Major Companies Disagree with Trade Groups on Climate Policy

Most Companies Unwilling to Disclose Board Memberships on Powerful Trade Groups

Published Jan 15, 2014

WASHINGTON (January 16, 2014) — Several companies on the boards of powerful trade associations disagree with these groups on climate policy, according to a new report from the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

UCS analyzed major corporations’ responses to several questions about political advocacy and trade group membership in a recent climate reporting questionnaire from CDP, an international not-for-profit organization that administers its annual survey to more than 5,000 companies. This was the first time companies were asked about political activities.

Among the companies that responded, United Parcel Service (UPS) said that it “does not support” all of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s positions on a variety of issues. The company listed climate rules, environmental statutes, the Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act as examples. UPS was the only company among 32 U.S. Chamber of Commerce board members participating in the survey that acknowledged its membership.

Similarly, the Clorox Company wrote that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) “maintains a neutral position on climate change. The Clorox Company, on the other hand, is on record as believing that rising [greenhouse gas] emissions have a significant impact on climate change and the environment.” Clorox added that it supports federal climate legislation and Environmental Protection Agency carbon rules. Out of the 112 NAM board members that received the survey, only 73 participated and just 15 disclosed their relationship with the trade group. Eight other board members, including Halliburton, Ford Motor Company, and Waste Management, noted that their positions on climate policy were mixed or inconsistent with NAM’s.

According to a previous UCS review of trade group positions on climate science and policy, the U.S. Chamber and NAM, along with the American Petroleum Institute, have been vocal in their opposition to climate and renewable energy policies and have attempted to cast doubt on the scientific realities of human-induced climate change.

“Many of these companies are comfortable disclosing their carbon emissions, but they’re much less willing to be open about their political activities,” said Gretchen Goldman, an analyst for the Center for Science and Democracy and the report’s lead author. “It’s a welcome sign that more and more companies are willing to shed light on their policy positions, but the public is still in the dark when it comes to how companies and their trade associations influence government decisions.”

The report recommends that the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) adopt a rule that would require companies to more fully disclose their political activities. Nearly 700,000 citizens have petitioned the agency to do so, but 29 trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber and NAM, wrote to the agency opposing the proposed rule. Last month, the SEC removed consideration of the rule from its 2014 agenda, noting that it is not a current priority.

Companies were also asked how they handled being at odds with official trade groups’ climate positions. Royal Dutch Shell noted that it “attempt[s] to mitigate negative [American Petroleum Institute climate change] positions when necessary.” The company also claimed that it has “little scope” to advocate for climate policy. Just eight of the oil industry trade group’s 26 board members asked to participate in the survey acknowledged their relationship.

General Electric, which is a board member of NAM and a non-board member of the U.S. Chamber, also noted that it disagrees with these groups on climate, but that the groups do “represent them on other issues.”

The report also examined the Edison Electric Institute, which has stated that it accepts mainstream climate science and generally supports addressing climate change. Only 15 of its 54 board members that were asked to complete the survey acknowledged their membership.

Goldman has written a blog post that further examines the results and points to other UCS reports on corporate transparency.