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September 28, 2009
PG&E Quits US Chamber of Commerce over Differences in Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

Utility cites "fundamental differences" following call by Chamber's senior vice president for "Scopes monkey trial" of climate change science.

Citing "fundamental differences" in their positions on climate change, PG&E, a California-based combination natural gas and electric utility that recently gained the distinction of being named the highest ranking utility in Newsweek's Green Rankings of the 500 largest corporations in the US, has given up its membership in the US Chamber of Commerce.

In a letter to the Chamber quoted on PG&E's Next 100 blog, PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee wrote, "We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another."

In August, the Chamber gained widespread notoriety when Bill Kovacs, its senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, called for public hearings in which the science of climate change could be debated. Saying it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century," Kovacs described such hearings as amounting to a trial of climate change science.

The Scopes trial to which Kovacs referred occurred in 1925, when John Scopes, a Tennessee schoolteacher, agreed to be put on trial for teaching evolution in a classroom. Although the trial ended in a guilty verdict, the widespread attention given to the case was considered to be a defeat for anti-evolution forces.

Claiming that the Chamber supported congressional and international action on global climate change, Kovacs later described his Scopes analogy as "inappropriate."

While Kovacs retreated from his analogy, the Chamber did proceed with a petition to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to hold public hearings on the validity of climate science.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks the influence of money on elections and public policy, the Chamber spent more than $26 million in lobbying efforts in the first seven months of 2009, more than any other organization and almost twice that of Exxon Mobil, which finished second.

Darbee of PG&E contrasted the Chamber's position on climate change with that of the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), an organization with which PG&E has retained its membership. USCAP describes itself as " a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations that have come together to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

According to Newsweek, PG&E finished first in its rankings among utilities, and 66th overall, because of its efforts to control consumer demand for electricity. PG&E also reports having contractual commitments to deliver more than 20% of power from renewable energy sources in the future.


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