August 2, 2019

Time to Wake Up: Who Funds The Chamber?

As-prepared for delivery

Mr./Madam President, before I begin my 251st Time to Wake up remarks, I would like to thank two AAAS fellows who will be leaving my office.

Dr. Kim Binsted came to us from the University of Hawaii, where was the principal investigator on the NASA-sponsored Hi-Seas project, studying conditions like those astronauts would encounter on Mars.  Next month, she returns to Hawaii to continue her research. 

Dr. Ryan Edwards joined us after completing his PhD at Princeton University, where he studied carbon capture and storage, among other things.  He hails from Australia and is by far the best cricket player on my staff.  Next up for him will be Houston and more carbon capture research.

I thank them both for their service here in the Senate and wish them the very best.

Tomorrow, about two and a half miles from this chamber, executives from some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world are meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a conference called, “#Energy Innovates.” 

It is a power-packed event.  The Chamber is the biggest, most powerful lobbying force in America and also a fierce political operator.  Similarly, the fossil fuel industry runs a remorseless, and often covert, political operation.  They’re defending a $650 billion annual subsidy, as the International Monetary Fund estimates, so hundreds of millions spent on lobbying and election mischief is money well spent.  The Chamber and Big Oil together have stopped climate progress here in this building. 

For the members of the Chamber, including a host of companies that say they support climate action, it is time to confront the relationship between the Chamber and the fossil fuel industry. 

I was not invited to the Chamber’s energy gathering.  But if I had been, this is what I would have told the Chamber members.

The earth is spinning toward climate catastrophe.  Action in Congress to limit carbon pollution is essential to averting this catastrophe.  Yet the Chamber, according to the watchdog Influence Map, is in a virtual tie as the most obstructive force on climate change, blocking legislation, opposing executive action, and even seeking to undermine climate science.

The Chamber is so obstructive it would be more appropriately named the Chamber of Carbon.

[Chart 1 – #ChamberofCarbon]

The Chamber has opposed one comprehensive climate bill after another in Congress.

First, the bipartisan cap and trade bill in 2005, the Energy Policy Act; the Chamber helped defeat it with a “Key Vote Alert”—a signal that whoever voted in favor of the bill could face an onslaught of Chamber political attacks in the next election.

[Chart 2 – Chamber 2007 TV ad]

In 2007, the Chamber ran political TV ads against climate legislation claiming that it would prevent people from heating their homes and driving to work.

In 2009, the Chamber led the charge against the Waxman-Markey bill.  For that legislation, it pulled out all the stops—haranguing members, more “Vote Alerts” and “How They Voted” scorecards, sending more messages of election doom if you dared to support Waxman-Markey.

Since the Chamber tanked Waxman-Markey, Republicans in Congress have refused to hold hearings on, mark up, debate, or vote on any legislation proposing a policy framework for economy-wide reductions in carbon pollution. 

It’s not just in Congress that the Chamber wields its influence.  The Chamber has also fought climate action in the courts and at the executive branch.

In 2010, the Chamber sued the EPA, seeking to overturn the finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare.  Disabling the “endangerment finding” would cripple the agency’s ability to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

When courts rejected the Chamber’s lawsuit on the endangerment finding, the Chamber became central command for corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists, and Republican political strategists who devised the legal schemes to fight climate regulations.  This produced another Chamber lawsuit, to block the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Once President Trump took office, the Chamber switched from defense to offense, and has attacked many Obama administration rules limiting carbon pollution.  The Chamber even funded the phony report the Trump administration used to justify leaving the Paris Accord. 

Perhaps worst of all, the Chamber has fought science itself. 

It proposed putting the evidence of climate change on trial in what its own officials branded “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.”  Indeed, the Chamber said the trial “would be evolution versus creationism.” 

The Chamber has also supported efforts to limit the scientific studies that regulators could consider.  The Chamber’s evident target was public health studies that demonstrate just how dangerous burning fossil fuels is to public health. 

The Chamber is an electioneering force as well as a lobbying force, spending massive sums in politics to shore up its control of Congress. 

Since the 2010 Citizens United decision allowed outside groups to spend unlimited sums on electioneering activities, the Chamber has funneled roughly $150 million into congressional races.  This makes the Chamber the largest spender of undisclosed donations or dark money on congressional races.

[Chart 3 – Still shot of Run, Jimmy, Run Ad]

Blocking action on climate has been a central focus of the Chamber’s campaign spending. 

Take this ad the Chamber ran in Pennsylvania in 2016.  The ad opens with two mothers watching their children at a playground.  One comments on how much energy the children have.  The other shushes her and claims support of climate action means the candidate would tax the children’s energy if given the chance. 

Then the ad takes a strange and ominous turn.  A faceless woman arrives in a car and steps out toward the children.  Alarmed, one of the mothers yells for her child, Jimmy, to run.  The boy shrieks in fear.

Classy stuff.  Wonder who the Chamber was fronting for?

How does the Chamber’s anti-climate crusade square with its big corporate members?

Look at Chamber members Coke and Pepsi.  Both have good internal climate policies.  Their websites are chock full of commitments to reduce their corporate carbon footprint.  Both signed public letters urging strong climate action in Paris, and both advocated publicly against the Trump administration leaving the Paris Accord. 

Pepsi signed the Ceres BICEP Climate Declaration and the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group Trillion Tonne Communique — both important commitments to climate action.

Coke says it plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 percent, and that to do so it “will work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain, making comprehensive carbon footprint reductions across its manufacturing processes, packaging formats, delivery fleet, refrigeration equipment and ingredient sourcing.” 

Yet both Coke and Pepsi fund the Chamber of Commerce!  And they fund the American Beverage Association, which in turn runs money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The end result?  Two companies that are actively reducing their carbon emissions and enthusiastically supporting good climate policy have the position, via their funding of the Chamber, of opposing climate action in Washington, the place where it really counts.

Look at Verizon, which has reduced its carbon intensity by 28 percent since 2016 alone and has set a goal of going carbon neutral by 2035.  Verizon’s CEO has publicly stated Verizon’s commitment to combat climate change, and he launched a green bond initiative to spur investment in green technologies.  And yet Verizon too funds the Chamber.

Then there’s Google.  The company’s motto?  Don’t be evil.  Google warns investors that climate change threatens its operations; that its “systems are vulnerable to damage or interruption from …natural disasters [and] the effects of climate change (such as sea level rise, drought, flooding, wildfires, and increased storm severity).”  Google also tells investors that “[c]limate change is one of the most significant global challenges of our time,” and that its goal is to reach 100 percent renewable energy for our operations.”  Google signed the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles and the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.  Yet Google too funds the Chamber’s anti-climate crusade.

Coke, Pepsi, Verizon, and Google are just four examples among many.  There are scores more of the Chamber’s corporate members that support climate action but are funding one of climate action’s leading opponents. 

Why does the Chamber put these members in this position?  The best explanation I have is that the fossil fuel industry is secretly calling the shots at the Chamber.  That would explain the Chamber’s refusal to disclose who is funding it.  The fossil fuel industry, with its secret money, is likely making chumps of the rest of Chamber’s corporate members. 

This is a governance issue, at least for the companies that serve on the Chamber’s board. 

Board members of nonprofit organizations such as the Chamber have a common law duty of care to the organization.  Not knowing who’s funding your organization looks to me like a breach of this duty of care.  So the Chamber’s member companies, and in particular those that serve on its board, need to ask themselves, do we know who is funding the Chamber and how much each donor is giving?  Does that explain the Chamber’s years of obstruction?

Here’s another question for board members.  The Chamber holds itself out as a business association.  Why is it accepting money from non-businesses?  I ask because investigations have revealed that in 2012 and 2014, the Chamber took in at least $5.5 million from phony front groups backed by the fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers.  In 2014, another phony front group affiliated with GOP mastermind Karl Rove gave the Chamber $5.25 million. 

Did the Chamber’s board members know?  Did they exercise the proper duty of care?  Do they know what non-business money is funding the Chamber these days?  Do they know what percentage of the Chamber’s funding comes from fossil fuel interests? 

I don’t think the Chamber’s board members know the answers to any of these questions.  Question for general counsel to these board member corporations:  Should they know?  Or are you going with willful ignorance?

Let’s be clear:  Chamber board members are supporting one of the worst climate obstructors in America; writing big checks.  That’s a moral problem.  It’s also a governance problem, if they’re not asking these tough questions, and if they’re not pushing the organization to be transparent about its funding sources.  As a matter of principle, member companies ought to understand why the Chamber has been so dead set on obstructing climate action. 

Until this mess gets sorted out, in spite of all corporate America’s efforts to reduce emissions, its funding of the Chamber of Carbon means that corporate America is doing more harm than good for our climate. 

Mr./Madam President, I yield the floor.