Choosing Sides in the Climate Debate

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | September 9, 2009 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy

While many Americans and most of the media remained focused on the issue of health care policy, corporate giants are quietly and not-so-quietly choosing sides in another national debate: energy and climate policy.

Although some energy titans are predictably on the defensive as Congress crafts a new energy policy, others are emerging as unlikely allies in efforts to reduce carbon emissions.  Back in May, while the US House of Representatives was beginning debate on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, energy giant Duke Energy declined to renew its membership with the National Association of Manufacturers.  Two reasons were offered for the break-up: belt tightening in a tough economy and, more importantly, irreconcilable differences.  NAM questions the existence of man-made global warming and maintains that taking action would harm the economy while Duke Energy is a member of the US Climate Action Partnership.  Then, just last week, Duke Energy canceled its membership with American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) for much the same reasons:

“We believe that some individual members of ACCE are working to pass climate change legislation, and we support that.  But we also believe that the organization itself is constrained by influential member companies who will not support passing climate change legislation either this year or next,” said Middleton.

Duke is not the only corporation distancing itself from climate-deniers – Tennessee-based Alcoa left ACCCE over the summer and just today the wires were abuzz with news that Alstom Power was fleeing from ACCCE, as well.   However, large corporations are not speaking with a single voice – or even a single language.  While some businesses envision what the future may hold, others harken back to post-World War I America for inspiration.

In August, the US Chamber of Commerce proposed that the EPA hold a ‘Scopes’-like public hearing to examine the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.  Although this story line reads like a parody right out of The Onion, references to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trail of 1925 were provided by the Chamber of Commerce itself, not environmentalists or the media.

“It would be evolution versus creationism,” said William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.”

While the Chamber has backed off their original references to the Scopes Monkey Trials calling them “inappropriate,” the business lobby is still questioning the validity of more than half a century of scientific results in order to sow small seeds of doubt in the minds of policy makers.

If forging letters and staging ‘citizen’ rallies weren’t enough, some corporations are now overtly embracing regressive energy platforms.  This past weekend in West Virginia, Verizon Wireless sponsored the pro-coal, pro-mountaintop removal “Friends of America” rally to celebrate what a tee shirt so cleverly proclaimed was “Coalstock 2009.” While Verizon maintained they were supporting a local event and not taking sides in a political issue, thousands of activists across the country felt otherwise and signed petitions, called Verizon customer service and Tweeted/blogged about this prior to the rally.  It’s safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of former-Verizon customers are no longer asking “Can you hear me now?”

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