Another utility leaves U.S. Chamber over climate policy

A New Mexico electric utility will leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the business group's position on climate change.

"We see climate change as the most pressing environmental and economic issue of our time," PNM Resources Inc. spokesman Don Brown said in an e-mail. "Given that view, and a natural limit on both company time and resources, we have decided that we can be most productive by working with organizations that share our view on the need for thoughtful, reasonable climate change legislation and want to push that agenda forward in Congress."

The Albuquerque-based company (NYSE: PNM), which is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, is the second major electric utility this week to say it will not renew its chamber membership next year. Fellow U.S. CAP member PG&E Corp. sent the chamber a letter Tuesday, criticizing the business association for taking an "extreme position" on climate change.

PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee pointed to the chamber's recent request that U.S. EPA host an on-the-record "trial" in which environmental and business groups could engage in weighing the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health (E&ENews PM, Aug. 25).

The chamber's petition comes as EPA prepares to declare emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from new automobiles and their engines as dangers to public health and welfare. The agency's proposal, which does not include any regulations, comes in response to the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling.


"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," PG&E's Darbee wrote. "In our view, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of our time is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish and distort the reality of these challenges are quite another."

EPA has not yet responded to the request for an endangerment trial, said J.P. Fielder, a chamber spokesman. The influential business lobby plans to file a lawsuit regardless of whether EPA denies the endangerment trial petition or moves ahead with its final endangerment finding, Bill Kovacs, the chamber's vice president for environment, regulatory and government affairs, said in a recent interview.

"It is a certainty that there will be litigation," Kovacs said. "I don't think that's a secret."

The chamber and the National Automobile Dealers Association have already filed a lawsuit to block California from implementing its greenhouse gas emissions limits for cars and trucks. The groups are asking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review an EPA ruling issued in July that granted California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles starting in the current model year.

Nike Inc. is also among chamber members that have grown wary of the business group's tactics.

"Nike believes that climate change is an urgent issue affecting the world today and that businesses and their representative associations need to take an active role to invest in sustainable business practices and innovative solutions to address the issue," the sports-apparel giant noted in a statement this week. "It is not a time for debate but instead a time for action, and we believe the chamber's recent petition sets back important work currently being undertaken by EPA on this issue."

Asked whether Nike plans to not renew its chamber membership, company spokeswoman Erin Dobson declined to comment. The Beaverton, Ore.-based company is a member of the Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy coalition (BICEP), which was organized earlier this year by the investor network Ceres and includes the likes of Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

The chamber's Fielder declined to comment on the comings and goings of members. He underscored that his business association is committed to helping Congress pass a "good climate bill" that entails either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.

Such legislation must preserve the competitiveness of U.S. industry, accelerate the development of clean energy technologies and spur other countries to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping gases. "We are actively supporting steps to address climate change, but these steps have to create and keep jobs," Fielder explained.

Eyes on Senate

BICEP wants a bill to create an emissions cap-and-trade system, a renewable electricity portfolio standard, and a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester their emissions of carbon dioxide.

Legislation passed by the House in late June, H.R. 2454, would cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), also would set a 20 percent renewable energy and energy-efficiency standard by 2020.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is using the House bill as a starting point for companion legislation. The chamber opposed the Waxman-Markey bill, calling it "fundamentally flawed," because it would impose tariffs on products produced by other countries that do not impose similar curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.

So are this week's letters admonishing the chamber for its policy position part of an organized, tactical response by businesses?

That is not the case, promised Peyton Fleming, a spokesman for Ceres.

"Companies are acting on their own," Fleming contended.

The chamber may have 3 million members and deep pockets, but the Senate is where the action on climate change policy will place in the coming months.

"It's a good thing companies are taking the chamber to task on its climate change stance, which isn't forward-thinking," Fleming added. "But most engagement should now be focused on senators, because they are the ones who vote."

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