A new campaign targeting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its lobbying on climate change issues published a report today criticizing the pro-business lobbying and advocacy group for continuing to push for pro-fossil fuel policies despite recognizing that climate change is real.
For years, the Chamber opposed action to slow climate change, prompting activists to dub the organization the “Chamber of Carbon.”
But in 2019, the Chamber generated headlines in the environmental press by adding a section to its website titled “Climate Change: The Path Forward.”
“Our climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes,” the website says. “Inaction is simply not an option.”
The new report, authored by the Change the Chamber campaign, finds that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has since lobbied on both sides of the issue, reporting 57 separate lobbying efforts from 2019 to summer 2020 that relate to energy and the environment. The organization’s efforts were successful on a dozen of those items — all of which, the report says, “were pro-fossil fuel outcomes.”
For example, the Chamber had successfully lobbied against the use of the National Environmental Policy Act, the bedrock U.S. environmental law, to measure the climate impacts of new fossil fuel infrastructure. It helped to defeat proposed moratoriums on offshore drilling, the report says, and supported four high-level Trump administration nominees who’ve taken pro-fossil fuel positions, including Energy Secretary Dan Brouillete and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s James Danly, whose confirmation had left the traditionally bipartisan commission temporarily stacked 3-1 with Republicans.
It may be little surprise that the Chamber’s pro-fossil fuel advocacy has found a receptive audience in the Trump administration, but Change the Chamber, a young adult-led coalition, asserts that the business lobbying group’s endorsement of pro-climate goals was relatively passive compared to its active advocacy on its pro-fossil fuel goals. It also suggests that the Chamber has sought to preserve the Republican majority in the Senate, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Joni Ernst in Iowa, and Roger Marshall in Kansas.
The new report also faults the Chamber for its legal advocacy on climate. “The Chamber was involved in 14 energy and environment lawsuits in 2020 alone, either as a plaintiff or as an amicus curiae [friend of the court],” the report, titled “The Chamber and Climate 2019-2020,” says. “The Chamber supported the interests of the fossil fuel industry in nine cases, those of the petrochemical industry in one, and industrial polluters in four.”
“We are disappointed to report that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the Chamber continues to promote fossil fuel interests over science-based climate action,” the report concludes. “Its recent pivot on climate is, so far, cosmetic.”
In the not-very-distant past, the Chamber has opposed action on climate change and continued to question whether climate science was yet clear enough to justify action. In 2017, the Chamber co-sponsored a report that the Trump administration cited as it announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Its 2017 policy priorities included a call to “Oppose efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through existing environmental statutes.” (The Chamber now says it “supports U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.”)
In 2016, the Chamber called for more climate science research, writing that a “deeper understanding of the issues and developing science associated with the environment and climate change” would influence climate policies.
And in 2014, the then-head of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy (now called the Global Energy Institute but still affiliated with the Chamber), testified before Congress that she believed it was not clear what was causing climate change. She testified, “It is caused by lots of different things, and you can’t say that climate change is only caused by humans.”
The US Chamber of Commerce did not immediately reply to questions sent by DeSmog about the report’s findings.
The Change the Chamber campaign, which officially launched in July, describes itself as a coalition of young adults, including current and former university students, and many of its participating organizations are student-run. “I got involved in the campaign because I felt like my individual sustainability practices weren’t enough in terms of the scale of the problem we’re dealing with globally,” says research and communications specialist Emma Marotta.
“I found myself dwarfed by the impact of these corporations in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and legislative power,” Marotta told DeSmog. “Coming together as a coalition and working with corporations offered a way forward that finally felt tangible.”
The Change the Chamber campaign calls on companies including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Walt Disney, and Yum Brands (the company behind Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) to either quit the Chamber of Commerce or to push the Chamber to end its pro-fossil fuel lobbying.
While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not disclose its members, the campaign traces donations from each of those large corporations to the Chamber in recent years.