It’s Time to Change the Chamber of Commerce’s Climate Obstruction

For decades, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has opposed pro-climate policy. But the time for denial and obstruction is running out. The historic health and economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has not diminished our national sense of urgency about safeguarding our planet’s future against potentially devastating threats like droughts, fires and rising sea levels.

Increasingly, people recognize that complex problems like climate change require systemic solutions — not just actions by individual people and companies — which, in turn, requires companies and their trade associations to step up and act in the common interest, not just in their own self-interest. After years of promoting denial and delay, the Chamber now says that “inaction is not an option” when it comes to climate change. That sounds good, but their own actions tell another story.

That’s why we’re partnering with a broad coalition of student groups on their #ChangetheChamber campaign. We’re using social media aimed at a few powerful firms, urging them to #ChangetheChamber — and if they can’t change it, to leave.

The Chamber claims to represent businesses spanning a wide diversity in terms of geography, industry and size. But as much of the corporate sector has awakened to the risks to our resilience posed by climate change, the Chamber has become more and more out of step. Less than a decade ago, it was actively promoting climate change denial. Today, while making sympathetic noises about sustainability, the Chamber is still lobbying against climate policies, presumably because they threaten the bottom line of key members. They say they represent Main Street, but something else is clearly going on.

As with most organizations that spread climate denial, the answer lies in how they are funded. As a member-driven organization, the Chamber relies largely on member contributions in order to fund its activities. Chamber Watch and others have documented how the fossil fuel industry is among the Chamber’s biggest funders. There is no doubt that the Chamber is a well-heeled powerhouse that has consistently been the top spender in lobbying efforts since 2000. It backed this up with $10.9 million in political contributions in the 2018 election cycle alone. Little, if any, of that money went to congressional climate champions — most, in fact, went to climate deniers and obstructionists.

The influence of the carbon crowd within the Chamber is not subtle and has persisted in the face of shifting public opinion on climate change. In 2017, as in several prior years, the Chamber vowed to challenge “efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through existing environmental statutes.” This translated into Chamber efforts to oppose restrictions on fracking, and to advocate for opening more federal land and waters to drilling and lifting the oil export ban, a priority for the oil industry. Again and again, the Chamber has shown which side of this fight it is on. Again and again, when it comes to the profits of polluters versus the public’s health and wellbeing, the Chamber sides with polluters. Why shouldn’t they, if those companies are paying its bills?

The Chamber’s position on climate is becoming more and more out of sync with its own members, not to mention consumers and the public. In the last few years, the Chamber has changed its words a little, but not its ways.

So what will change the Chamber? Hearing from powerful member companies that are now silent, and feeling their pressure to support pro-climate policy. There are hundreds of companies that are hiding behind the Chamber’s skirts, and letting them do the dirty work while still publicly pledging their concern about climate change. It’s time for these companies to go #AllinOnClimate, and that includes insisting that the Chamber clean up its pro-carbon act.

Silence and inaction, for companies large and small, is no longer an option. Young people who represent the workforce of tomorrow are watching to see what you do. We call on companies and the Chamber to get on the right side of history — it’s long past due.