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Climate change war roils U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Reuters

The battle over the Democrats' cap-and-trade bill that would cut fuel emission standards and reward energy-saving conversions is causing a rift in a traditionally Republican sanctuary.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long a lobbying powerhouse in Washington and a group most of the time aligned with Republican causes, is exploding with resignations and tensions over the issue.

In the past two weeks, three utilities -- Exelon Corp., PG&E  and PNM Resources -- have resigned over the issue and a fourth company, Nike., resigned from the Chamber's board. Other businesses, such as General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, said they will retain their memberships in the organization despite differences with the Chamber on the issue.

The Chamber claims that limits on greenhouse gas emissions by Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency would be “a job killer’’ that would “completely shut the country down’’ and “virtually destroy the United States.’’ William Kovacs, the Chamber’s vice president for environmental regulation, is advocating a kind of Scopes Monkey Trial over global warming that would put "the science of climate change on trial.’’

As Forbes has noted, the Obama administration has opened a second front in the climate change wars, instructing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions with or without congressional approval.

The Chamber claims that it is just doing its job -- protecting 3 million American companies and their jobs from pointless or costly regulation by Washington. But Democrats are doing cartwheels. "It's an earthquake," said Washington state Democrat Jay Inslee.

Whether the internal Chamber of Commerce politics is also a game changer for the legislation, which passed the House in June but has been stalled in the Senate, remains to be seen.

But it does suggest that a new green caucus has evolved in business circles, at least among companies with a financial or public relations stake in being on the right side of environmental politics.

And it confirms, if there was any doubt left, that elections really do have consequences.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Konrad Steffen / University of Colorado, for Reuters

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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