Exelon Ditches U.S. Chamber Over Climate Policy, Who Will Leave the "Voice of Business" Next?

Last Updated Sep 29, 2009 2:21 AM EDT

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's stance on climate-change legislation continues to alienate its member base. This time it's Exelon, the third utility to desert the U.S. Chamber in a week.

It's not quite a exodus. But momentum is building against the powerful lobbying group -- described as the voice of business -- and the voices of opposition are coming from within.

Exelon Chairman and CEO John Rowe made the announcement Monday during a speech to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy's national conference about the need for "sensible climate change legislation that puts a price on carbon." Exelon follows the departure last week of two other utilities. Pacific Gas & Electric left over the organization's extreme position on climate change, and New Mexico's PNM said it would allow its membership to expire. Companies including Nike and Johnson & Johnson have issued statements expressing their opposition to the chamber's position on climate change. Both companies have remained members.

The U.S. Chamber fought against the House-passed cap-and-trade bill earlier this year. But it was the U.S. Chamber's call for a Scopes Monkey trial on climate change that has encouraged some companies to ditch the organization.

The chamber has since clarified its position and has tried to distance itself from the Scopes trial dust up. It is not calling for a trial on climate science in general, according to a recent post on its blog. Instead, the organization wants a public hearing on the scientific data used by the Environmental Protection Agency that found greenhouse gases endanger public health and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

This means it wants a review of whether greenhouse gases are harmful. Which is akin to a trial on climate change. So, here we are back at the beginning.

Fear of the EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act is quite possibly the only shared belief between the U.S. Chamber and the companies leaving the organization. It's just that they have different approaches to ensuring that does not happen.

Exelon, the largest electric utility company in the U.S., is championing a cap-and-trade bill and promoting energy efficiency as a low-cost method to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The folks over at Exelon know they stand to lose far less under a cap-and-trade bill than a scenario where the EPA regulates emissions. Exelon would actually fair pretty well under climate legislation because as a company that uses nuclear energy -- as opposed to one primarily using coal -- it would be rewarded for its low-emissions electricity, the WSJ's Environmental Capital notes.

So, which company will be the next to leave?

Duke Energy, which supported the House-passed climate bill, is a possible candidate. Duke's CEO sits on the Chamber's board of directors, which may make the company's departure seem unlikely. But Duke has already left one organization over its anti-climate bill tactics.

Last month Duke left the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity after a lobbying firm hired by the organization was caught sending forged letters to members of the House.

Other board of director members include Massey Energy, oil and gas company ConocoPhillips, Alcoa, Fox Entertainment Group, Nike, drug company Pfizer and IBM.

It's doubtful coal producer Massey Energy -- noted for its anti-climate bill stance -- will depart. Nike has also expressed its concern with the group and its departure would make sense.

A Senate version of climate change legislation is expected to be introduced Wednesday. The U.S. Chamber will ramp up their opposition to the bill, a move that will likely push more of its members out the door.

Image of Exit sign by Flickr user Damien Franco, CC 2.0
  • Kirsten Korosec

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