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Aspen businesses support ties to U.S. chamber

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – A large majority of members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association who responded to a recent survey said they prefer for the group to remain affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – despite certain views the national organization holds on climate change and other political issues that might come into conflict with community goals.

The survey was discussed briefly at the Aspen chamber’s board meeting Tuesday morning at the Gant. The local chamber received 66 responses out of 589 total surveys that were sent to members, obtaining an 11 percent return rate.

Sixty-one percent of respondents indicated that they “strongly agree” that the Aspen chamber should remain affiliated with the national chamber and try to effect policy change as a member. Sixteen percent said they agreed “somewhat,” for a total of 77 percent preferring not to cut ties with the national organization.

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.”

David Perry, an Aspen chamber board member and senior vice president of mountain operations for Aspen Skiing Co., is a vocal opponent of the national chamber’s position on climate change. At the meeting, he advocated that the Aspen chamber cut its ties with the national group based on that position and other factors, such as its connections with the petroleum industry and its status as one of the nation’s top lobbyists.

“The more you drill into this organization, … the more appalled you become,” Perry said to the other board members.

“Certainly, my position looks like I’m in the minority right now based on the survey. I definitely think we should drop from the U.S. chamber. I think that our affiliation, even though small, with that organization is not in line with our principles and our values in this community,” he said.

Perry said 55 percent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s budget is funded by 16 anonymous donors. He urged the other board members to do their own research into the national organization’s policies, practices and connections.

“It looks like a lobbying organization funded by certain interests, and those interests are speculated to be oil and gas businesses. They are the No. 1 funder for calling into question climate science,” he said.

“And you start to drill into some of their other activities, and it’s just shocking,” Perry added. “Personally, I think the very fact that we’re affiliated with them is embarrassing.”

Of the many board members who attended the meeting, only Mayor Mick Ireland spoke up to agree with Perry.

“I’m beginning to see firsthand in my own community the impact of anonymous donors on public policy,” Ireland said, referring to the local group Saving Our Streams and its refusal to disclose primary funding sources.

Saving Our Streams, a nonprofit organization fighting the city’s Castle Creek Energy Center hydroelectricity project, has said that based on state law, the release of a donor list is not mandatory. The group’s members include several wealthy landowners within Castle and Maroon creeks’ watershed.

Donnie Lee, vice chairman of the Aspen chamber, said the issues some board members might have with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a possible course of action will be discussed more fully at the board’s retreat in late April.

“Clearly it’s a passionate subject, and there are a lot of passionate opinions, and I would encourage everybody to get out and do their own research, look at the organization and come to their own conclusion on that,” Lee said.

But Perry said he and his company “feel very strongly this organization is not one we want to be affiliated with, and you’ll probably continue to hear from me on this. If we’re going to tackle it at a retreat in April, that can’t come too soon in my opinion.”

Former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, who also is member of the Aspen chamber board, said the problems between some local chamber members and the national group might stem from the 2008 presidential election between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. The U.S. chamber took out some attack ads against Obama, the eventual winner, and against Democratic positions on a variety of issues, including climate change.

Klanderud said she was uncomfortable with what the national chamber did because she finds negative political advertising “repulsive.” However, she said she’s for maintaining ties to the larger group “to promote (the Aspen chamber’s) position from the inside.”

She also urged the board members to conduct their own research.

“This is the kind of issue in which there can be a lot of knee-jerk reactions,” Klanderud said. “It’s something that’s yet to be resolved.”

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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