Nike exec leaves U.S. Chamber board in climate policy dispute

Nike Inc. is resigning its position on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, citing the influential business group's position on climate change policy.

The Beaverton, Ore.-based company underscored in a written statement today that it will continue to evaluate its chamber membership and lobby other companies to support "aggressive" climate change legislation in Congress.

"We will continue our membership to advocate for climate change legislation inside the committee structure and believe we can better influence policy by being part of the conversation," the statement concluded.

Nike's general counsel, Jim Carter, will vacate his position on the chamber's board immediately, a Nike spokeswoman confirmed.

The board -- which includes chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue and executives from more than 100 other member companies -- meets twice a year to vote on recommendations from the chamber's 16 committees. Any member company can join the committees, which focus on employee benefits, labor relations, taxation, energy and other key issues affecting the U.S. economy.


"We have to operate in a democratic way, representing the broader business community and not just the interests of one company," said Eric Wohlschlegel, the chamber's executive director of communications.

Wohlschlegel declined to comment directly on Nike's reasons for leaving the board. He noted that the chamber has more than 3 million members, and companies come and go "all of the time for various issues."

"Many more people are joining the chamber than leaving," Wohlschlegel added.

What is unusual about the past week is that three major electric utilities -- PG&E Corp., Exelon Corp. and PNM Resources Inc. -- have announced they will not renew their chamber membership because of the deep-pocketed business group's climate policy stance.

Speaking at an energy conference in Chicago on Monday, Exelon CEO John Rowe urged industry officials and regulators to push for legislation that would put a price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

"Inaction on climate is not an option," Rowe said, according to excerpts provided by Exelon. "If Congress does not act, the EPA will, and the result will be more arbitrary, more expensive, and more uncertain for investors and the industry than a reasonable, market-based legislative solution."

Chamber officials contend that Rowe's views are not inconsistent with the business group's official policy stance.

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to support strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change," Donohue noted in a statement yesterday. "We believe that in order to succeed, any climate change response must include all major CO2 emitting economies, promote new technologies, emphasize efficiency, ensure affordable energy for families and businesses, and help create American jobs and return our economy to prosperity."

An official who is knowledgeable of chamber energy policy, but who spoke with E&E on condition of anonymity, said the utility departures are "definitely a PR headache" but are unlikely to spur the business group to alter its policy stance.

"The industries with the most to lose under cap and trade or a carbon tax -- coal and oil -- appear to have won the chamber's internal battle over climate change strategy because of the way the chamber operates now," the official contended.

"Coal and oil interests are driving chamber climate change decisions because oil companies give the chamber more money than anyone else in the energy sector and coal companies simply scream the loudest," he added.

Policy inconsistent with board's views -- Nike

Nike, however, took issue with the chamber's opposition to the prospect of U.S. EPA's regulation of carbon dioxide -- the main heat-trapping gas that contributes to global warming.

Last month, the chamber petitioned U.S. EPA to host an on-the-record "trial" in which environmental and business groups could engage in a weighing of the scientific evidence that global warming endangers human health (E&ENews PM, Aug. 25). The chamber's petition comes as EPA prepares to declare that emissions of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride from new automobiles and their engines contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare. The proposal, which does not include any regulations, comes in response to the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling.

The chamber will file a lawsuit regardless of whether EPA denies the endangerment trial petition or moves ahead with its final endangerment finding, officials have said. 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.

"It is important that U.S. companies be represented by a strong and effective chamber that reflects the interests of all its members on multiple issues," Nike wrote in today's statement. "We believe that on the issue of climate change the chamber has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors."

Nike 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 coalition wants Congress to pass legislation that creates 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.

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.

"We oppose the Waxman-Markey bill because it is neither comprehensive nor international, and it falls short on moving renewable and alternative technologies into the marketplace and enabling our transition to a lower-carbon future," Donohue explained. "It would also impose carbon tariffs on goods imported into the United States, a move that would almost certainly spur retaliation from global trading partners."

Peyton Fleming, a Ceres spokesman, said his organization has not been pressing BICEP members to resign from the chamber and its board.

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

Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund -- which along with chamber board members Alcoa Inc., ConocoPhillips, Siemens, Caterpillar Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Deere & Co. is a member of the environmental-business coalition U.S. Climate Action Partnership -- praised Nike's decision to leave the chamber's board.

"The chamber should shift its policy stance because it's lagging behind where a lot of its members are," Kreindler contended.

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