A boulder in the path of climate progress
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long played a central role in blocking policy action on climate change and minimizing the challenge we face. A 2021 study from the Brown University Climate and Development Lab reviewed decades of chamber statements and concluded the trade association has been a “powerful force in obstructing climate action.”
But in recent years, a sea change in public support for policy action on climate — along with pro-climate shifts among many of its member companies — have made the chamber’s immovable opposition increasingly, well, awkward. (What hasn’t changed, however, is the chamber’s financial support from Big Oil.)
So, in this historic time for climate policy, did the chamber change its destructive ways — and move out of the way?
The infuriating answer that emerges from a powerful new brief from research think tank InfluenceMap is a resounding no. Reviewing the decisive year for climate policy that just passed, the brief finds that the chamber is still busy blocking progress, even when its positive PR spin suggests otherwise. InfluenceMap gives the chamber an overall grade of E-minus for its climate positions, just a hair above the lowest grade of F, reflecting an anti-climate stance comparable to Big Oil giant Phillips 66.
Notably, the chamber is hugely out of step with the much more positive policy positions taken by pro-climate member companies such as Microsoft and Google (both rated B-plus). Perhaps the biggest divide between these companies and the chamber came last year, when Microsoft endorsed the largest climate investment in history, the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and Google followed suit shortly after passage, touting the bill as driving a “historic climate and clean energy renaissance.”
This massive legislation represented a clear and consequential turning point on climate policy. Did the chamber back this historic bill or at least remain neutral or silent? Nope. “The Chamber has continued to oppose climate policy under the Biden Administration, most notably the Inflation Reduction Act,” says the InfluenceMap brief. The chamber lobbied hard to stop it, and even made an 11th hour effort to block passage by running anti-IRA ads in Arizona, hoping to flip the vote of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
It’s worth noting that (after years of unbroken success in blocking climate legislation) this time the chamber struck out. Sinema voted yes, the climate bill passed and billions of dollars of investment are starting to flow into states and communities, resourcing a national renewables growth spurt that is now tipping the balance toward a clean energy economy. At this point, the chamber is not just on the wrong side of history, it is allowing its energy policies to drift dangerously into the past, even as Republicans ironically attack it as too “woke.”
At times, the chamber may sound like it’s shifting, but that’s a mirage. As InfluenceMap explains, “[Our] analysis suggests a continuing trend of positive PR from the Chamber to create the impression of reform for climate-conscious investors and corporate members. Of the 39 instances of policy engagement captured by InfluenceMap in 2022, 64 percent were negative. In fact, across six major federal climate policies introduced in 2022, the Chamber’s engagement mirrored that of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the country’s predominant fossil fuel industry group.”
But we shouldn’t underestimate the continued destructive force of the chamber’s influence on climate policy — whether through meddling with effective implementation of the IRA, blocking state policy progress or continuing to promote climate disinformation alongside friends in Big Oil. It’s high time to roll this giant boulder out of the path of climate progress.
The most effective force to make that happen is in the corporate community: the powerful member companies who really care about climate, whose employees are passionate about climate and who know that they should no longer back the chamber’s climate obstruction. On this point, not much has shifted — yet. (But stay tuned.)
According to InfluenceMap, not a single member company called out the chamber for actively opposing the IRA, so that’s on them. As I mentioned in an earlier column, it’s “guilt by trade association.” We call on companies that are getting good grades on climate to look at the E-minus that their trade association just got, and move the chamber out of the way of their own stated goals. Extra credit: Counter the chamber’s negative influence by stepping up your own leadership on climate policy to counter the chamber’s obstruction.