November 30, 1999

PG&E takes Chamber of Commerce to the Woodshed

“Pacific Gas and Electric considers climate change to be among the most serious issues ever for our company, our country, and the world.”

With those words, Peter Darbee, the Chairman, CEO, and President of Pacific Gas and Electric canceled his company’s membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In no uncertain terms, Darbee rejected the Chamber’s attempt to relitigate the scientific consensus about climate change. And I do mean relitigate – the Chamber has proposed that the EPA submit to a public “trial” on the science of climate change. Seriously.

It’s really encouraging that businesses, such as PG&E, are dispensing with such nonsense. As Darbee put it, the locus of the debate needs to shift to how to deal with climate change – “in our view, 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.”

I was particularly grateful to my colleague, Jay Gulledge, for sending me the letter yesterday (which you can read here) because I had a dismaying experience on this score. CNAS research on critical minerals has led me to believe that there are very important implications to that trade for global economic security, the defense industrial base, and new green/clean energy technologies. I was really thrilled, therefore, when I was invited to participate in a conference on the subject in February, which included a panel on the strategic issues surrounding the minerals trade.

But then I looked at the website of the sponsoring group and found this page. It is rife with links to dubious climate change “denier” material and is basically adversarial toward the environmental movement. I’m sure they have good reasons for feeling adversarial – mining is not, after all, a business the Sierra Club loves – but this seems gratuitous and dated.

We are all going to have to face the fact that the energy powering the modern global economy will depend on extractive industries for the foreseeable future – and by that I mean that as we wean the nation off of oil and coal, we will rely more on the minerals that are so important for solar, wind, electric vehicles and other “renewable” energies. This is actually a reason for the mining and environmental communities to come together, not to continue to throw rocks at each other from a safe distance. Indeed, perhaps this group should add to its event in February a panel on the potential for new partnerships.

PGE's Letter to U.S. Chamber of Commerce