Splitsville For Climate Group, Corporate Bedfellows

BP, ConocoPhillips, and Caterpillar have dropped out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the coalition of big business and environmental interests that launched three years ago with a dramatic letter to President Bush. USCAP was a marriage of convenience between groups like the Nature Conservancy that wanted a climate bill, and companies like Shell and DuPont that wanted to make their voices heard rather than deny the inevitable.

But now that the climate bill is looking extremely evitable, the strange bedfellows of USCAP are heading back toward separate bedrooms.

Only a few months ago, USCAP was pushing for a federal cap-and-trade program, emissions reduction targets, and new technology incentives. But since Senate Dems have slammed cap-and-trade and Congress has ground to a halt on health care, those companies are starting to think they may not have to worry about prepping for cap-and-trade. And if a bill isn't a sure prospect for the next few years, then why were they lobbying for one?

All three companies had conflicting interests that pulled them away from the coalition. BP and Conoco were members of the American Petroleum Institute, which fought climate legislation even as the two companies' CEOs signed USCAP statements calling for cap-and-trade. And Caterpillar slipped clean coal provisions into USCAP's blueprint while a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which lobbied against legislation.

The beauty of USCAP was its inherent compromises, but if a climate bill is no longer a nascent reality, then companies like BP and Conoco have an obligation to shareholders to pursue their own best interests. It's a shame Congress wasn't able to act while it had them scared.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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