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Shell Chairman and the Chamber of B.S. October 16, 2009

Posted by carolynauw in chamber of commerce, climate bill, copenhagen.

Yesterday the Action Factory greeted Royal Dutch Shell’s Chairman Jorma Ollila at the National Press Club’s newsmaker luncheon.  He promised to discuss “energy and the need for worldwide action to address climate change in advance of international climate talks in Copenhagen,” but we just got a lot of hot air and a tummy ache.  And we called him out on it a couple times.

Actually, the real reason Ollila was speaking is because he‘s the new chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a CEO-led group of 200 companies that encourages sustainable development.  That translated to a speech filled with rhetoric about businesses being good corporate citizens and that if government would lead on climate change, business would provide back up.  Sounds good, except that Congress has been working hard on climate legislation for the past several months and the Chamber of Commerce has been pouring money into stopping it.

Ahhh, yes, the Chamber.  This was the real reason we bought an overpriced lunch, and I personally sat through 30 minutes of small talk with five American Petroleum Institute cronies.

Back in August, Bill Kovacs, the Chamber’s VP of Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs, called for a “Scopes Monkey Trial” on climate change, horrifying many of the Chamber’s members with such an extreme talking point.  Since then, four companies have resigned in protest – Exelon, PG&E, PNM Resources, and Apple  – while Nike left its position on the board of directors.  Many others have publicly stated that the Chamber does represent them on climate change (for the full round-up, see Pete Altman’s blog on NRDC’s website here.)

USCAP, on the other hand, is a group of businesses advocating for a “mandatory, flexible climate program” including cap and trade and other market-based carbon reduction regulation and incentives.  And guess who’s a member?  You guessed it – Shell.

This contradiction led us to scribble down a pretty obvious question to Ollila for the Q&A, which was so obvious, in fact, that seven people asked the same question (despite the room being packed with industry types).

Happily for us, it was our expertly phrased question read aloud to Ollila (starts at 50:30):

“Shell is a member of both USCAP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, groups with opposing agendas on climate legislation and on Copenhagen.  Does the Chamber of Commerce speak for Shell when they lobby against climate legislation?”

Starting with a “mmmm, yeah . . . how did I guess it might be this one,” Ollila proved he didn’t prep very well despite the anticipation.  After his long, drawn-out answer, the nugget was this: although Shell won’t leave the Chamber or any trade association over one issue like this,

“that has to be coupled with a situation where everybody transparently knows that we disagree with the view and this is exactly happening . . . that there is a disagreement between Shell’s position and in this case, the Chamber position.”

It was good to hear Ollila publicly acknowledge that difference but something still rankled.  In the course of the Q&A, Ollila answered another question with the gem that “as a businessman during the past 30 years, I have learned to trust more on the actions than the talk.”

So how are we supposed to trust this talk when Shell’s Chamber dues are still paying for lobbyists to obstruct climate legislation?

We tracked him down for some further clarification.  Watch our video for that exchange as well as his first answer during the formal Q&A.

Of course Shell will continue to spout feel-good doublespeak on climate change while not following talk with action. In particular, its commitment to extracting every last drop of oil from the Canadian tar sands comes to mind.  But one thing is certain — the Chamber of Commerce is an increasingly irrelevant group that doesn’t speak for its members.

And making that painfully clear was well worth the tummy ache.


1. Chamber of Commerce: We’re Calling You Out « It’s Getting Hot In Here - October 19, 2009

[…] Action Factory is taking the Chamber full on.  Last week we confronted the head of Shell oil about ties to the Chamber, and this week we have even more stuff […]

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