KAI RYSSDAL: There’s mandatory health care and minimum wage to name just two. Issues you’d expect would occupy the minds of CEOs and small business owners alike. Energy policy is the latest rallying cry for business groups. More than a couple of corporations have begun talking about their positions on climate change and energy conservation. Not to be left out, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is getting in on the action as Congress considers global warming legislation.
Today the Chamber announced it’s hired a former Marine general to run its brand new Institute for Energy. We got Sam Eaton out from behind the Marketplace Sustainability desk to explain things to us. Hi Sam.
SAM EATON: Hey, Kai.
RYSSDAL: What exactly is it that the Chamber’s hoping to do with this new Institute for Energy? I mean they’ve been lobbying on Capitol Hill for a long time.
EATON: Well Kai, they say they have a new mandate, and that’s to work in Congress with federal agencies, with the states, to shape what they’re calling Common Sense Energy Policies. They also say they support energy acquisitions, from traditional to alternative sources — traditional being fossil fuels, alternative being anything from renewables to creating diesel fuel from coal. Basically what this comes down to is the U.S. Chamber wants a seat at the table. They see the writing on the wall, that climate legislation is probably going to pass in the U.S. at some point. They want a role in shaping that legislation.
RYSSDAL: Let’s think about some specifics that they might ask for. Let’s talk about drilling up in the Arctic. What about that?
EATON: The Chamber says all options are on the table. And this is probably why they’re throwing a former Marine at this problem.
RYSSDAL: Yeah, General Jim Jones, former commandant in the Marine Corps.
EATON: Exactly. I think what they’re doing there is trying to determine how this debate is framed. What the Chamber says is . . . the National Security component of this climate-change debate is missing . . . if you frame it in that way, then obviously the U.S. needs more energy of all kinds. So that would mean ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]. That would mean natural gas out in the Gulf of Mexico. Basically everything’s on the table, from efficiency to fossil fuels.
RYSSDAL: Sure. How is this, though, going to be any different than all the lobbying that’s gone on on Capitol Hill in recent months and years over climate change — how to regulate it, whether or not it even exists?
EATON: I think what’s different is we’ve seen a lot of corporations coming out addressing a carbon cap, or, you know, basically regulations that would put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. We’re not gonna expect that from the U.S Chamber of Commerce. It’s just too big of an organization. We’re talking about the world’s largest business organization, something like more than 300 million members. So, you know, there are deep divisions within this organization as far as how to come up with a unified voice on addressing climate change.
RYSSDAL: Sam, let me get one more specific in here. What about the auto industry? I mean the Chamber of Commerce must be paying attention to what Detroit’s saying.
EATON: I’m sure they are, Kai, and this is a really timely issue in Washington right now. Congress is looking at the cafe standards, which are the mileage standards on automobiles . . . boosting those. Which would have . . . definitely have an impact on Detroit, the automobiles that they need to make in order to meet those standards. What makes this interesting, Kai, is the suggestions as far as who’s funding this new institute. It’s been suggested that the auto industry is one of the main funders of the chamber’s institution of energy, along with oil companies and electric utilities. And if that’s the case, Kai, that would definitely shape how they address these issues on Capitol Hill.
RYSSDAL: Sam Eaton’s a reporter from our Sustainability Desk. We’ve been talking to him about new efforts by the Chamber of Commerce to lobby on Capitol Hill about climate change. Sam, thanks a lot.
EATON: Thanks, Kai.
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