Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — Minnesota business leaders increasingly argue the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes a U.S. Senate energy bill that could cap greenhouse gas emissions, does not speak for them.
Representatives from three companies, whose executives or founders support aggressive action against climate change, spoke Wednesday during a teleconference hosted by Minneapolis-based environmental firm Clean Water Action of Minnesota.
The event spotlighted company leaders who disagree with the U.S. Chamber’s opposition to climate legislation, offering a Minnesota microcosm of what appears to be a backlash against the U.S. Chamber’s opposition to pending climate change legislation.
Also Wednesday, 43 investors and investment-focused organizations, representing more than $16 billion in assets, sent letters to 14 major companies urging them to end a “glaring contradiction” between their stated support of climate change action and opposition to such legislation by the U.S. Chamber and National Association of Manufacturers.
Those letters, from such investment firms as Green Century Capital Management and Walden Asset Management, urged companies — including Alcoa, Boeing Co., Caterpillar, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Whirlpool and Xerox — to fix a “misalignment of positions” that could harm the companies’ businesses and reputations.
Local business executives speaking out included Doug Pierce, a senior associate at the Minneapolis office of architectural firm Perkins and Will; Dave Danielson, who works at Duluth environmental contracting firm Conservation Technologies; and Tom Gegax, founder of TiresPlus and leader of two investment and consulting firms.
Gegax said there is “somewhat of a code of silence among many business people” who belong to the U.S. Chamber but believe in climate change and energy efficiency.
The silence stems from a fear of antagonizing the 25 o 30 percent of their customers who don’t believe action on climate change is needed, Gegax said.
During the summer, the U.S. Chamber attempted to question the “solid science” behind global warming by demanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hold hearings on the science of climate change.
At the time, a chamber representative characterized such an event as the “Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st century,” comparing arguing about the science of climate change to the controversial 1925 court trial over the teaching of evolution.
Conservation Tech’s Danielson said the topic is becoming tied to business as much as to the environment.
“Now it’s becoming more about economics and an economy based on fossil fuels that will not be viable in the future,” he said.
Continued use of fossil fuels, be it coal or other fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases when burned and, in turn, contribute to climate change, is at the heart of the energy bill’s debate.
Environmentalists have sparred with business groups and politicians over the content of an energy bill, most notably some form of cap-and-trade system that would limit emissions of such greenhouse gases as carbon and, over time, reduce emissions limits and charge polluters for their emissions.
The U.S. Chamber’s lobbying and advertising against the energy bill increasingly has put it at odds with companies that disagree with the business group’s conservative stance.
Reflecting that disagreement are the departures from the U.S. Chamber by Apple Computer Co., Exelon, Pacific Gas & Electric and Levi Strauss & Co.
Minnesota business executives said they were not withdrawing their U.S. Chamber memberships.
Rather, Pierce said Perkins and Will intends to alter the U.S. Chamber’s position on issues, including climate change. However, he said, the architectural firm could eventually withdraw its membership, taking its membership dues with it.
The same business-versus-chamber picture is playing out in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce willingly promoting energy efficiency but opposing a cap-and-trade system.
Minnesota business owners say there’s no reason not to fight climate change wherever and however possible.
“We see some of the positions as simply maintaining the status quo,” Pierce said. “At some point, clinging to the status quo is what kills economies.”