March 13, 2023

The U.S. Chamber still blocks climate progress

Much has changed in Congress over the past decade – but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is still the number one political obstruction in the path of climate progress. There’s now fresh evidence that the Chamber’s actions reflect a persistent pattern of opposing good climate policies, and that the most powerful trade association in the country is actively working against the interests of many of the companies it’s supposed to represent.

Last month, the independent research think tank InfluenceMap published a new briefing tracking the Chamber’s policy engagement on climate over the past year – a historic time for climate on Capitol Hill. Did the Chamber take this opportunity to shift to a more positive stance, or at least remain neutral? Nope. The report finds “continued opposition to meaningful legislation and regulation” coupled with “a continued trend of positive PR from the Chamber to create the impression of reform for climate-conscious investors and corporate members.” As Politico reported, the analysis shows that “the Chamber’s positions on climate policies mostly reflect the views of its fossil fuel members.” Big Oil is still pulling the strings at the Chamber. These findings closely track our firsthand experiences on the ground as a member of the Senate and as the head of an organization working to spur the corporate sector to support climate policy.

This game isn’t new. Back in March of last year, InfluenceMap published an inaugural briefing highlighting the “lack of material improvement” in the Chamber’s climate policy engagement since 2017. During the Biden Administration, the group’s negative engagement (along with limited positive positioning) has resulted in negligible change in the Chamber’s performance: the group’s rating in the study remains comparable to oil giant Phillips 66.

As the briefing reports, the Chamber tried to block the Inflation Reduction Act, the biggest climate bill Congress has ever passed. At the eleventh hour, the U.S. Chamber teamed up with the Arizona Chamber to run ads attempting to flip the expected “yes” votes of Arizona Senators Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly – and failed. And in opposing a popular law and the largest clean energy investment in history, the Chamber’s stance clashed with that of its own member companies like Microsoft, which endorsed the Inflation Reduction Act.

What is the Chamber doing to appease its member companies that might not support its anti-climate lobbying? Pumping out corporate PR to try to create a facade of change while it continues doing the dirty work for its Big Oil members like ExxonMobil and Chevron that count on it to oppose climate action. 

It all begs the question: how long are the pro-climate companies in the Chamber going to put up with funding the giant club being used to beat back progress in leading the planet to safety? The corporate sector needs bold climate policy to meet its own sustainability and long-term financial goals. For example, Microsoft is an ambitious sustainability leader and climate policy advocate. Given its strong pro-climate stance, why on earth is it still paying presumably expensive dues to the Chamber – and even serving on its Board of Directors?

The fact is that even with all the progress we’ve made, trade associations still represent a giant obstacle to addressing climate change at every level of government. Researcher Robert Brulle recently published a study showing that trade associations, which he characterizes as “one of the most important opponents of climate policy,”  collectively spent a colossal $3.4 billion on political activities related to climate between 2008 and 2018. The expenditures spanned lobbying, political contributions, advertising and promotion, and grantmaking. Brulle finds that trade associations opposed to climate change legislation out-lobby the renewable lobby by a factor of 19 to 1.

We need to right that imbalance – and act with the urgency the climate crisis demands. To accelerate policy progress on climate, we call on American companies to stop funding anti-climate activities by dropping membership in the Chamber and other anti-climate organizations, and by stepping up their own climate policy leadership before it’s too late to lead the planet to safety.

By: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Bill Weihl