The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the leading opponents of laws and regulations protecting the environment. It has consistently fought efforts to combat climate change and is a fierce advocate for increased fossil fuel production, including on federal lands and in offshore waters. It has also worked to block or undermine rules protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The Chamber’s environmental and energy policies benefit some of the biggest dirty energy companies in the world, many of which enjoy leadership roles within the group and/or donate substantial sums to it. While the Chamber does not disclose its member companies, many large energy companies voluntarily disclose their membership in the Chamber, including Chevron, Hess, Marathon Oil and Tesoro Petroleum, among others. The Chamber’s board includes several large energy companies such as Southern Company (one of the largest utility companies in the country, with the two power plants emitting the most greenhouse gases in the country), and ConocoPhillips (the third-largest American oil company, with a long history of environmental offenses). Internal Chamber documents obtained by Chamber Watch reveal that in 2007, seven of the 12 external members of the Chamber’s Environment & Energy Committee, which sets environmental and energy policies for the organization, were representatives of energy or utilities companies, including the now-notorious coal executive Don Blankenship.
The Chamber’s Global Energy Institute (formerly known as the Institute for 21st Century Energy) is the public face of the Chamber’s energy advocacy. It promotes an agenda that almost exclusively benefits the fossil fuel industry. Led by Karen Harbert, who was mentioned as a candidate to head President Trump’s Department of Energy, the Global Energy Institute claims to promote an “all of the above” approach to energy policy. In reality, this “all of the above” language is little more than a talking point designed to shield the Chamber from criticism that it is anti-climate and anti-renewable energy. Having once called for putting “the science of climate change on trial,” the Chamber realized that it needed to develop a savvier communications strategy.
This rhetorical shift represents little more than an attempt to divert public attention from a concerted effort by the Chamber to strengthen the fossil fuel industry at the expense of renewables and the environment at large. The Chamber’s so-called “Energy Revolution” agenda proposes propping up the oil, gas and coal industries by gutting pollution restrictions and expanding drilling access on public lands. At the same time, the Chamber seeks to inhibit the growth of renewables by eliminating crucial subsidies. Moreover, an analysis of the Global Energy Institute’s lobbying and tweeting reveals that the organization almost exclusively promotes fossil fuels, with zero support for alternative energy sources.
The Chamber has been a long-standing opponent of action on climate change. It has repeatedly targeted the Clean Power Plan (CPP), bringing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block its implementation. The Chamber has also been critical of the Paris climate agreement. It funded a now-debunked study that dramatically overstated the potential economic costs of the Paris climate accord and ignored the benefits. President Trump then used this report to justify his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, a move which could significantly damage worldwide efforts to address climate change.
The Chamber has also pushed hard to repeal Obama-era regulations relating to methane emissions, designating the repeal effort of one such regulation as a “key vote” for senators. Removing this regulation would pay dividends for polluters in the fossil fuel industry while damaging the environment as methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
At the state level, the Chamber has been no less dogged in its attempts to block efforts to combat climate change. In Colorado, the Chamber supported a lawsuit to void a requirement that at least 20 percent of the electricity sold in the state be generated using renewable energy sources. The Chamber also engaged in a similar battle in California, attacking the low carbon fuel standard that the state had implemented to encourage fuel providers to produce and sell fuel with lower carbon emissions.
Historical documents from the 1970s reveal the Chamber’s enduring opposition to environmental regulations and particularly to the Clean Air Act. This resistance towards clean air regulations continues to this day. The Chamber has supported weakening National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and these efforts will likely yield results under the Trump administration, which has displayed little regard for protecting the environment or public health. The Chamber’s efforts to water down NAAQS also include a lawsuit filed in 2015 against the EPA that alleged that the new standard would have a negative impact on the business community.
With respect to clean water, the Chamber was a big booster of the campaign to repeal the Stream Protection Rule using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in the early days of the Trump administration. The Stream Protection Rule would have prevented coal companies from polluting streams with mining waste. The Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, is the target of another assault by the Chamber. Starting with legal action during the Obama administration, the Chamber has since progressed to working with new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to bring about the rule’s demise. If the rule is repealed, both the environment and small businesses, which the Chamber supposedly represents, will be hurt.
In early 2014, the Chamber filed an amicus brief in support of BP’s effort to re-open a class action settlement it had agreed to in 2012 for the compensation of thousands of American small businesses damaged by the company’s Deepwater Horizon spill. While BP is a foreign company and had already agreed to the settlement, it is also a bigger company, with deeper pockets, than the small businesses damaged by its environmental recklessness, and so the Chamber came to its defense, ignoring the prejudice this would cause to thousands of American small businesses.
In 2015, the Chamber’s efforts to get rid of the decades-long crude-oil export ban ultimately succeeded, increasing profits for Big Oil and pushing the development of renewables further down the national agenda.
In 2017, the Chamber lobbied for a CRA resolution to repeal the Cardin-Lugar Anti-Corruption Rule. The CRA resolution ultimately passed and was signed by President Trump. The effect of this repeal was to void a requirement that Big Oil companies and other corporations in the extractives sector report the payments they make to foreign governments. Abolishing such a transparency provision will deny citizens in dozens of resource rich but corrupt countries the opportunity to hold their governments accountable for the use of public monies derived from resource production.
In a nod to the Chamber’s priority for greater oil and gas production, the Trump administration has also signaled that it will push for greater access to federal lands for fossil fuel development. The Chamber has of course welcomed this proposal.
The Chamber also provides political cover for attacks on environmental regulations that might otherwise conflict with a corporation’s public stance. This shields members of the Chamber from consumer backlash, as nearly half of the companies sitting on the board of directors publically support efforts to address climate change.
For example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord led to considerable backlash from the business community. Companies such as Facebook, Gap, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley had all urged the President not to break the agreement. Meanwhile, these same companies continue to fund the Chamber, providing the money to generate the climate misinformation the Chamber trades in while publically affirming their commitment to sustainability.