Are U.S. Businesses Coming Around on the Environment?

As Washington returns to a climate bill, major corporations are shifting their allegiance

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Yesterday, Nike resigned its board seat on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saying that it “fundamentally disagreed” with the chamber’s staunch opposition to climate-change legislation. In recent weeks, three major utilities—including Exelon, the country’s largest—quit the chamber outright for the same reason. With the EPA poised to regulate carbon emissions and a new Senate climate bill headed for action, this would seem to indicate that the business community is coming around on climate change and adding to momentum for reform. Is it?

Well, yes and no. Trade groups like the Chamber of Commerce exists to protect the interests of their members, so they oppose most new regulation. On the other hand, as the New York Times Editorial Board notes, "no organization in this country has done more to undermine climate legislation." Environmentalists widely consider the chamber the worst of the business trade groups. By contrast, the businesses associated with the United States Climate Action Partnership helped design the blueprint for the climate bill that passed the House. Conservatives have mostly ignored the recent chamber defections, while liberal reaction to the news has ranged from excitement to skepticism.

  • The Bad Guys are Reeling  Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones cheers the news: “Yet another blow to the US Chamber of Commerce today, as Nike announced that it is resigning from the board of directors because of the group's views on climate change policy. The Chamber was already in a tailspin this week, attempting to reclassify their position on climate policy following the departure of three major utilities.”
  • What's the Big Deal?  Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos isn't nearly as impressed: “Nice, but I'm a bit confused. Wouldn't Nike be a more effective advocate for climate change legislation while serving on the board, rather than by being a random dues-paying member? They'd make a bigger statement by quitting the organization outright.”

While Nike's move, along with the other ones, does nothing but help the prospects for a climate bill, plenty of business opposition remains. The net effect of these departures may be to marginalize the Chamber of Commerce as a lobbying entity and put a spotlight on the organization's controversial views about science. As Brad Johnson's points out about the chamber's senior vice president:

"William Kovacs explained that the Chamber was seeking a 'Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century'" to debunk the science behind global warming and "prevent the EPA from declaring greenhouse gases a threat to the public welfare."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.