Commentary

Businesses need to stand up to the Chamber of Commerce on the environment — Opinion

August 20, 2021 6:00 am

Marcelino Zuni and Larkin Chandler conduct a burnout in the Poverty Flats fire in Big Horn County Photo by Josh Hanks/Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has membership from companies that employ more than 500,000 Minnesotans and feature some of our state’s most admired and respected names, including Target, General Mills, Best Buy and Cargill. When it comes to climate action, however, the values of the Chamber — and the workforce and companies it represents — are worlds apart.

This month the U.N.-sponsored, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a dire report on the state of our planet. It offers the most grave warnings yet: Without immediate and transformational change, humanity is on a near-future apocalyptic course.

In light of all that scientists have repeatedly demonstrated about the impacts of climate change, by opposing nearly every pro-environment proposal and legislation over the past decade or more, the Chamber has emerged as a fringe group. It is not only woefully out of step with the aforementioned member companies — all of which have strong sustainability goals and policies — but it is also out of step with the values of Minnesotans, 66% of whom favor a 100% transition to clean energy sources by 2050.

The latest in the long history of opposition to climate legislation from the Chamber came just last month after the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board’s recommendations to update the 50-year-old review standards for new industrial projects. The new standards would require that projects calculate the potential carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions in order to develop mitigating strategies for those emissions. 

What is most striking about the Chamber’s history of opposition is just how radical it is on environmental issues, even in comparison to many of the state’s Republican lawmakers. 

During the recent legislative session, lawmakers passed with bipartisan support the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act (ECO), the most significant energy legislation in more than a decade. The bill passed with support from business groups and labor unions, opposed only by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Propane Association. Even many of the Chamber’s own member corporations came out in support of the bill.

Also in the most recent legislative session, House and Senate Democrats introduced bills that would require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to evaluate air pollution levels for companies seeking permits in low-income communities, where air pollution is considerably worse than averages in other communities across the state. Once again, the Chamber stands opposed. Invariably, the Chamber’s position is that environmental action and business interests are mutually exclusive, sometimes opting for words like “dangerous” for business when characterizing environmental legislation.

A recent article in Forbes showed that the Chamber’s extremist anti-environment stance is actually shortsighted, even if their only concern is profit. From labor shortages, facilities damage, and supply chain disruption to the inability to afford — or even obtain at any price — insurance coverage, companies are already losing significant money from climate change. Many businesses are adopting sustainability initiatives, leading the way on climate innovation and technology and demonstrating just how archaic our Chamber is on climate change.

Commenting on the update of the environmental review standards, the Chamber told MPR News that “the timing of the proposal right now for us is concerning.” 

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Ironically, that very same day, Minnesota was experiencing an “unprecedented” air quality alert from Canadian wildfires, with more than 70% of the state in a severe drought. Similarly, the IPCC report demonstrated that the wildfires, floods and heat waves that we are experiencing throughout the world are merely a foreshadowing of what is coming. It makes one wonder what kind of catastrophe would need to happen for the Chamber to endorse an update to environmental standards that were developed before anyone had even heard of climate change.

The reason Minnesotans should care about the Chamber’s historical opposition to environmental action is because of the power it wields in the state. In addition to having representation on its Board from Flint Hills/Koch Refinery, it is the No. 1 spender on lobbying in Minnesota. Another big spender: Enbridge Energy, the company behind the notorious Line 3 pipeline project. Not surprisingly, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has publicly supported the construction of the Line 3 pipeline.

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With so much support for climate action and sustainability from members of the Chamber, including many of Minnesota’s largest and most influential companies, a question arises: Who exactly does the Chamber represent? And should its member companies better understand their association with such a powerful organization with such fringe positions?

If environmentalists are more effective by being balanced and measured in their causes and opinions, shouldn’t we expect the same from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce? Shouldn’t its members? 

Remaining unaccountable for its extremist anti-environment positions, the Chamber will, no doubt, become more and more dangerous for Minnesota business.

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Michael Rockhold
Michael Rockhold

Michael Rockhold of Long Lake is a writer and IT executive and volunteers with MN350, the Minnesota affiliate of the climate justice organization 350.org.

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