A corporate split on climate change policy

The Highroad


“The carbon-based free lunch is over,” crowed the speaker. “Breakthroughs on climate change and improving our society’s energy efficiency are within reach,” he declared, to the enthusiastic cheers of environmentalists.

Only, this was not some environmental firebrand at a green energy rally. John Rowe was the speaker, the CEO of Exelon, one of the largest utilities in our country. Rowe’s comments sent a thunderclap through Washington, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was mounting a united corporate stand against Barack Obama’s legislation to reduce global warming emissions.

Not only did Exelon withdraw its support from the Chamber’s position, but it also withdrew from the chamber itself, citing the “stridency” of that organization’s approach. How strident? Chamber officials have claimed that Obama’s plan would “completely shut the country down” and “virtually destroy the United States.”

Then came a histrionic call by one Chamber official to put “the science of climate change on trial.” It would be a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century,” he exulted, thus aligning the Chamber with history’s notorious anti-science forces of ignorance. This outburst prompted two other big utilities to withdraw from the Chamber California’s PG&E and PNM in New Mexico.

The utilities are not alone. Nike and Johnson & Johnson are among other major corporations expressing fundamental disagreement with the Chamber’s head-in-the-sand opposition to Obama’s climate change legislation. It’s too much to call this a corporate green rebellion actually, it’s more like a green dissent from orthodoxy. But it is nonetheless politically significant when even a few big corporations dare to declare publicly that their self-interests have diverged from those of Big Oil and Big Coal, putting them that much closer to the right side of climate change issues.


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