Is the United States Chamber of Commerce good for the United States?

Not necessarily.


The Chamber of Commerce’s agenda on climate change is antithetical to the public good. At least, that’s what more and more American corporations are saying as they abandon the chamber and oppose its stance on global warming.


The chamber has spent more than $26 million on lobbying so far this year, more than twice what Exxon Mobile has spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.


A New York Times editorial said that “no organization in this country has done more to undermine” a legislative solution to global warming than the chamber.


The editorial noted the chamber’s declaration of “war on the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to use regulatory means to control emissions” and its 2008 opposition to the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, a bill for which a number of goodwill Baptists expressed support.


At the end of September, Nike started running away from the chamber when it resigned from the organization’s board of directors.


“Nike believes U.S. businesses must advocate for aggressive climate change legislation and that the United States needs to move rapidly into a sustainable economy to remain competitive and ensure continued economic growth,” said Nike. “As we’ve stated, we fundamentally disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action.”


Other corporations got out of the blocks faster than the shoe company with decisions to quit the chamber.


Three of the country’s largest utilities are leaving the chamber—Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon.


“Inaction on climate is not an option,” said John Rowe, Exelon’s chairman and chief executive. “The carbon-based free lunch is over. But while we can’t fix our climate problems for free, the price signal sent through a cap-and-trade system will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible.”


Rowe said, “Putting a price on carbon is essential, because it will force us to do the cheapest things, like energy efficiency, first.”


He announced that Exelon was not renewing its membership in the chamber because of the chamber’s opposition to climate change.


Pacific Gas & Electric’s chairman and chief executive, Peter Darbee, said, “We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.”


Johnson & Johnson criticized the chamber in May for its statements on climate change.


Under growing membership pressure, the chamber is trying to reposition itself from being widely recognized as a science-denier.


“We’ve never questioned the science behind global warming,” the chamber’s spokesman said. “The chamber is trying to move forward with solutions on climate change.”


That wasn’t what a chamber senior vice president said in late August when he said the chamber wanted to put the science of climate change on trial. “It would be evolution versus creationism,” he said. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.”


Nor was the chamber pro-science when its foundation identified a global warming denier’s book on its top ten reading list for 2009. Nor was it pro-science when the chamber’s president claimed global cooling in 2008.


Here’s the rub: a growing number of businesses recognize that being boneheaded and short-sighted about climate change is bad for business. If what’s good for business is what’s good for America, then pro-environmental corporations know that what’s bad for business is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


Unlike the chamber, some leading companies have formed a pro-environmental group—BICEP—Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, including Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, Timberland, eBay, Gap Inc. and Symantec.


BICEP applauded the climate change legislation introduced last week by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).


Given the number of businesses that belong to the chamber and are headed by American Christians, one wonders if these Christian CEOs are speaking to their local chambers about the need for the national office to be truthful and to stop being obstructionists to a real solution to global warming.


The Chamber of Commerce is being neither a responsible corporate citizen nor a truth-teller. That should concern Christian business leaders.


Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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