Fissures Grow In Right-Wing Business Lobby As Caterpillar Speaks Out In Favor Of Clean Energy Legislation

ensign121Yesterday, President Obama sat down with members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board to discuss the pending Waxman-Markey energy reform legislation. One of the advisers is James Owens, who is the CEO of Caterpillar and also a member of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the right-wing trade group that has taken a hard-line approach against any energy reform that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the President asked Owens if he saw a “competitive disadvantage” as a “big manufacturer” in dealing with energy reform, Owens said placing a cap on carbon would actually spur innovation:

OWENS: I agree with Jeff. I think we have the technology, we have the smarts here, and the product technologies, the economic incents of what’s needed. And that’s why I think of us in industry support a clarity around a carbon price, because that’s going to drive a lot of innovation and a lot of efficiency and will get with the program of reducing carbon emissions.

Owens continued laying out his support of clean energy legislation, noting most of Caterpillar’s renewable energy related products are currently sold “outside the United States…partly because of the way we regulate emissions site-specific, as opposed to looking at combined emissions and energy efficiency.” He also emphasized that giving the markets a price for carbon would “help our country be more competitive using the technologies that are out there.”

Owen’s increasingly outspoken tone comes at a time of tectonic shifts in the business community on clean energy. Currently, some of the most powerful traditional business trade groups — the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — are devoting their efforts to “kill” clean energy reform legislation. But member corporations of these groups are at odds with this approach. The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a study of the Chamber’s board members’ position on climate change legislation and found:

And out of the group of businesses that have publicly stated their positions, 19 favored federal action and only four opposed it. And three of those four are coal-mining companies.

Earlier this month, the utility company Duke Energy announced it would abandon its membership to the NAM over the trade group’s radical opposition to climate change legislation. When ThinkProgress asked NAM’s chief energy lobbyist about Duke Energy’s departure, NAM cowered and tried to hide its position. Similarly, member corporations such as Nike and Johnson and Johnson have applied pressure to the Chamber to drop its opposition to clean energy legislation.

With Caterpillar and other corporations calling for action on clean energy, the question becomes: will the NAM and other trade groups continue to lobby and fund ads opposing this legislation, or will member corporations find more relevant trade groups that will advance their interests in Washington?