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Weekly Mulch: Companies ditch chamber for climate bill

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Major utility corporations, like Exelon, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E)  and New Mexico’s PNM have announced that they are leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the organization’s controversial stance toward climate change and opposition to a clean energy bill. The Chamber represents business interests, and according to a New York Times editorial, “no organization has done more to undermine [climate change] legislation.”

Air America’s Beau Friedlander explains that the three utility companies stand to win a lot from climate change legislation, as they produce electricity at nuclear power plants that release minimal carbon emissions. Yet their departure from the Chamber is still significant because Exelon is the nation’s largest utility, and PG&E is the second largest utility in California.

Moreover, Jonathan Hiskes of Grist notes that PG&E’s environmental values clash with the 97-year-old business advocacy group. PG&E is a leader in solar energy, and both PG&E and Exelon are members of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), an alliance of environmental groups and businesses that advocate for climate change legislation. Other companies like Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft decided to continue their membership, but have expressed that they do not agree with the Chamber’s position on climate change.

Chamber leaders tried to defend themselves on Tuesday, arguing that they have “mainstream, commonsense views” towards climate change. Thomas Donahue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, explained that just because the organization opposes Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations of greenhouse gas emissions and the Waxman-Markey bill, it doesn’t mean that they oppose climate change action altogether. Yeah, right. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones points out that the Chamber’s recent claims are inconsistent with their track record:

“…The Chamber spent more than $17 million dollars in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress, much of that in opposition to cap-and-trade policy. They’ve also threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if they move forward on regulating carbon dioxide, and formally filed suit against the EPA for granting California the right to set higher automobile emissions standards.”

Andrew Leonard also calls out the Chamber’s contradictions in a piece for Salon titled “How to lie about climate change.” In another statement for the Chamber, Eric Wohlschlegel said that the Chamber “never questioned the science behind global warming…[but] the science behind the EPA’s recent finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare.” Leonard calls Wohlschlegel’s assertion a blatant lie, recalling that the Chamber asked the EPA in August to defend their findings in court. The case is strikingly similar to the Scopes Monkey trial. Much like pitting evolution against creationism in a court of law, it’s pretty ridiculous that the science behind climate change is still in question.

Finally, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) revealed a draft of the new climate bill on Wednesday. Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo notes that the new bill, called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, is still a work in progress and is expected to change dramatically as it moves through the Senate.

“When that’s all done, and the whole thing’s stitched back together, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can bring it to the floor. He’s suggested that this may not happen until next year, but whenever it happens; expect a punishing debate and votes on amendments, which will culminate in a filibuster. If it can muster 60 votes to overcome that, then it may be in the clear. Bloodied and battered, but alive. But that’s hardly a safe bet.”

AlterNet’s Brian Merchant outlines the pros and cons of the new draft and touches on how it differs from the House’s climate bill. Key changes include steeper emission reduction targets, added incentives for nuclear power and more affordable carbon offsets. The new bill also gives the EPA the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and introduces a price collar on carbon, which limits how cheap or expensive carbon prices can be. The price collar will prevent prices from falling too low and stabilize costs.

“So while the bill appears far from ideal, I’m actually encouraged—this looks like a bill that has a real shot at passing, and it would at least set us solidly on the long-overdue course to start seriously reducing emissions,” Merchant writes.

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