While Washington has remained embroiled in the health insurance reform debate other issues have taken a back seat. Reducing the impact of human activity on the environment is one of them. Just because congress hasn’t been talking about global warming doesn’t mean it’s not a discussion topic elsewhere. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lost some high profile members recently as companies head toward the exits due to the chamber’s not only opposition to climate change legislation but open hostility to it.
Surprisingly three of the resignations came from power companies, Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources and Exelon Corp. Apple left as well and Nike resigned from the group’s Board of Directors. But it’s the power companies dropping a group that has long been been a pro business bastion that fascinates me. As Congress has moved toward passing legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the chamber has become increasingly confrontational. The proverbial last straw for the chamber's defectors was its silly proposal back in August that the Environmental Protection Agency stage sort of a "Scopes monkey trial" on global warming science.
Don’t rush off assuming big business has become all environmentally sensitive and everything, this is just as much about corporate profits as the healthcare debate. The climate bill waiting for Senate action would advantage some businesses while costing others, breaking the usual unity in organizations like the Chamber. PG&E, for example, will profit because it generates a great deal hydropower and has been proactive in wind and solar energy; Exelon would be able to make big bucks selling carbon credits because they have so many nuclear plants.
Corporations have just one way to measure the world – profits. This in and of itself is not bad, we just shouldn’t expect anything else from them. But it is an object lesson why we need to have police on the beat. There is a need for rules to play the game by and the rules need to be enforced.
Supporters of the Waxman Markey Bill, talk of green jobs and a better economy. Opponents are just as adamantly predicting economic disaster. There are way too many unknowns as the world grapples with this issue to make either side’s predictions useful. What I think is known is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is likely that cleaning up the mess will be far more expensive than preventing it.
There are only two ways for this scenario to play out. Taxpayers will pay for the flooding, destroyed transportation systems, reduced water supplies, health problems, failed crops and the list of impacts goes on and on. The other option is to require the companies who profit from carbon emissions to pay a little now. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to make it a taxpayer problem. It seems obvious several corporations see the Chambers action harming their profits. It comes down to profits for all concerned.
It shouldn’t be assumed that lobbies know what’s best for their members. Clearly they don’t and in the case of climate change, they may very well be missing what the companies that have resigned have seen: global warming is bad both for profits and for the earth.