Update: This story keeps growing. Since last week…

  • The country’s largest utility, Exelon, said it was quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest of the group’s climate-bill opposition.
  • New Mexico utility PNM Resources did the same.
  • Nike, the most public-facing Chamber defector to date, said it would leave the Chamber board of directors while keeping its membership in the group.
  • The Chamber has tried to do damage control, without changing its opposition to clean-energy legislation.
  • And if you’re not sure why the Chamber even matters, “no organization in this country has done more to undermine [climate] legislation,” according to the New York Times editorial page.

Original story:

Chamber logo

More trouble this week for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the 97-year-old business advocacy group that has been courting controversy by questioning climate change and trying to weaken a clean energy bill.

California’s second-largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., announced it was quitting the Chamber on Tuesday, citing “fundamental differences” over climate change. PG&E is a member of USCAP, a coalition of corporations and environmental groups calling for a comprehensive climate plan. The utility is also a leader in solar energy; this spring, it announced a 500 MW solar-voltaic initiative.

Nike and Johnson & Johnson, while retaining membership in the Chamber, have also let it be known that they’re unhappy with the organization’s climate position. The old battle line between business and environmentalists is blurring, but the Chamber is still fighting the old war.

PG&E CEO Peter Darbee explained the company’s decision to leave the organization:

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. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.

He’s referring to the Chamber’s recent call for a “21st Century Scopes Monkey Trial” to force the EPA to defend in court its finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health. As David Roberts detailed earlier this month, the monkey-trial fiasco is just one in a string of clumsy steps by the Chamber.

The Chamber can commiserate with another fossil-fuel-friendly group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which saw prominent members Duke Energy and Alstom Power quit this month. The loss capped an embarrassing summer in which it was revealed that ACCCE had contracted with an Astroturf firm that sent forged letters to Congress, purporting to be from minority and senior-citizen groups opposed to climate legislation. Congress is now investigating the fraudulent letters.

So here’s a question for climate activists: Why not hound companies in the Chamber and ACCCE, demanding to know why they lend their money and their legitimacy to such groups? Companies may decide that membership is a weight around their necks they don’t need.

The Chamber, by the way, doesn’t release names of its members. You’ll have to find out from companies themselves whether they belong.

I’m no activist, but I tried this out two weeks ago when I met Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist, Rob Bernard. Microsoft has never been considered an environmental leader, but it’s got a decent climate policy on paper. It opened an energy-efficient data center this summer that could lead to significant energy savings, particularly if the company finds ways to use the innovations in larger server labs.

Given all this, why is Microsoft a Chamber member? Bernard told me Microsoft takes climate change very seriously and tried to distance the company from the Chamber’s climate shenanigans. “The views expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce do not reflect Microsoft’s position on climate change and we are not participating in their climate initiatives,” he said in a followup email.

It’s not much of an answer. But if people keep asking, that answer might change.