Rift at U.S. Chamber of Commerce over climate change

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 30, 2009 4:27pm EDT

Avocado trees that have been stumped are seen on a hillside in Fallbrook, California March 3, 2009. WATER/AGRICULTURE REUTERS/ Mike Blake

Avocado trees that have been stumped are seen on a hillside in Fallbrook, California March 3, 2009. WATER/AGRICULTURE

Credit: Reuters/ Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The fight over climate change has spread to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where prominent members of the American big-business lobby -- including Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Exelon -- are publicly disputing the group's stance on global warming legislation.

The most recent critic, Exelon Corp, announced on Monday it would not renew its membership in the chamber. The decision by the largest nuclear operator in the United States followed moves by California utility PG&E Corp and New Mexico-based PNM Resources Inc in the last week.

Sportswear giant Nike Inc stopped short of leaving but chided the chamber in a statement circulated on September 22 that criticized its recent challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions as pollution.

Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest healthcare company by market value, criticized the chamber earlier this year for failing to "reflect the full range of views" of its members on climate change.

"It's not unusual for us to have some dissension over policy issues," the chamber's Eric Wohlschlegel said in a telephone interview. "Our views represent the majority of our membership through our policy committees in a democratic process."

In a statement on Tuesday after Exelon's announced departure, the chamber said it favors "mainstream, common sense views" on climate change but opposes a carbon-capping bill that the House of Representatives narrowly passed on June 26.

DEFECTIONS BEFORE UNVEILING

Senate legislation that builds on the House measure is set to be unveiled on Wednesday.

Without commenting specifically on individual corporations' criticism of the chamber's climate policy, Wohlschlegel said the business group's membership is growing.

There is also dissent at another group, the National Association of Manufacturers. Duke Energy said in May it would let its membership lapse because of the association's opposition to climate legislation.

Duke Energy said in September it would leave the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy for essentially the same reason.

Exelon, Duke Energy, PG&E and PNM are all members of the corporate and environmental coalition U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which favors federal law requiring "significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

Nike is a founding member of another environmental business coalition, Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.

The more traditional business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are out of step with their members, said Tony Kreindler of the Environmental Defense Fund.

"They're lagging behind where their members actually are and I think what we're seeing now is companies that have already made up their minds (on climate change) are losing patience," Kreindler said by telephone. "Lots of companies want a bill to get the uncertainty out of the process."

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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