal that was nothing like what the EPA actually proposed. Independent media fact checkers were quick to rate its conclusions “false,” and assigned the highest level of untruthfulness, “four Pinocchios,” to Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republican officials who cited it.  But the debunking of the report  didn’t stop the Chamber or their allies -- like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity – from continuing to cite the Chamber’s study to attack the EPA plan and its supporters, including in television ads.

The Chamber’s production of a fatally flawed report attacking the EPA’s safeguards shouldn’t be a surprise, given that numerous officials from polluting companies serve on the Chamber’s Board of Directors. Many of the Chamber’s largest donors are fossil fuel companies that profit from unchecked carbon pollution.  The phony carbon pollution study is also consistent with the Chamber’s recent history. While the Chamber purports to represent “the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions,” it has a lengthy record of anti-environmental extremism and false predictions about public health safeguards.   These attacks have prompted member companies and local Chamber affiliates to distance themselves from the national Chamber of Commerce’s extreme agenda, if not quit the Chamber altogether.

The Chamber has frequently launched false attacks on environmental safeguards over the years, including:

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard for power plants: The Center for American Progress (CAP) found

[I]n 2011, the Chamber of Commerce predicted that reducing mercury from power plants would lead to ”rolling blackouts in the future.”These blackouts have not occurred. In November 2011, Evan Bayh, Chamber of Commerce consultant and former Indiana Democratic senator and governor, predicted that reductions in mercury pollution “will put tens of thousands of jobs in our state [Indiana] directly at risk.” Yet Stats Indiana [a database maintained by Indiana University] data indicate that Indiana employment increased by 132,000 people between Bayh’s forecast and April 2014.

EPA’s Endangerment Finding for climate pollution: In an August 16, 2010 article “U.S. Chamber Sues EPA Over Greenhouse Gas 'Endangerment' Decision,” Energy and Environment’s Greenwire reported:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the advocacy group Coalition for Responsible Regulation have asked a federal appeals court to review U.S. EPA's decision that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. The endangerment finding, finalized in December, is the linchpin of the agency's suite of climate regulations. It prompted regulations on greenhouse gases from cars and light-duty trucks, which themselves triggered the rules for stationary sources such as power plants, refineries and factories. The U.S. Chamber and Coalition for Responsible Regulation have challenged EPA at each step of the process.  

On June 26, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied the Chamber’s petition.

By attacking the endangerment decision that was based on years of scientific research and originally recommended by President George W. Bush’s EPA Administrator, the Chamber revealed who it values: its fossil fuel donors and board members – those who would benefit from a repeal – rather than Americans’ health and wellness.

Air Quality Public Health Standard for Smog: As Think Progress noted, on May 28, 1997, the Associated Press reported that: 

[A]ttorney C. Boyden Gray, a former White House general counsel in the Bush administration and organizer of an industry coalition that has been fighting the EPA proposal, and Harvey Alter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's specialist on air pollution matters … questioned the scientific studies used by the EPA to justify the tougher health standards, arguing that more research should be done before businesses are burden [sic] with standards that will require new and expensive additional pollution controls.  

Yet the EPA studies were scrutinized and supported by the scientific community.  In fact, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, an independent body of scientists tasked with assessing the science of the EPA’s air quality standards, agreed with the EPA that “ranges of concentrations and allowable exceedences proposed by the Agency were appropriate” and later unanimously recommended that the EPA Administrator “select a more health-protective” standard for ozone smog.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: Think Progress also documented that on August 23, 1990 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Chamber of Commerce Resources Policy Manager Harvey Alter “Contends that the clean air legislation would ‘vastly increase the cost and complexity’ of environmental regulations - perhaps costing U.S. industry $20 billion more a year. The Chamber of Commerce particularly objects to provisions of the Clean Air bill that would tighten pollution controls related to motor vehicles, smog, coal and toxic chemicals.”  

However, according to an EPA report, the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have outweighed the costs by a ratio of more than 30:1. These benefits will reach approximately $2 trillion in 2020. 

The Chamber has also made extreme comments about climate change that ignore science:

The Chamber proposed a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” on climate change science. The Los Angeles Times reported

The nation's largest business lobby wants to put the science of global warming on trial. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. Chamber officials say it would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect. “It would be evolution versus creationism,” said William Kovacs, the chamber's senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.” 

However, there is no need to put climate change science on trial; the evidence is overwhelming.  The National Climate Assessment, an extensively reviewed report prepared by over 300 scientists, concluded, “Over recent decades, climate science has advanced significantly.  Increased scrutiny has led to increased certainty that we are now seeing impacts associated with human-induced climate change.”  Furthermore, a recent report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science – the world’s largest scientific society -- observes that a consensus of climate scientists agree “climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.”   

The Chamber claimed global warming would “on balance, be beneficial to humans.” As Mother Jones documented, the Chamber’s  June 23, 2009 comments submitted to the EPA on its proposed endangerment finding claimed: 

The [EPA] Administrator has thus ignored analyses that show that a warming of even 3 [degrees] C [Centigrade] in the next 100 years would, on balance, be beneficial to humans because the reduction of wintertime mortality/morbidity would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat stress- related mortality/morbidity.  

The National Climate Assessment  debunked this claim.  It found that the wintertime mortality reductions “are not expected to compensate for the increase in heat-related deaths.”

National Journal: Chamber’s Harbert “underplays the extent of agreement among scientists that human activities” are the key driver of climate change. On a March 13, 2014, National Journal quoted the president and chief executive officer of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, Karen Harbert, responding to a question on whether humans are primarily responsible for climate change during a recent Senate hearing: 

“It [climate change] is caused by lots of different things, and you can't say that climate change is only caused by humans. I think the science is what you're pointing to, and we have a robust debate going on in this country, as we should, and those that would say everything is settled sort of undercut the integrity of science. It's an ongoing discussion." 

As National Journal observed, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn't especially fond of talking about humans' contribution to global warming. … [A]t the end of all that, the Chamber is acknowledging a human contribution to climate change. But Harbert's framing underplays the extent of agreement among scientists that human activities, including carbon emissions from fossil fuels, are the key driver of global warming.” 

In fact, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found 97% of climate researchers agree that climate change is, in large part, due to human activity.  There is broad consensus on human-induced climate change.

The Chamber of Commerce’s extreme rhetoric and attacks prompted member companies and local affiliates to distance themselves:

Member companies have distanced themselves from the Chamber’s report attacking the Clean Power Plan. On June 3, Think Progress reported: “[L]eading climate-friendly members of [the] Chamber don’t want to be associated with its anti-climate report. Several member companies, contacted by ThinkProgress, declined to endorse the Chamber’s efforts against the administration’s move to address a direct cause of climate change. ThinkProgress reached out to several dozen of the major corporations that have either contributed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or had executives currently serving on its board of directors. None endorsed the new report. A spokeswoman for Intel directly distanced itself from the Chamber’s position. ‘We support the President’s Climate Action Plan,’ she told ThinkProgress in an email, adding, ‘We can support this new rule if it is designed and implemented in a reasonable and cost effective way.’ … Prudential wrote: ‘The Chamber does not speak on behalf of Prudential.’”

High-profile companies quit the Chamber in 2009 over its attacks on climate change legislation. An October 20, 2009 NPR report noted: “Several high-profile corporations allege that on climate change, the organization represents only a hard-line faction of the 300,000 companies that it claims as members. Dissent on the climate change legislation led utilities PG&E, Exelon and PMN Resources, plus Apple and Levi Strauss, to resign from the chamber. Nike resigned from the chamber's board of directors. Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Entergy remain members but have criticized the stance on climate change. Chamber president Tom Donohue has received a light but steady stream of letters from the dissidents. J&J's vice president for governmental affairs, Clifford Holland, sent a terse letter in April, saying, ‘We would appreciate if statements made by the Chamber would reflect the full range of views, especially those of Chamber members advocating for congressional action.’ And last month, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee wrote to Donohue: ‘Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly reflect the Chamber's public stance on this issue.’" 

Local affiliates have distanced themselves from the Chamber’s positions on issues including climate change. As documented, numerous local Chambers of Commerce made statements of dissent against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including on environmental issues. The Treasurer of the Mountain View, CA Chamber of Commerce stated: “As a progressive, I didn’t like what the U.S. Chamber was doing with respect to Climate legislation. … With the belt tightening that we’re undergoing as we prepare next fiscal year’s budget, it was an easy sell to the Board this morning to discontinue our membership.  It was an unanimous vote.  Effective July 1st of this year, the US Chamber of Commerce will have one fewer (or is it 700 fewer) members.”  

Many local Chamber of Commerce affiliates support action on climate change. As the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Pete Altman documented in 2009, there are many “examples of local, regional and state Chambers who are looking to help members meet new climate regulations and even see a powerful economic future based on clean energy.” For example, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce instructed its members on "how to avoid greenhouse gas emissions” and “keep your company green”; the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association convened a coalition of business and environmental groups to discuss proposals to tackle climate change; the Boulder Chamber of Commerce held a major "Climate Leader Series 2009"; the Erie (PA) Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership participated in two events focused on green jobs and climate; and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce joined with NRDC to host an event on how climate change will impact Florida and its businesses. 

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