Update January 10, 2018: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed today it is no longer trying to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions, but top U.S. Chamber officials still continued to mislead on climate science and align with the Trump administration’s attacks on key climate change policies.

Neil Bradley, chief policy advisor for the U.S. Chamber, posted this response to a question I posed during the Chamber’s #Jobs18Chat on Twitter this afternoon:

However, U.S. Chamber president Tom Donohue made statements today on climate change that were not “grounded in science.” 

“To suggest that climate change — which, by the way, we can follow for 3 billion years — is predominantly caused by humans is an overstatement,” Donohue said, according to E&E News.

Donohue also criticized the Paris climate agreement and Bradley said that the U.S. Chamber is backing the Trump administration’s effort to replace the Clean Power Plan, as E&E News first reported.

The U.S. Chamber has also rolled out new energy policy priorities for 2018 that included replacement of the Clean Power Plan. 

This post was also updated on January 5, 2018, with comments from American Electric Power found that were added to the original post below.

When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rolls out its policy priorities for 2018, it will reveal whether or not it will continue to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The U.S. Chamber will roll out its policy priorities for the new year on January 10, when the group’s president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue will deliver his 2018 State of American Business Address. Donahue’s annual address comes at a time when the U.S. Chamber faces a growing rift with its members that, unlike the Chamber, support the Paris climate agreement.

One of the U.S. Chamber’s policy priorities for 2017 was to “Oppose EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act, including the endangerment finding.”

This wasn’t a new position that the U.S. Chamber adopted in anticipation of the incoming Trump administration. The U.S. Chamber opposed the endangerment finding in its policy priorities in every year from 2010 to 2017.

The EPA’s 2009 science-based endangerment finding confirmed that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” It also empowered the EPA to limit these harmful emissions under the Clean Air Act, in accordance with a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision.

Leading members of the U.S. Chamber currently include fossil fuel and utility interests, such as Peabody Energy and Southern Company, that have long denied established climate science and fought against EPA limits on carbon dioxide emissions. But the U.S. Chamber’s controversial positions on climate science and policy have also led some major corporations to leave the industry group, including Apple, Nike, and the electric utilities PG&E, PNM and Exelon.

Update: Melissa McHenry, director of external communications for U.S. Chamber member American Electric Power (AEP), responded to a request for comment from the Energy and Policy Institute. McHenry’s response (below) made clear that AEP’s position on the endangerment finding does not align with the one long held by the U.S. Chamber:

We have not and do not support efforts to repeal the EPA’s endangerment finding.  We do support a replacement for the Clean Power Plan that is consistent with the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

AEP has factored future carbon regulations into our evaluation of generation resource options for many years, and we continue to do so. We have cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 44 percent since 2000 and will reduce emissions further as we continue to transition to cleaner forms of energy. Our long-term strategy includes adding a significant amount of new renewable energy and natural gas generation that will diversity our fuel mix and keep costs low for our customers.

In 2015, AEP told The Guardian that it had left the American Legislative Exchange Council and would be working with states on the Clean Power Plan, which established the EPA’s first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants:

“We let (Alec) know that we won’t be renewing our membership in 2016,” she said. “We are reallocating our resources as we focus on our work with the states around the Clean Power Plan. There are a variety of reasons for the decision. We have long been involved in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, in 2016, AEP revealed to the Climate Investigations Center that it was still “participating in the legal challenges of the Clean Power Plan” through its membership in the Utility Air Regulatory Group.  

The election of Donald Trump as president seemed to signal an opening for the U.S. Chamber to target the endangerment finding. 

“Will your administration review the Obama administration’s finding that carbon dioxide endangers public health and welfare, also known as the ‘endangerment finding’?,” the fossil fuel industry-backed American Energy Alliance asked then-presidential candidate Trump in 2016.

“Yes,” Trump responded.

But shortly after Trump’s inauguration, a senior energy official at the U.S. Chamber warned that any effort to rescind the EPA’s endangerment finding could prove to be “huge, huge buzzsaw” politically for the new administration.

“There’s going to be hell to pay from, you know, soccer moms and soccer dads all throughout the country,” said Christopher Guith, a senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute, at an event in the coal state of Kentucky. “People who probably voted for Donald Trump.”

A spokesperson then told E&E News that Guith’s remarks were “based on a political analysis of the situation,” and did not represent the U.S. Chamber’s official policy on the issue.

The U.S. Chamber now faces the possible departure of BHP Billiton, a major producer of fossil fuels that supports the Paris climate agreement. Fact checkers at the Associated Press, PolitiFact, and the Washington Post have also taken issue with a misleading NERA Economic Consulting study sponsored by the U.S. Chamber, which the Trump administration has used as an excuse for its decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

The U.S. Chamber – or at least several of its members – also likely had a front row seat as industry members of the American Legislative Exchange Council recently killed a draft policy resolution that would have called on the Trump administration to reconsider the endangerment finding. Rob Engstrom, a senior vice president and national political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, serves on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Council.

Among the companies that opposed the ALEC resolution were U.S. Chamber members, including Chevron and ExxonMobil. They also included the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which have worked with the U.S. Chamber and other industry groups to oppose EPA limits on carbon dioxide emissions since as far back as the 1990s. A letter to ALEC signed by Chevron, EEI, NRECA, and others stopped short of defending climate science, and voiced concerns that industry could be exposed to climate-related lawsuits if the endangerment finding were overturned.

Will Chevron, ExxonMobil, EEI, NRECA, and others similarly call on the U.S. Chamber to leave opposing the endangerment finding out of its policy priorities for 2018?

In 2017, EEI, NRECA, and the U.S. Chamber were among the industry associations that called on the Trump administration to replace Obama-era EPA limits on carbon dioxide emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, with a weaker regulation. They stopped short of calling on Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to target the endangerment finding, at least publicly.

If the U.S. Chamber finally formally ends its opposition to the EPA’s endangerment finding, it could still find itself at odds in 2018 with members, such as Florida Power & Light and Google, who have supported the Clean Power Plan. But it would still represent a step away from climate change denial for the U.S. Chamber, which not so long ago called on the EPA to put climate science on trial much like opponents of evolution did back in 1925.

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.