Apple joins an exodus of companies from US Chamber of Commerce

A massive energy bill that has already passed the House, and is currently before the Senate, would create new government programs that would not only encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by utilities and energy companies, but set limits over time as to the quantity of that reduction over the next several years. The US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), a private business federation that is not affiliated with the federal government, went on record last August as being skeptical of any legislative or regulatory effort that assumes greenhouse gasses truly endanger human health. Late last month, the Chamber voiced its opposition to that bill.

Today, Apple Inc. joined a growing list of companies including General Electric, athletic apparel maker Nike, and even energy companies such as PG&E and nuclear power plant operator Exelon, in terminating their membership in the Chamber.

The move is Apple's latest in a campaign to change its public image with regard to environmental friendliness, both in its design and its manufacturing practices. Back in January 2007, CEO Steve Jobs found himself in hot (but purified) water after he publicly responded to activist group Greenpeace's inquiries into Apple's manufacturing practices by suggesting that the group "get out of the computer business [and] go save some whales." Now, the company takes an aggressive stance toward improving what it calls its "environmental footprint," and has dedicated a portion of its Web site to the subject.

Apple is also in favor of efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency -- newly reconstituted under President Obama -- to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Last August, USCC threatened to take the EPA to court, to force it to publicly prove that greenhouse gasses are harmful to human health, and to face scientists from the opposition. Describing such an event as a 21st century "Scopes monkey trial," USCC Vice President Bill Kovacs is quoted as having said at the time, "They [EPA] don't have the science to support the endangerment finding. We can't just take their word for it."

In a June 24 letter to members of the House of Representatives (PDF available here), USCC Executive Vice President Bruce Josten advised lawmakers that the energy bill (HR 2454) should go easier on existing energy providers. "Carbon-based fuels are and will remain for decades to come the backbone of the US energy system," Josten wrote. "HR 2454 must do a better job of ensuring that cost effective and reliable renewable and alternative energy sources are developed and deployed to smooth a transition to a low-carbon energy future."

Josten also suggested in that letter that the burden for clearing up greenhouse gas emissions would be hardest on oil refineries, which would be stuck with 40% of the job. "Because oil refiners will be forced to pay for credits, the price of gas will rise significantly for consumers. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that cost impacts could be as much as $.77 per gallon for gasoline, $.83 per gallon for jet fuel, and $.88 per gallon for diesel fuel, all ultimately borne by the consumer."

The Josten letter itself made no reference to the Environmental Protection Agency, or to any allegories dealing with creationism versus Darwinism. But in a September 29 statement that referred to the letter in renewing USCC's opposition to the bill now before the Senate, Chamber CEO Thomas J. Donohue dragged up the EPA matter once again: "We believe that Congress should set climate change policy through legislation, rather than having the EPA apply existing environmental statutes that were not created to regulate greenhouse gas emissions," Donohue wrote. "This is also the stated position of the President and Congressional leaders. If determined to proceed on its own, EPA should publicly present its finding and answer questions on the limited studies it cited, in keeping with the President's pledge of transparency."

For many, that was the last straw. Nike resigned its membership in the Chamber the next day, and now Apple has followed.
"As a company, we are working hard to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions by relying on renewable energy at our facilities and designing more energy-efficient products for our customers," reads yesterday's resignation letter to USCC from Apple Vice President for Worldwide Government Affairs Catherine Novelli. "We have undertaken this unilaterally and without government mandate, because we believe it is the right thing to do. For those companies who cannot or will not do the same, Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the Chamber at odds with us in this effort."

USCC has also been on record as supporting "clean coal" initiatives -- another sector of the energy industry that would be hardest hit by new federal regulations. A similar exodus of member companies has been ongoing from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, most recently by Duke Energy, after allegations emerged that the group's public relations firm forged letters from "concerned citizens" to congresspersons, in opposition to HR 2454.

Recently, USCC has been seen on the public airwaves and cable news in opposition to health care reform legislation, alleging that the entire cost of reform could be passed on to the consumer. "Tax increases to pay for a public plan, employer mandates, and minimum coverage will do more than devastate the private insurance industry -- they could bankrupt our economy," reads a Web page for a petition for congresspersons to oppose the current health care reform bill HR 3200.

With the US Chamber of Commerce taking hard, political, and even questionable stands on behalf of its members, it's difficult to imagine many of those members not wanting to stand aside.

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