Last year the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy Karen Alderman Harbert had some trouble articulating the business group’s position on climate change. During a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez asked Ms. Harbert if the Chamber believed climate change was real and human-caused—yes or no. After dodging the question repeatedly, the trade group rep eventually acknowledged that the climate is warming but with respect to the warming being human-caused, she stated, “we have a robust debate going on in this country, as we should, and those that would say everything is settled sort of undercut the integrity of science.”
We of course know that there is no debate about the fact that the warming in the last century is primarily human-caused, but Ms. Harbert’s words appear to be consistent with the trade group’s climate position in a 2013 UCS report—i.e., the U.S. Chamber has not quite caught up to the science.
And nowadays, the Chamber has fewer and fewer allies in this camp, as more and more companies publicly accept the reality of climate change. So this begs the question: Who is the Chamber speaking for when it makes such anti-science statements?
No transparency, no accountability, no democracy
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to have millions of members and represent both large and small businesses, but its membership list isn’t public and as a trade association, the group has no legal obligation to disclose its donor. With this lack of transparency we have very little information about who supports the Chamber’s anti-science position on climate change and who funds its efforts to block policies that would address it. As a result, the Chamber can use its vast resources to influence public policy without any accountability for those behind it.
Are the Chamber’s members in agreement with this climate policy and simply using the group to do their bidding without company affiliation (and potential reputational damage)? Or is the Chamber’s climate agenda controlled by a handful of powerful companies while the majority of members disagree? Without greater transparency around the political activities of companies and trade associations, we don’t know.
And with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, such secrecy around corporate political spending has only increased—at astronomical levels. Previously unheard-of dollar figures are now being spent by trade associations like the Chamber and “social welfare” groups, neither of which need to disclose their donors.
CDP data: Companies distance themselves from the Chamber’s climate position
In last year’s Tricks of the Trade report, UCS found that only one company acknowledged membership on the Chamber’s board of directors in its voluntary CDP climate reporting data. And that company did not report agreeing with the Chamber’s position on climate change.
But what happened in the 2014 survey the following year? Of the Chamber’s 43 board members who were approached by CDP, 32 responded to the survey, but only three companies acknowledged their Chamber board seat. This is better than last year’s single company who acknowledged its board seat, but still a strong demonstration of the lack of disclosure we have around companies’ affiliations with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Also similar to last year’s report, we find few companies publicly agreeing with the Chamber’s climate position. On the 2014 survey, we find only a single company (American Electric Power) reported having a climate position “consistent” with that of the Chamber’s and AEP isn’t on the board. None of the three board member companies reporting—UPS, AT&T, and Altria—said their position on climate change was consistent with the Chamber’s.
A Chamber of Secrets?
If its own board members aren’t standing with the Chamber on climate change, who is? Who is supporting the Chamber’s anti-science position on climate and other issues? And who is funding its work to undercut efforts to promote clean energy and reduce our emissions? We need greater transparency in our political system to hold accountable those blocking efforts to address climate change.
This is why I am attending the rally outside of the Chamber of Commerce tomorrow on the anniversary of the Citizens United decision—to show that we need a democracy that holds actors accountable and levels the playing field so that the people can speak.