- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business trade association, has suffered the defection of five of its members, including Apple Inc. and Nike Inc., over its hard-line opposition to pending climate change legislation.

The resignations, submitted in just the past two weeks, have shined a spotlight on the deep divisions in industry over how to deal with the issue of climate change.

The chamber is leading the charge against President Obama’s effort to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. But three utilities, along with business powerhouses Nike and Apple, support the climate legislation that passed the House in June.

Disagreements are common in large trade associations. But resignations over policy are rare, an indication of how high the stakes are in opposing a top-agenda item of a sitting president.

Apple is the latest company to publicly split with the chamber over climate policy. The maker of Macintosh computers and iPhones said Monday that it wishes the chamber would “play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis” and finds it frustrating to be at odds with the chamber over regulating greenhouse gas emissions, according to a letter to the chamber from Catherine A. Novelli, Apple’s vice president of worldwide government affairs.

As a result of the chamber’s position, Apple said, it would resign its membership effective immediately.

In response, the chamber said its position on climate change is misunderstood, explaining that it opposes the pending legislation rather than comprehensive climate policy.

“The chamber is a consensus-driven organization and welcomes input from any company that wants to work on a comprehensive approach to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Eric Wohlschlegel, a chamber spokesman. “While well continue to represent the broad majority of our membership on this goal, we recognize that there are some companies who stand to gain more than others with the current options on the table.”

Three major utilities - PG&E Corp. of California, Exelon Corp. of Chicago and PNM Resources of New Mexico - said they also disagree with the chamber’s position on its call for a public hearing on the Obama administration’s assertion that there is a link between carbon dioxide and public health and welfare.

The link, if it exists, would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate all carbon dioxide emitters.

The hearing would be the equivalent of a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century,” Peter Darbee, PG&E’s chief executive, said in a blog post last month announcing the split.

“The carbon-based free lunch is over,” John Rowe, Exelon’s chief executive, said last month.

Mr. Rowe said the world’s climate problem cant be fixed free of charge, but his company supports the legislation because it “will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible.”

Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power generator, could earn more than $1 billion a year in profit if the pending legislation becomes law, Mr. Rowe said.

PNM Resources said it objected to calls to put “the science of climate change on trial” and would withdraw from the chamber. The utility had previously informed the chamber that it would allow its members on the chamber’s board to lapse.

The three utilities are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a group of businesses and environmentalists that supports the pending legislation. The House-passed climate bill was based in part on proposals advocated by USCAP.

Nike also quit the chamber’s board late last month, but will retain its membership in the group. The global athletic company said it “does not believe that on the issue of climate change the chamber represents the diversity of views held by board members.”

Separately, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric Co. and the San Jose Chamber of Commerce have said the chamber’s position on climate change does not reflect their corporate views, but they have not severed ties with the business group.

Pete Altman, climate campaign director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the actions of the companies show their frustration with what he called the chamber’s “retrograde” position on climate change regulation.

“Companies keep proving me wrong, because I think it’s hard for them to leave the chamber. It’s a big hurdle, because this is just not normally what companies do in order to express opinions,” Mr. Altman said. “I have been surprised at how many companies are leaving or publicly criticizing the chamber.”

He added that the departures were based on a mix of reasons. He noted that some utility companies see the chance to profit from the legislation, while manufacturers desire a climate bill that gives them certainty about the future. In the cases of Nike and Apple, he said, they have made corporate decisions to pursue environmentally sustainable policies.

Democrats quickly pounced on the defections, attempting to show weakness on the part of opponents of the climate bill.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and co-author of the House-passed climate legislation, said: “Clean energy represents the future of business, and American companies and workers are ready to lead the world in the race for new technologies. The Chamber would serve their members, and all citizens, to listen to these forward-thinking companies and workers.”

• Edward Felker contributed to this report.

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