Facing heat over cap and trade, U.S. Chamber changes tone

| 11/4/2009

The picture of climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate continues to morph almost daily, and one player in the debate has changed its tone this week.

Cap and trade would establish limits for several business sectors and is expected to cause sharp increases in fuel and diesel prices. A credit system would allow businesses that operate above limits to purchase credits and would allow businesses with leftover credits to sell on the open market.

The House narrowly approved a cap-and-trade bill in July, and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and John Kerry, D-MA, introduced companion legislation in the Senate in early October.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a letter to Sens. Boxer and Kerry that appeared to offer a newfound willingness to work for climate change law – a stark difference from the Chamber’s very public opposition to cap and trade in recent weeks.

“The Chamber will continue to oppose bad policies that resemble the failed climate proposals of the past, such as bills that jeopardize American jobs, create trade inequalities, leave open the Clean Air Act, open the door to CO2-based mass tort litigation, and further hamper the permitting process for clean energy,” stated the letter, signed by R. Bruce Josten.

“But the Chamber believes Senators Kerry, Graham, and the other named Senators have taken a constructive and positive stand on global climate change and energy security, rising above partisan politics and opening a real discussion on how to address this important issue.”

One name familiar to many truck drivers was absent from the Chamber’s letter. Chamber President Tom Donohue – a former 13-year CEO of the American Trucking Associations – didn’t sign his name to the letter.

Donahue made headlines in recent weeks as the Chamber lost support from several major American businesses that advocate climate change policy and that opposed the Chamber’s criticisms of cap and trade.

Several Chamber members called for Donohue to resign his post at the board of Union Pacific Railroad or leave his Chamber job after news reports revealed the railroad prohibits board members from taking action that conflicts with Union Pacific’s interests.

Boxer chaired two days worth of cap and trade discussions on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a boycott of the meetings by Senate Republicans.

Boxer and other Democrats criticized committee Republicans for not attending the questioning of one EPA official.

“I just want to say for the record, one more time, that the Republicans had one complaint – and the complaint is that they do not think the study that is done by the EPA is sufficient,” Boxer said. “You would think they would show up for this golden opportunity to question the EPA.”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, has said he wants the EPA’s economic analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill – expected to last five weeks – before the proposed legislation is marked up at the committee level.

Boxer has hinted that she’d disregard committee rules of having a quorum for markup, something Inhofe strongly argued against.

“EPA can start today to complete this analysis,” Inhofe said in a written statement he refused to summarize for Democrats Wednesday. “But Madam Chairman, the way we see it, you are standing in the way. So I’m asking you this morning to work with us; let EPA do its analysis, so we can get to a markup. It’s really that simple.

“Madam Chairman, choosing the other course would be unwise. Choosing to set aside the committee’s longstanding rules would jeopardize our ability to work together on other issues.”

Tuesday’s letter from the U.S. Chamber sparked several comments from Senators in the EPW committee meeting.

“Maybe the chamber is starting to listen to its members,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, said during Wednesday afternoon’s Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer