When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn’t representing commerce…or the U.S.


On one hand, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to enter the dispute over the BP’s multi-billion dollar settlement with residents and small business owners on the Gulf Coast, or that it wants to enter on the side of the Big Oil giant. While the name “Chamber of Commerce” may invoke bucolic images of a 20th Century Main Street, with its hardware store and dry cleaners, the national Chamber is a lot more Wall Street, a lobbying group for large and powerful corporations that hates environmental protection.

Still, there’s something galling about the U.S. Chamber taking this side with its “friend of the court” brief in the matter, and writer Tom Young with the Legal Examiner in New Orleans — who’s done an outstanding job covering the legal issues surrounding BP and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe — puts his finger on some of the problems:

The U.S. Chamber is no friend of Gulf businesses and is not to be confused with the hundreds of legitimate local Chambers of Commerce that champion entrepreneurs. No, the U.S. Chamber is a puppet of very big business, which counts on the confusion involving its name to work against the interests of small business owners everywhere.

Members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce should ask their leadership exactly who the organization represents – one massive British oil company convicted of multiple felonies? Or the tens of thousands of businesses of the United State of America? If the former, a name change to the U.K Chamber of Commerce seems in order.

While BP has been largely unsuccessful in its dishonest legal challenges to extract itself from its own Settlement Agreement, the company has taken to the airwaves and newspapers to express its displeasure with the American court system and the business owners of the Gulf Coast. Reportedly, BP has spent $1 billion on legal fees and $500 million on advertisements in this unprecedented attempt to purchase its own brand of justice.

BP’s strategy, and now the adopted strategy of the U.S. / U.K. Chamber of Commerce, is to suggest that claimants who otherwise pass the rigorous and explicit causation requirements detailed in the 1,200 page Settlement Agreement were not necessarily harmed by the company’s disaster. But the evidence suggests otherwise. First, macroeconomic data indicates that nearly all Gulf-area industries were impacted. The trickle-down effect was substantial as is detailed in this December 2013 study by economist Dr. Timothy Ryan, Ph.D.

As Young properly notes, the businesses that qualify for settlement dollars meet well-established and clear guidelines for proving that real economic harm was caused by BP’s carelessness. As I’ve long argued at this blog, the long-term harm that the Deepwater Horizon fiasco has brought to this region is almost beyond calculation. Every day, we see new stories about how tar balls continue to wash ashore, nearly four years later, and about the lingering — and devastating — impacts upon marine life. These issues continue to affect tourism, the seafood industry — and the entire economic fabric of our community in the Gulf Coast.

That’s why it’s so galling — if unsurprising — to see a group calling itself a U.S. Chamber of Commerce siding with these interlopers who counts their stack of billions in annual profits back in London, while the little guy trying to make a buck selling his shrimp haul in New Orleans or beach sundries in Biloxi continues to suffer. That is real American commerce, and they are the ones asking BP to make things right.

Read Tom Young’s column in the Legal Examiner: http://neworleans.legalexaminer.com/miscellaneous/bp-update-u-s-chamber-of-commerce-or-u-k-chamber-of-commerce/

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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