Businesses heat up over climate bill

The Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. provides coal-fired energy for Capitol Hill

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The House Energy and Commerce Committee is poised to approve the first ever climate bill to make it to floor of Congress. Of course, that achievement hasn't come without its share of heated political debate. But some of the fiercest battles aren't between politicians -- they're between
businesses and the trade groups that lobby for them. From the Sustainability Desk, here's Marketplace's Sam Eaton.


Sam Eaton: A TV ad running this week features Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers endorsing a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases:

Jim Rogers: Why would the head of one of America's largest coal-burning utilities support a cap on carbon emissions? Because America has to start making smart choices.

Rogers' message is the opposite of what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is saying. The world's largest business group claims capping emissions would cause energy shortages and higher prices.

What's noteworthy here is that Rogers holds a seat on the Chamber of Commerce's governing board, as do many other prominent supporters of climate change legislation. That's led Peter Altman with the Natural Resources Defense Council to pose this question:

Peter Altman: Who is the Chamber really representing here?

Altman researched the Chamber of Commerce board's positions on climate change legislation. And out of the group of businesses that have publicly stated their positions, 19 favored federal action and only four opposed it. And three of those four are coal-mining companies.

Altman: The staff seem to be freelancing on the agenda of just a few of their members and not adequately representing where the majority of the members of their board that have got a position on climate change really find themselves.

In recent weeks, companies like Nike and Johnson & Johnson have publicly criticized the Chamber for not reflecting their views. But the Chamber's head of government affairs, Bruce Josten, says member disagreements are nothing new.

Bruce Josten: Do I have a diversity of viewpoints in the membership of the United States Chamber of Commerce? Yes. Let me be perfectly clear: On every issue that comes before the Congress of the United States.

But the issue of climate change is different. James Thurber heads American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

James Thurber: This is major in terms of its impact upon the economy and upon the way you extract and use energy. And so therefore it is major in terms of the stress upon certain interests.

Thurber says forming business coalitions is the easy part. The challenge is maintaining them. Especially when limits on greenhouse gas emissions threaten to hurt some industries a lot more than others.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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