Board votes 11-1 to quit over climate change issue
The Aspen chamber will break ties with its national counterpart, business leaders overwhelmingly decided Tuesday, ending more than two years of debate over the local relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) board of directors voted 11-1 to leave the U.S. Chamber, in a closed-door meeting at The Gant.
Two board members abstained from voting.
Many locals and business leaders — most vocally the Aspen Skiing Co. — have called for ACRA to drop out of the national chamber in recent years. Complaints have focused on the U.S. Chamber’s lobbying activities against climate change legislation. A March 2010 meeting between the ACRA board and a U.S. Chamber envoy sparked a protest, staged by local environmentalists.
“In the end we thought our differences on climate, energy and environmental issues were so great that we didn’t feel it was right to stay in the chamber,” ACRA board chair Warren Klug said after Tuesday’s meeting.
In an official statement on the private meeting, ACRA characterized the U.S. Chamber’s stance on climate change as “archaic.”
“Membership with the U.S. Chamber has become too much of a distraction and not aligned with our core values,” the statement reads.
ACRA president Debbie Braun called the hour-long conversation “lively, informative and upbeat.”
An ACRA survey of local businesses this winter found a majority of chamber members favored staying on with the national organization and attempting to change it from within.
Klug, who said he voted in favor of quitting, said the prevailing opinion was that the local chamber could do very little to change the U.S. Chamber’s perspective from within. ACRA, since joining the U.S. Chamber in 2005, has paid $800 in annual dues.
The U.S. Chamber spent more than $20 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year alone, according to a congressional report filed last week. It is the top-spending lobbying entity in the country, according to statistics from opensecrets.org, expending more than $805 million between 1998 and 2011.
“There were people who spoke on both sides of the issue,” Klug reported of the chamber debate. “It was a spirited conversation.”
ACRA joined the U.S. Chamber because of professional development training it offers to members. Local business leaders are aligned with some of the U.S. chamber’s lobbying activities, like immigration reform, Klug said.
But, he noted, the disagreement on climate policy was too much for a snow-reliant winter resort to stomach any longer.
“Winter weather is our business,” Klug said. “That’s why you see the ski company, the county and the city take these climate issues so seriously.”
Some have speculated that a high-profile resort like Aspen quitting the chamber over its climate change lobbying activity would draw national or international attention to the issue. Some of the U.S. Chamber’s best-known members, like Nike and Apple, did so when they quit the national chamber in response to its climate change posturing years ago.
Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the SkiCo and a vocal critic of the U.S. Chamber, said he thought other towns would follow Aspen’s lead and send a message to the national chamber.
“I applaud the move,” he said, “and I think Aspen’s withdrawal will have a ripple effect as other communities reconsider their memberships in the U.S. Chamber.”
The press and public were not allowed at the chamber retreat. The bulk of the meeting allegedly addressed ACRA’s strategic plan and preparing for an upcoming change in board leadership. Donnie Lee, general manager of The Gant, will be taking over as board chair.