The U.S. Chamber of Commerce touts itself as the world's largest business federation, boasting 3 million members. Er, make that 2,999,996. And falling.
The chamber has been beset by embarrassing headlines recently, as large companies that oppose the organization's hostility toward climate-change legislation head for the exits. The very public departures of three utilities -- San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric, Albuquerque-based PNM Resources and Chicago-based Exelon Corp. -- were followed by Dear John letters to the chamber from Nike and Apple (Nike will keep its membership but resigned from the chamber's board of directors).
The chamber has long been a standard-bearer for polluters, but as Congress has gotten closer to approving legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it has become increasingly combative. The last straw for the chamber's defectors was its nonsensical proposal in August that the Environmental Protection Agency stage a "Scopes monkey trial" on global warming science -- a political stunt that annoyed corporate leaders who take the problem seriously.
The climate bill now in the Senate would benefit some businesses while costing others, posing a headache for associations such as the chamber. PG&E, for example, stands to be a big winner because it generates a great deal of carbon-free hydropower and has invested heavily in wind and solar energy; nuclear-power giant Exelon also could make a killing on carbon credits. Defections by a handful of such companies won't change the chamber's stance on the climate bill, but the ensuing controversy has, mercifully, prompted its chief executive, Tom Donohue, to tone down his rhetoric.