Paris Pullout Pits Chamber Against Some of Its Biggest Members

  • Trump used U.S. Chamber of Commerce study to justify pull out
  • Chamber member companies weighed in to support climate accord

What the U.S. Departure Means for the Paris Agreement

As President Donald Trump mulled whether to exit the Paris climate accord, companies as varied as Dow Chemical Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Citigroup Inc. prodded him to stay in.  

But when Trump announced his decision, he cited research from one business behemoth that’s issued a steady stream of criticism to the Paris deal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that counts all three companies as members.

That disconnect between corporate executives and the nation’s top corporate lobbying force is reviving pressure on the Chamber -- and on the companies that remain members despite their differences over climate policy.

“For decades, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been big polluters’ partisan enforcer in Washington," Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who co-authored a congressional report last year about this corporate disconnect over climate change, said in an emailed statement. 

“It’s time for member companies to ask themselves whether they want to side with a relentless climate foe, or protect the health and safety of the American people and the reputation of our country," he added.

Public Citizen and other groups say they are starting a petition drive to prod three companies -- Walt Disney Co., Gap Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. -- to drop their connection to the U.S. Chamber. That organized pressure is reminiscent of 2009, when companies that advocated for federal action to address climate change such as Apple Inc. and Exelon Corp. quit the Washington group as it lobbied to derail cap-and-trade legislation.

"You’ve got a lot of companies that are really talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Dan Dudis, who heads the Chamber Watch project at Public Citizen.

Read More: Paris Exit Leaves Trump Isolated From C-Suites to Capitals

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $104 million on lobbying last year making it the top lobbying spender among 3,734 groups tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. Among the issues it has championed are reworking the Affordable Care Act, business tax cuts and opposition to a minimum wage hike. The group, which has its headquarters across Lafayette Square from the White House, says it was officially neutral on the Paris accord despite its long list of criticisms.

The Chamber said in a statement that the business community “stands ready to fashion solutions to keep America prosperous, clean and secure. America should choose a path for an energy future that is achievable, affordable, and most importantly meaningful.”

From coal producer Cloud Peak Energy Inc. to electric-automaker Tesla Inc., corporate America has broadly supported the Paris climate accord, a 2015 agreement of nearly 200 nations to address the threat of climate change. The deal is the first to include pledges from developing nations such as India and China to curtail their emissions, as well as developed nations in North America and Europe.

Read More: Chamber’s Donohue Keeps Cash Coming After PG&E, Apple Defect

Among the companies that signed onto an open letter to publicly support the Paris climate agreement were Microsoft Corp. and Google’s Alphabet Inc. Ivanka Trump appealed to Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris to spearhead a late lobbying push to try to save U.S. involvement in the pact. And executives’ response to Trump’s decision was quick and overwhelmingly negative. Robert Iger, the chief executive of Disney, resigned from a White House advisory council. Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft weighed in with their dismay, too.  

In response to questions from Bloomberg, companies said they agree with the Chamber on some issues, but not all. Others say they are putting pressure on it to change course.

“We have been outspoken in our support for the Paris agreement and have had a dialogue with the Chamber about how its views and advocacy on climate policy are inconsistent with Citi’s position," Citigroup spokeswoman Elizabeth Kelly said in an email. "Citi does not expect to be in agreement with every position our trade associations take."

Time to Time

Dow, which gave the Chamber $1.8 million for lobbying in 2016, "participates in many trade and business associations," the chemical-maker’s spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra, said in an e-mail. "From time to time, we find ourselves in disagreement with the prevailing views of the majority of the U.S. Chamber’s membership, including issues such as climate change."

“PepsiCo’s longstanding commitment to addressing climate change will not change,” the company said in a statement that didn’t address questions about its ties to the Chamber.

"No organization speaks for Ford on every issue," Christin Baker, a Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman, said. "The Chamber has been actively supportive of tax reform, but takes a different view on climate. We will continue to work with the Chamber on issues where we are aligned."

Companies may differ with the Chamber on climate change, but agree on taxes or labor issues, said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America, a Washington research organization. Still, they face the risk of customer blowback.

"Any company with a consumer-facing brand has to worry about its reputation," Drutman said in a phone interview. “If it’s on the wrong side of a political issue that its customer base is passionate about, it could find itself losing a lot of customers."

Read More: What Did Trump Just Do? The Paris Climate Withdrawal Explained

Oil giant Exxon, which disclosed giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation $1 million in 2015, advocated for staying in the Paris accord, as its chief executive Darren Woods argued that oil demand will continue to grow in the coming decades even with the agreement in place.

"We believe that the United States is well positioned to compete within the framework of the Paris Agreement, with abundant low-carbon resources such as natural gas, and innovative private industries," spokesman Alan Jeffers, said in an email. He declined to comment on the Chamber’s report on Paris.

While the Chamber said it hadn’t made a recommendation on whether the U.S. should remain in Paris, it issued a series of criticisms of the pact since even before it was completed. 

In congressional testimony, it said the U.S. pledge to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent would hike U.S. energy costs and diminish job creation -- and that the pact would not do much to actually curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. The Chamber jointly funded a study in March that determined the deal could slice $3 trillion off U.S. gross domestic product by 2040. 

Trump made specific reference to that study, and each of the group’s earlier arguments, in announcing his decision to pull the U.S. out of the pact.

“The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have 7,000 less income, and in many cases, much worse than that,” Trump said in the Rose Garden ceremony June 1.

Kevin Steinberger, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, said the Chamber’s claim that it was neutral on the accord was "disingenuous."

"The report was clearly aimed at attacking the Paris agreement and used an unrealistic scenario to do so," he said.

— With assistance by Hugh Son, and Keith Naughton

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