ASPEN - At their annual retreat Tuesday morning, Aspen Chamber Resort Association board members voted 11-1 to cut ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of a disagreement over the national organization's policy of disregarding man's effect on climate change.
Two other board members who participated in the retreat abstained from voting, according to ACRA President Debbie Braun. Former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud cast the lone dissenting vote.
During the meeting, ACRA chairman Warren Klug read a statement that called for the board to withdraw from the national chamber. ACRA has been a member since 2005. Annual dues are $800 and the local business group's membership was slated for renewal in May.
"Aspen and our major governmental bodies and major employers all see things so very differently (than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)," Klug's statement said.
"I believe it is time for ACRA to withdraw from the U.S. Chamber. While I applaud U.S. Chamber efforts on U.S. travel policy, immigration reform and other issues, its position on environmental policy is too opposed to our community values to ignore," Klug continued. "It is time for us to say goodbye."
The U.S. Chamber's media-relations office in Washington, D.C., was not able to immediately provide a comment late Tuesday afternoon.
Klanderud said she decided to vote against a break with the national chamber connection when it appeared that the vote would not be close, and she wanted to raise a few points. Had she been in the position of providing the swing vote, she said, she would have opted to cut ties with the national group.
She said that while she has been bothered by some of the national chamber's political activities and negative campaign ads in recent years, she also was put off by the lobbying of outside groups who pushed for the break.
"My preference initially was to stay in, and aggressively work from within," Klanderud said. "I'm not a one-issue supporter; I felt this was very much a one-issue objection. I'm not quite certain what the complete position of the U.S. Chamber is on climate change, but it's probably not as much in line with our position as we would like it to be."
In recent years, ACRA board members such as Aspen Skiing Co. executive David Perry and Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland have argued for severing the local chamber's connection to the national organization.
Their position was largely based on reports about the U.S. Chamber's attitude on climate change and other perceived issues, such as a swing by the group's leadership to the far right of the political spectrum, lobbying efforts on behalf of certain candidates and the recent influence of Big Oil on an organization that historically has worked on behalf of small businesses.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce website states that its strategy is to "resist ill-conceived legislation that is economically disruptive of business and industry activities" while admitting that greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing.
"What Congress must continue to recognize is that electricity is the 'juice' that runs our country," the website says. "And this country's economic well-being will depend on the sustainability of the 'juicers' - coal, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, and hydropower, to name a few - for the foreseeable future. This country's energy goals will be met only by a commitment to technology innovation and to all types of energy sources."
After the retreat ended at around 1:15 p.m., Klug said that ACRA joined the U.S. Chamber seven years ago for access to accredited professional-development programs, not because of its lobbying efforts. Braun added that ACRA has access to other professional-development options not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber.
Braun described the 40-minute discussion on the issue at Tuesday's retreat as spirited but positive. She said now that the long-standing issue has been resolved, the chamber can focus on other issues that its 700-plus member businesses deem to be more crucial.
"At this time we will not renew the U.S. Chamber membership," she said in a prepared statement late Tuesday afternoon. "The Aspen Chamber Resort Association's mission/vision is to be the unifying voice for local business. Membership with the U.S. Chamber has become too much of a distraction and not aligned with our core values."
An overriding factor in the board's decision, she said, is the importance of the winter climate on Aspen's economy.
"The U.S. Chamber is out of step with our local values regarding climate legislation," Braun said. "We can send letters of opposition and join other like-minded organizations, but this alone will not be enough to change the policy direction of the U.S. Chamber."
Klug said it's not realistic to think that dropping the affiliation with the U.S. Chamber will affect the national group's positions on energy, climate change and the environment. Remaining in the group, and trying to help shift its policies from within, also is unrealistic.
"Things are not going to change," he said.
Klanderud expressed regret that the issue had become so politicized, but like others, expressed relief that a decision was made.
"I think the fellowship of meeting with other chamber executives from around the country ... some of that will be lost, and that's unfortunate," she said. "There's something to be said for exchanging ideas with your colleagues. But I'm a voice crying in the wilderness."