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Steve Chiotakis: Last week was a tough one for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Two big utilities announced they were leaving the trade group. They say they don't like the Chamber's opposition to a
climate bill working its way through Congress. As Marketplace's Steve Henn reports, environmentalists and others are questioning whether the Chamber's president can be an honest broker in the debate.
Steve Henn: For more than decade, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, has also served on Union Pacific's Board of directors. The railroad has rewarded Donahue with stock options worth more than a million dollars. And as part of his service, Donahue has agreed to abide by Union Pacific's policy on conflicts of interest. Basically, directors there:
Pete Altman: May not engage in any activities that are contrary to the best interests of Union Pacific.
Pete Altman is at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
Altman: Then you have to wonder, is Mr. Donahue complying with that directive from Union Pacific and only allowing decisions that are in that company's best interests?
This matters to Altman because Union Pacific has a big stake in the climate debate. Roughl 20 percent of its revenue comes from hauling coal, and the company is lobbying to oppose the climate bill.
But many other members of the Chamber have taken very different positions. And Beth Young with the independent research firm the Corporate Library says that's problematic for Donahue:
Beth Young: There would always be that sort of nagging suspicion that his interests as a director of that outside corporation are influencing him in his role at the chamber.
David Chavern: I can tell you it has never been an issue for our membership.
David Chavern is the chief operating officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
Chavern: Our membership does not see the conflict of interest, and it's their interests that are at stake here.
But debate over the Chamber's climate policy has been intense. Johnson and Johnson and Nike have both publicly criticized the Chamber's stance. Then last week two big utilities, including PG&E, actually quit the Chamber because of what they said was the groups quote "extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics."
Beth Young says Tom Donahue clearly has a problem:
Young: If I were in his position, I would probably see resigning from the Union Pacific board as the cleanest way of dealing with the problem.
And if Donahue doesn't resign, Young believes the Chamber should force him to.
In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.