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ActivismBusinessClimate ChangeGlobal WarmingPolicies & Politics

Money Pollution: How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tries to Screw the U.S.

us chamber of commerce funds climate deniers pollution

Following up on my posts yesterday on 350.org’s the “U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for me” campaign, Bill McKibben had an excellent post recently that I’ve been wanting to cover.

McKibben tears into the horrendous lobbying record of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which extends much further back than many might realize.

Of course, before we get into how they’ve lobbied for the wrong things repeatedly through U.S. history, there’s something important to note: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce throws A TON of money into lobbying.

It’s got a huge building right next to the White House. It spends more money on political campaigning than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. It spends more money on lobbying that the next five biggest lobbyists combined. And yet it has an unbroken record of error stretching back almost to its founding.

Now, it would be great if they were lobbying for the right things, but as McKibben so concisely and eloquently shows, it is crystal clear that they often don’t.

Take the New Deal, which historians have long since credited as saving capitalism in the U.S. FDR was dealing with a nation ruined by Wall Street excess — a quarter of the country unemployed, Americans starving and hopeless. He gave his first fireside chat of 1935 on April 28, and outlined a legislative program that included Social Security. The next morning, a prominent official of the Chamber of Commerce accused Roosevelt of attempting to ‘Sovietize’ America; the chamber adopted a resolution “opposing the president’s entire legislative package.”

Fast forward to the next great challenge for America. FDR, having brought America through the Depression, was trying to deal with Hitler’s rise. In the winter of 1941, with the British hard-pressed to hold off the Germans, FDR proposed what came to be called the Lend-Lease program, a way of supplying the allies with materiel they desperately needed.

Only 22% of Americans opposed the Lend Lease program — they could see who Hitler was – -but that sorry number included the Chamber of Commerce. The lead story in the New York Times for February 6, 1941 began with the ringing statement from the Chamber’s president James S . Kemper that “American business men oppose American involvement in any foreign war.”

It’s not just that this was unpatriotic; it was also plain stupid, since our eventual involvement in that “foreign war” triggered the greatest boom in America’s economic history. But it’s precisely the kind of blinkered short-sightedness that has led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce astray over and over and over again. They spent the 1950s helping Joe McCarthy root out communists in the trade unions; in the 1960s they urged the Senate to “reject as unnecessary” the idea of Medicare; in the 1980s they campaigned against a “terrible 20” burdensome rules on business, including new licensing requirements for nuclear plants and “various mine safety rules.”

What’s the situation today? It’s as bad as ever. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, alienating many of its biggest members and many more of its smaller members, has turned on a full-scale attack on climate change and clean energy legislation and the entire EPA. In essence, this means trying to doom the United States and the world to countless deaths and immeasurable human suffering. It also dooms the U.S. to a very grim, dark economic future. Clean energy, as the world’s leading investors and economists will tell you, is the economic driver of the near future (if not the present). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, dominated by fossil fuel interests, is trying to keep the U.S. in the relative stone ages of the 20th century while other leading economies like China, India, and the European Union, move forward fast.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is holding back the future of the United States and in the interest of a handful of rich, old dirty energy giants.

Here’s more from McKibben on this:

If there’s a modern equivalent of World War II, of course, it’s the fight against global warming. Again a majority of Americans want firm action, because they understand the planet has never faced a bigger challenge — but that action’s been completely blocked in Washington, and the U.S. Chamber is a major reason why. They’ve lobbied against every effort to cut carbon, going so far as to insist that the EPA should stay out of the fight because, if the planet warmed, “populations can acclimatize via a range of range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” That is to say, don’t ask a handful of coal companies to adapt their business plans, ask all species everywhere to adapt their physiologies. Grow gills, I guess.

There’s a reason the U.S. Chamber always gets it wrong: they stand with whoever gives them the most cash (in 2009, 16 companies provided 55% of their budget). That means that they’re always on the side of short-term interest; they’re clinically, and irremediably, short-sighted. They recently published a list of the states they thought were “best for business,” and the results were almost comical — all their top prospects (Mississippi!) ranked at the very bottom of everything from education to life expectancy.

This is why perhaps the biggest climate activism organization in the world is focusing on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and helping others to realize that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for them and leave it. More on that to come…

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Image via 350.org




One comment
  1. @CurleyUS

    Chamber of commerce is an imposing building. Have you seen it’s front? ~huge posters that read J O B S “brought to you by the US Chamber of Commerce” all across it. If I had a better vocabulary I might say something like maslovian. I’ll just call it overbearing and phony.

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