SF chamber flies coop over green ideals 

Clean energy and climate change are two topics that led the largest business group in San Francisco to defect from its leader, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Apparently, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s aggressive leadership on climate change is clashing with the U.S. chamber, prompting the local group to break away and form a coalition of its own.

Dubbed the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, the group has already recruited more than two dozen local chambers throughout the nation whose politics on climate change, particularly when it comes to limiting carbon emissions, align with San Francisco’s.

The group — which has yet to formally launch — wants to carve out its own voice on federal energy bills that are going before Congress this year, said Steve Falk, president and CEO of the San Francisco chamber.

“There are business members throughout the country who are interested in responsible climate legislation who don’t feel like they have a voice except through local chambers, so we need to pick up the game at the local level,” Falk said.

The chamber has taken an aggressive position on curbing global warming and advancing the clean-energy industry, saying green jobs are the future. It’s not the first time the local chamber has been out of step with its colleagues. The group has been an avid supporter of Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark climate change law, and it’s opposing the November ballot measure to suspend it. The California Chamber of Commerce did not support AB 32 when it was passed in 2006.

San Francisco chamber officials say the move isn’t meant to be a slap in the face, but U.S. chamber leaders feel the move is “undermining” its national agenda.

Tita Freeman, U.S. chamber spokeswoman, said the group has been extremely supportive of climate change.

U.S. chamber leaders say they have their own ideas about why San Francisco is stepping out. In a letter sent July 21 to U.S. chamber members, President Winthrop M. Hallett III claimed the coalition is being driven by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental activist group that has been critical of the U.S. chamber, Hallett said.

“Through this new front group, the [NRDC] advances the notion that the U.S. chamber is somehow standing in the way of climate action,” Hallett said.

Officials with the council said the new coalition was not driven by them. Yet, one of its partners, E2, worked with the San Francisco chamber, advising Falk in the developing stages of the coalition, said Bob Epstein, co-founder of E2.

“The U.S. chamber has been hostile toward climate policy, and as a result they saw their members leave,” Epstein said.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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