Chamber of horrors

Published June 1, 2000

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce held its Environmental Summit 2000 on April 7 in Washington, DC. With but a few exceptions, the event was largely a conference of left-leaning “environmentalists” salted with industry representatives apologizing for not getting green enough fast enough.

The notable exceptions to that rule were Ann Klee, chief counsel of Senator Bob Smith’s (R-New Hampshire) Environment and Public Works Committee; Ron Bailey, editor of Earth Report 2000; and Bonner Cohen, Ph.D., senior fellow at the Lexington Institute and frequent contributor to Environment & Climate News.

While the Chamber touted its panel moderators as “representatives of academia,” the first panel was moderated by Mary Gade, former head of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and one-time chair of the U. S. EPA’s Ozone Transport Advisory Group. It was Gade who instituted the costly and controversial IM240 vehicle emissions test in Illinois, at the urging of U.S. EPA administrator Carol Browner, and let the contract for the test without competitive bidding. Under Gade’s reign at Illinois EPA, MTBE gasoline additive pollution of wells in 25 Illinois communities was kept quiet, as was the state’s implementation of U.S. EPA’s controversial sludge rule.

The second panel, moderated by Peter Huber of The Manhattan Institute, featured George Frampton of the President’s Council of Environmental Quality. Fellow panelist Dennis Minano of General Motors was reduced to defending his company’s efforts to improve sustainability of resources and leave a smaller “environmental footprint” on the planet.

With the exception of Klee, Bailey, and Cohen, the presenters seemed to assume as fact that global warming is occurring and has anthropogenic (man-made) causes; that air and water pollution are getting worse; and that human activity threatens to exhaust the planet’s natural resources.

It was left to Klee to challenge the gloom-and-doom predictions of the environmentalists. She vigorously defended the notion that it is not anti-environment to be conservative. She urged providing the private sector with incentives to solve environmental problems—in cases where sound science shows a problem in fact exists. Klee also laid out her committee’s plans for Everglades restoration and addressing the problems faulty regulation has caused: oxygenates in gasoline, brownfields, total maximum daily load rules, and waste remediation.

The third panel addressed the internationalization of environmental issues. Moderated by Dr. Scott Barrett of Johns Hopkins University, it consisted of William Mansfield, advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme; Kristalina Georgieva, from the World Bank; and James Vines from Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. Barrett, Mansfield, and Georgieva all agreed on the urgent need to internationalize the environment, while Vines stressed that his company was trying to do better on environment issues.

The second and third panels declined to take questions from the audience, although time was supposed to have been allocated for that purpose.

The final panel, moderated by Cohen and Gawain Kripke of Friends of the Earth, featured a spirited debate between Bailey and Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute. Bailey and Cohen were the only event participants to effectively refute left-wing notions such as the need to “de-carbonize” the economy and enforce the Kyoto Protocol through tax policy.

This panel did allow a period for audience questions, during which Flavin ardently defended his notion that tax policies aimed at coercing desired behaviors were perfectly compatible with free markets.

The Chamber of Commerce has two other environmental conferences planned for this year.