The erosion of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s leadership among American businesses has been drawing headlines for nearly two years. What’s drawn less attention is the decidedly West Coast flavor of the high-profile defections and efforts to forge a new coalition of companies that support a national clean-energy push.
In 2009, Apple and California heavyweight utility PG&E were among the highest-profile companies to quit the U.S. Chamber. And Nike left only the chamber’s board as the national group fought a comprehensive climate bill. And now the San Diego Green Chamber of Commerce announced it’s become a national group advocating for clean-energy investment, building on the San Francisco Chamber’s work to build a coalition of “green” chambers.
The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce is also considering cutting it ties to the national group, as Politico reported last December. George Allen, senior vice president of government relations with the Seattle Chamber, said he was “intrigued” by the idea of joining the new green chamber coalition, though the group’s board hasn’t yet met to consider the step.
“It’s an intriguing idea,” he said. “Clearly there’s a need to focus more attention on the clean-energy economy.”
It’s still considering ending its membership and dues-paying to the national group, he said. Most troubling to Seattle businesses leaders were the U.S. Chamber’s aggressive funding against Democrats such as Sen. Patty Murray in last fall’s election and its blanket opposition to national climate policy, Allen said.
“Legislation can be imperfect, but when the U.S. Chamber came out so stridently against the bill … we would not have tried to just decimate it in that way,” he said.
The U.S. Chamber has stayed mum in response to the green upstarts. Asked for comment, a spokesperson referred to a Chamber blog post explaining the work it has done to promote clean energy – arguing for streamlined permitting and hosting renewable energy “dialogues.”
Of course, the U.S. Chamber is more powerful than ever in another sense, with the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allowing it to spend unlimited sums in election campaigns. It spent $33 million in the 2010 campaign and says it plans to raise more for 2012. Lately it’s focused on attacking EPA clean-air protection – not only on carbon but also on ozone pollutants.
The national green chamber hopes not to attack but to replace some of the U.S. Chamber’s influence. The group’s members in San Diego include big companies like Toyota, Kimpton Hotels, Northwestern Mutual and Union Bank. It’s partnering with E2, a network of clean-energy-minded business leaders and plans to work with existing green chambers in San Francisco, Las Vegas and North Carolina, along with chapters in the works in Portland, Florida and Hawaii.
“There are businesses out there that want their voices heard,” David Steel, the president of the U.S. Green Chamber, told TIME magazine. “They don’t feel represented by the positions that the U.S. Chamber might have.”