July 24, 2017

Time to Wake Up: The Chamber’s Untenable Climate Position

Mr. President, to the disappointment of the American public, the world scientific community, and even to corporate giants like Goldman Sachs and Cargill, President Trump recently decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, citing as justification a slew of “alternative facts.”  Some of the most egregious “alternative facts” came from a National Economic Resource Associates report, commissioned and promoted by a group that calls itself the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but fronts for the fossil fuel industry. 

For my 174th climate speech, let’s examine the Chamber’s untenable position on climate.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a heavy hitter in Washington. It was the second largest spender of anonymous outside money-or “dark money” in the 2016 federal elections, second only to the National Rifle Association. And, in addition to all that political election spending, it wields the largest lobbying force on Capitol Hill. In 2015, the Chamber dropped over $100 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of climate action’s most implacable enemies, despite the good climate policies of so many companies on its board.  Along with Senators Warren, Sanders, and others, I examined this inconsistency in our recent report, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Out of Step with the American People and its Members.” I ask unanimous consent to enter the report into the Record.

When President Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, he used these “alternative facts” from that Chamber-commissioned report.  Here’s what Trump said

“Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025…  This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs.”

That was one assertion.  Here’s another:

 “By 2040, compliance with the commitments put into place by the previous administration would cut production for the following sectors:  paper down 12 percent; cement down 23 percent; iron and steel down 38 percent; coal—and I happen to love the coal miners—down 86 percent; natural gas down 31 percent.  The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and, in many cases, much worse than that.”

Countless reviewers, including Politifact, Scientific American, CNBC, and Fortune, fact checked the President’s speech. It did not fair well.  Politifact warned us to “Take these statistics with a grain of salt.” An analysis of the report by Kenneth Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale University, pointed out that the NERA study made up a hypothetical set of policy actions, which may well not have been taken to comply with the Paris Agreement—that one could easily model other actions with much lower costs.  Second, NERA only modeled the costs. The benefits from avoiding climate change and its harms (sea level rise, greater storm surges, greater spread of diseases, etc.) are entirely ignored. They only looked at one side of the ledger. That’s phony accounting.

NERA has a history of producing misleading reports for industry sponsors.  In 2015, it released a report for the National Association of Manufacturers on EPA’s proposed ozone standard, claiming it would cost as much as $140 billion per year.  EPA estimated it would cost a fraction of what NERA estimated—less than 12 percent.  The economic consulting firm Synapse analyzed the NAM report and found it “grossly overstates compliance costs, due to major flaws, math errors, and unfounded assumptions… these assumptions and other flaws led NERA to overstate compliance costs by more than 700 percent.”  Of course, that report also ignored the benefits of the ozone rule.  One side of the ledger, again.

So of course, the Chamber commissioned NERA to do the same thing for them on climate: overestimate the costs and ignore the benefits.  It’s a classic maneuver. 

Senator Ted Cruz cited the NERA report in his CNN op-ed urging President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement a day before President Trump cited these stats in his withdrawal speech.

Cruz, Trump, and the Chamber, ignored more than 1000 companies that supported the U.S. remaining in the Paris Agreement, including several Chamber member companies.  Some of those companies have publicly distanced themselves from the Chamber on climate since the President’s decision.  A recent Bloomberg News article was headlined, “Paris Pullout Pits Chamber Against Some of Its Biggest Members”:

Citigroup said, “We have been outspoken in our support for the Paris agreement and have had a dialogue with the Chamber about how its views and advocacy on climate policy are inconsistent with Citi’s position.”  Similar distancing came from Dow and Ford.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a piece, “Is the most powerful lobbyist in Washington losing its grip?” exploring this tension around climate in more detail.  It said, “perhaps the most nettlesome issue for the Chamber has been climate change.”  It calls out the Chamber claims to be neutral on the Paris Agreement, while busily providing “ammunition for foes of the agreement.”  

The article highlights Chamber climate denial efforts, including its 2009 proposal to hold a public “trial” on climate science—what it dubbed “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.”  New Mexico-based utility, PNM Resources quit the Chamber because that idea was so preposterous. 

The Washington Post identified eight of the 25 companies that signed an ad in the New York Times supporting the Paris Agreement as Chamber members, including GE, Microsoft, and Walt Disney Company.  The CEOs of these companies publicly criticized President Trump’s decision that day on Twitter:

  • Microsoft’s Brad Smith said, “We’re disappointed with the decision to exit the Paris Agreement. Microsoft remains committed to doing our part to achieve its goals.”
  • GE’s Jeff Immelt said, “Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
  • Walt Disney’s Robert Iger said, “As a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s Council over the #ParisAgreement withdrawal.”

The Chamber is out of step with its own members on climate change, maintaining a scientifically existentially untenable position.  So who is pulling the Chamber’s chain?  It’s hard to tell, since the Chamber hides from the public who its donors are.

Which brings me to the nomination of John Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Chamber’s rigid anti-climate stance is part of a fossil fuel political program that holds this chamber in a state of intimidation and inaction on climate change.  As Congress cowers before this presence, we are now advancing the nomination of a climate denier to the federal bench.

John Bush was not nominated because of any track record of distinguished performance or demonstrated commitment to public service.  To the contrary, his most notable achievements seem to be a series of wildly offensive blog postings and public statements—denying that climate change is real and mocking it, comparing a woman’s right to choose to the evil of slavery, casually using vile slurs against gay people—the list goes on. 

Bush has written a number of posts dealing with environmental issues in which he repeatedly places the terms “global warming” and “climate change” in quotation marks, insinuating they do not really exist.   

With this appalling track record, why was he nominated?  It’s not that hard to figure out.  He is here because—through those offensive blog posts, and by flagging himself as a loyal climate denier—he signals himself as a willing foot soldier of the big special interests.  These big special interests are intent on capturing our courts, just as they have captured so much of Congress.  Judicial nominees like Mr. Bush are exactly what these powerful special interests want to make sure they can maintain their dark money influence most particularly, and to see to it that these interests are never held accountable to the American people.

He has flagged that he will rule the right way for the big special interests that fund the Republican Party, and his nomination and confirmation is their reward.  He has shown that he’s familiar with the recipes, when it comes time to cook the decisions.

My Democratic colleagues and I respect any President’s desire—and prerogative—to fill the vacancies in the executive and judicial branches.  And though I understand we won’t see eye to eye with our colleagues across the aisle on every nominee, Senate Democrats have given the President’s nominees a fair shake.  But this is no normal nominee.  This is a freak, who lowers the bar on judicial nominees forever. 

If Mr. Bush wants to exercise his First Amendment right to spout offensive, ignorant, and hateful nonsense as some kind of nutty Breitbart blogger, he is free to do so.  But that is not the measure of a federal judge.

Mr. Bush is patently unqualified for this position, well outside of any version of the mainstream, and his appointment can reasonably be expected to bring dishonor and pre-ordained partiality to the judiciary. 

I yield the floor.