The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bills itself as "the voice of business." But when it comes to climate change, business no longer speaks with one voice.
This week, Apple Inc. announced that it's quitting the chamber in protest of its climate policy. The maker of iPods and Macintosh computers joins a handful of other high-profile chamber defectors.
"Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it's frustrating to find the chamber at odds with us in this effort," Catherine Novelli, Apple's vice president for worldwide government affairs, wrote in a letter to the chamber. "We would prefer that the chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue."
The chamber opposed the cap-and-trade climate bill that passed the House earlier this year. It has also fought against the Environmental Protection Agency's recent push to regulate greenhouse gases.
That stance had already driven three big utilities — PG&E Corp., Exelon Corp. and PNM Resources — to announce they are quitting the chamber, and prompted Nike to resign from the board of directors. Apple's departure is yet another rebuke.
"This is a company that is seen as an innovator — that is seen as a company that really can see around the next corner and figure out where they need to be," said Pete Altman of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I think that for a company like Apple to leave the chamber really underscores the fact that the chamber is way behind the curve here."
Some of the defections may reflect the companies' own business interests. Utilities that rely heavily on nuclear power, or that have made big investments in alternative energy, could profit from a cap-and-trade system. New Mexico-based PNM Resources still gets most of its electricity from coal-fired plants. But PNM spokesman Don Brown says his company supported the House bill and was disappointed when the chamber opposed it.
"We've been a member of the chamber for eight years. We had hoped to work within the chamber to influence other members and influence the chamber's position itself," he said. "But it became clear to us over time that that wasn't going to happen."
The Chamber of Commerce did not return NPR's phone calls, but said in a statement last week that it does support strong federal legislation to address climate change. The chamber said it opposed the House bill because it's not "comprehensive" and doesn't include a binding international agreement.
The chamber still boasts some 3 million members — and a powerful checkbook. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the chamber spent nearly $92 million on lobbying last year alone. So it's little wonder that supporters of climate change legislation are making the most of the chamber's recent losses. The Democratic National Committee issued a press release this week trumpeting Apple's decision under the headline, "iQuit."
Some businesses may support climate change legislation because it helps their bottom line. Others may do so because it's part of their marketing strategy. And still others because they feel some kind of regulation is inevitable, and they'd like the predictability that comes from getting it over with.
The chamber's high-profile defections highlight those differing views, just as the climate change debate moves to the Senate.
"The chamber has lost its voice on this issue," the NRDC's Altman said. "When the chamber goes into an office now, the staff and the members are going to know that the chamber is not speaking for the entire business community."