Inside Mountain Town News
Issue of March 16, 2012
Chamber of commerce dispute focuses on global warming action
ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Chamber Resort Association is staying in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite the vigorous protests of some locals.
“The very fact that we’re affiliated with them is embarrassing,” said David Perry, senior vice president for the Aspen Skiing Co.
According to the Aspen Daily News, which attended a recent session of the group, Perry said 55 percent of the U.S Chamber’s budget comes from anonymous donors, and speculated that the money comes from the oil and gas industry.
A poll of members indicated about 70 percent favored remaining in the organization.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lobbied against legislation that seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But partisans have an even deeper bone of contention. Writing in an op-ed in The Aspen Times in February, Mikah Parkin said the national organization has “opposed virtually everything Aspenites support — from civil rights and women’s rights to the Clean Air and Water Acts.”
Parkin, the Colorado regional coordinator for the national group 350.orgfurther alleged that the chamber is a right-wing corporate front group that gets 55 percent of its funding from 16 anonymous donors. “Of the $32 million the chamber spent in the midterm elections, 94 percent of that money went to support candidates who denied climate science,” he writes.
In a 2009 column in the midst of the debate about cap-and-trade legislation Tom Friedman of the New York Times—whose family owns a vacation home in Aspen—accused the national group of having “sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries.” He added: “All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.’s why they still belong to the chamber.”
But if the primary bone that Aspen Skiing and Tom Friedman have with the U.S. Chamber is its opposition to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade system of 2009, maybe they have a weak argument.
George Shultz, the former secretary of state who is now at Stanford, spoke at the Vail Global Energy Forum recently. He alluded to his dissatisfaction with Republicans, of whom he is one, because of their rejection of the science of climate change. But he also dismissed the Waxman-Markey bill as deeply flawed. It was too complex, he said, using his hands to estimate the 900 pages. Nobody fully knew what all was in the bill.
In a column titled “Aspen vs. the U.S. Chamber,” Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll asks this question: “Does Aspen stand for a policy that doesn’t work.” He points to reporting by the German magazine Der Spiegel and the Breakthrough Institute’s Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger that finds that the European Union’s cap-and-trade emissions policy has not worked –while the U.S. has actually had declining emissions since 2005.
While effective carbon-emission strategies are argued, most chamber directors are content to focus on more traditional roles.
Debbie Braun, director of the Aspen Resort Chamber told The Denver Post that she and other employees have taken a leadership program offered by the national group as part of the $800 annual dues. She said the national group’s work on immigration policy, tourism promotion and other business issues aligns with the Aspen’s chamber goals.
“When you let special interests decide how you are going to be affiliated with, it’s a slippery slope, I think.”
Chambers in other ski towns are also sometimes a member of the national group. Mountain Town News contacted several as to their engagement in this issue—or whether it has even come up.
Vail-Beaver Creek area
Chris Romer, executive director of the Vail Valley Partnership/Economic Council of Eagle County: His group is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the group’s membership has never been an issue during his six years with the Vail Valley Partnership, “most likely due to the fact we do not get involved in political issues.” He doesn’t expect the national group’s opposition to climate change legislation to be an issue with the local group.
Tom Kern, chief executive officer, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, says his group is not a member of the U.S. Chamber.
The national group’s positions on health care and oil and gas fracking have come up. Not so climate issue. “My sense is that the community is not aware of the U.S. Chamber position on climate control legislation,” he tells MTN.
Timothy O’Donoghue, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, reports that his group pays $300 a year for an entry-level membership in the national group “because of the benefit we gain from their information resources and training that we can pass on to our chamber members and staff. As in the case of the Aspen Resort Chamber and other chambers of commerce, we agree with some of the positions that the U.S. Chamber espouses and disagree with others.”
He further explains that several years ago the Jackson group withdrew from the U.S. Chamber’s Federation Partnership Program “because of their practice of endorsing and lobbying on behalf of candidates, something our bylaws preclude.” So far, nobody in the local group has raised the global-warming issue.
Visit Park City, the local chamber, did not respond.
Sandy Evans-Hall, director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, says her group is not a member of the national group because she has found “greater value for professional development in other associations, including ACCE, WACE, and WACVB, plus the California Chamber and the Sierra Business Council. “I have only had one person (member) ask whether any of our money went to support the U.S. Chamber,” she reports.
Other stories in this issue of MTN:
Lynx and recreation overlaps targeted in Forest Service study
How compatible are lynx with ski areas and other recreation? That’s been the $64 question for 20 years now in Colorado—and there are still no answers. Subscribe for complete story.
Wolverine takes high route across highway
The TransCanada Highway through Banff National Park now has six overpasses created specifically to allow safe passage by wildlife. But until last November, no wolverine had ever used one.Subscribe for complete story.
Jackson Hole chips away at energy use
After Jackson Mayor Mark Barron returned from Aspen’s Canary Initiative conference in 2006, he put his town on the map of mayors across the nation committed to principles of greenhouse gas reduction. Audaciously, they said they would try to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. Subscribe for complete story.
Vail area real estate sales surge in January
The Vail area had a very strong January – with the most sales since January 2008. As before, the high end is propping up the average sale price of $1.2 million.
More community owned ski areas
Last issue we looked at Wyoming’s Snow King Resort, Bozeman’s Bridger Bowl and others. This issue we look at Idaho’s Bogus Basin and Colorado’s Ski Cooper, among others.
Ideological purity about renewable energy?
Why shouldn’t reducing emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas be counted toward the renewable portfolio standard?