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Eye on the Right: Businesses Split over Climate Change

The debate over clean energy is ripping open divisions in conservative business lobbies.  Debate on federal climate change legislation has led an increasing number of businesses to leave the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other business associations because of those organizations' stances against recognizing the scientific validity of climate change. The revolt has been growing ever since a senior Chamber official called for a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" to evaluate evidence of global warming.

Some of the nation's largest energy utilities — including Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon, the largest U.S. operator of nuclear plants — quit the Chamber altogether, and Nike stepped off of the Chamber's board, leading Business Week to question the Chamber's clout and credibility. A recent article cited the dysfunction of the Chamber and its outdated policies as a main reason why it is losing its status:

Climate legislation “is becoming more real,” said Brian Hertzog, director of strategic communications at PG&E, which resigned from the Chamber last month. “That dynamic has thrown things into a sharper relief.”

Other high profile businesses to leave recently include Apple, and the parent company of Revlon is debating whether or not to leave over differences on global warming.  In addition, local Chambers of Commerce in New York and San Francisco are distancing themselves from the National's right-wing policy position.  Due to increased scrutiny, the Chamber has actually started citing the actual number of businesses that they represent - 300,000 versus the 3 million that they had been claiming.

There are also splits occurring at other business associations - Duke Energy, a large utility company, announced in May that it would leave the National Association of Manufacturers over the issue.  Duke and several other companies, including aluminum-maker Alcoa, dropped out of American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which promotes building coal-fired power plants.

In addition, there are efforts by businesses in unlikely states to push for clean energy reforms.  Entergy Arkansas and other members of the group Arkansas Business Leaders for a Clean Energy Economy joined representatives of 150 businesses from around the country to lobby for clean energy legislation that they say would create hundreds of new jobs in the state.  These unlikely allies' voices have provided a counter to traditional business claims that a climate change bill would lose jobs, and they provide the statistics to prove that clean energy can mean job growth:  a study from Pew Charitable Trusts showed that in 2007, 448 Arkansas businesses had generated more than 4,500 clean-energy jobs.  The same study shows that in ten years, clean energy jobs in South Dakota will increase by over 93 percent compared to overall job growth of 5 percent.

The divisions reflect that many businesses see a clean energy economy and measures to address climate change not as a burden, but as a business necessity and even a chance to boost the economy -- and create new business opportunities.  And they are questioning the conservative ideological allegiance of traditional business associations that are increasingly not meeting their needs.

For more resources, please visit:
San Francisco Chronicle:  Changing alliances shape climate-change debate
Business Week:  Does the U.S. Chamber Speak for Big Business?
Pew Charitable Trusts:  The Clean Energy Economy