Working the Refs

‘Green’ Apple Backs Business Groups Stalling Action on Climate Change

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about a ‘greener’ future. But his company is a member of business associations fighting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Apple frequently touts its green initiatives to combat global warming.

“Every company should be a part of the fight against climate change,” CEO Tim Cook in an October 2021 statement about Apple’s progress toward becoming carbon neutral. “[W]e must act quickly to invest in a greener and more equitable future.”

But a close look at the company’s trade associations reveals a different narrative. In fact, Apple has supported business groups that seek to thwart action on global warming—the opposite of the company’s stated goals.

One of those groups is the Texas Association of Business, which has questioned whether humans are causing climate change and has a long history of fighting against regulations designed to curb carbon emissions.

The Tech Transparency Project is highlighting Apple’s trade associations as part of an update to its Tech Funding Database, which launched last August. Today, TTP is adding Apple-supported groups to the database, which already covers organizations funded by Google, Facebook and Amazon. The tool is meant to shed light on Big Tech’s broader efforts to influence policy at the federal and state level.

Apple’s membership in the Texas Association of Business (TAB) coincided with the company’s expanding presence in Texas, including a new billion-dollar corporate campus in the state capital, Austin. (Apple secured property tax rebates and $25 million in taxpayer-funded grants for the project.)

But by supporting TAB, Apple has associated itself with climate views that undermine its public image as an environmental champion. Apple has spent years building a green reputation, announcing plans to become carbon neutral by 2030; move manufacturing suppliers to renewable energy; and invest in forestry projects via a new $200 million fund. One of its top executives, Lisa Jackson, ran the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration.

It’s not the first time Apple has been at cross-purposes with a business group over climate issues. Back in 2009, the company quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s stance against the EPA and climate legislation in Congress, saying, “Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the chamber at odds with us in this effort.”

More recently, however, climate concerns appear to have taken a back seat to Apple’s corporate interests. Another of Apple’s trade groups, the Business Roundtable, joined a massive lobbying blitz last year against the congressional reconciliation package, which included $150 billion to shift utilities to cleaner sources of power. (The Business Roundtable opposed corporate tax cuts in the package; Tim Cook serves on the group’s board.) As Popular Information reported, the lobbying blitz against the legislation came despite Lisa Jackson publicly calling for “urgent action” to advance the utilities program, known as the Clean Energy Standard.

TTP found that Apple has also linked up with business organizations in Europe and Japan that have a history of trying to slow regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. And the company continues to support trade groups that oppose so-called right-to-repair laws that advocates say are beneficial to the climate.

Fighting climate regulations

The Texas Association of Business is one of the largest advocacy groups operating in the state capital, Austin.

Apple lists membership in the Texas Association of Business (TAB) in its most recent disclosure about “indirect advocacy” efforts. (The list dates to 2020, and Apple has provided no updates since then.)

TAB is consistently one of the largest advocacy groups in Texas by revenue. The group describes itself  as “representing companies of every size and industry” to promote a business-friendly, free-market agenda.

TAB also has a history of casting doubt on the scientific consensus that climate change is a human-driven phenomenon. In 2015, the group’s head lobbyist said the idea that climate change is caused by human activity has not been proven, and called it “arrogant” and “unrealistic” to say that scientists can accurately model future climate change, according to the Texas Tribune. More recently, the group has stated that it supports climate change research “if those efforts are focused on an understanding of the natural functions of global climate and forcing factors,” language that doesn’t make mention of human factors in global warming.

TAB has also fought against basic regulations designed to curb carbon emissions and encourage more sustainable energy. According to its most recent federal priorities document from 2019, the group seeks to roll back EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, is pushing to retain coal as an energy source, and opposes requirements for energy extraction projects to conduct environmental impact studies. In February 2022, the group’s CEO, Glenn Hamer, wrote an op-ed decrying the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s move to include carbon emissions in the criteria for evaluating natural gas pipelines and export terminals.

Emissions from a coal-fired power plant.

Meanwhile, TAB has waged legal battles against attempts to regulate pollutants, often in conjunction with energy industry groups that seek to play down the importance of addressing climate change. For example, TAB supports the plaintiffs in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which is expected be decided by the Supreme Court this year. The lawsuit, from Republican state attorneys general and coal companies, argues that the EPA has no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

It’s not clear how Apple, which calls climate change “the defining issue of our time,” is able to square its association with TAB with its environmental positions. The iPhone giant has repeatedly backed efforts to curb carbon emissions, for example pledging to adhere to the Paris Agreement even after President Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the climate accord in 2017.

TAB’s track record on climate issues dates back years, meaning it should come as no surprise to Apple. In 2016, the group backed the plaintiffs in the Texas v. EPA lawsuit that successfully stalled Obama-era air pollution controls. The Trump administration later scrapped the controls in favor of a pollution trading system that the Sierra Club said maintained a “dangerous status quo.”

In 2018, TAB also filed an amicus brief backing defendant ExxonMobil in a case brought by Environment Texas Citizen Lobby and the Sierra Club. Exxon was fined $19.95 million for thousands of violations of the Clean Air Act at its massive industrial plant in Baytown, Texas. TAB argued that the penalties were too severe and urged the Court to reconsider, because the precedent could open up other industrial actors to similar civil suits. The case is ongoing, but the penalty has already been reduced by more than $5 million.

International scope

Apple’s membership in groups that oppose regulation to combat climate change is not limited to the United States. The company is also part of powerful groups in Europe and Japan that have sought to slow critical advances in environmental law and regulation, TTP found.

Apple’s mandatory lobbying disclosures to the European Union reveal the company is a member of Confederation of European Business (known as BusinessEurope), a cross-industry trade group. BusinessEurope’s rhetoric often takes a pro-environment tone, but it has consistently acted to slow regulation and legislation designed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and hold corporations accountable for emissions volume.

A 2021 report by the London-based nonprofit InfluenceMap ranked BusinessEurope as one of the top five most obstructionist industry associations worldwide when it comes to adherence to policies aligned with the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2°C. BusinessEurope, according to the report, used its power to help soften regulations and proposals advanced by the European Commission.

BusinessEurope’s peers in the top five include the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. British consumer goods giant Unilever left BusinessEurope in 2014 for the same reasons Apple left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009.

Likewise, Apple’s Japanese subsidiary has been a member of Keidanren (The Japan Business Federation), a powerful conservative interest group with heavy influence on regulatory policymaking in Tokyo.

As with BusinessEurope and the U.S. Chamber, Keidanren has a history of opposition to policy interventions designed to tackle climate change. Keidanren’s delegation to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow included 21 fossil fuel industry representatives, just ahead of BusinessEurope’s 20—and more than the number sent by oil-rich nations like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Right to repair

Apple’s most recent advocacy disclosure shows membership in nearly a dozen groups that oppose right-to-repair laws, which allow consumers to repair their own devices without restriction from the manufacturer. Right-to-repair advocates, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, say such laws are good for the climate because people can fix damaged phones instead of buying replacements that are manufactured through an emissions-heavy industrial process.

Apple reversed its position on the right to repair, but still supports groups trying to weaken such laws.

Letting people extend the life of their phones also reduces electronic waste, advocates say. A wide range of environmental groups including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club endorses the right to repair.

After years of intense lobbying against right-to-repair laws, Apple in late 2021 reversed its position and said it would begin to give customers access to parts and tools to fix iPhones and Macs. The move came just months after a President Biden executive order directing the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on “unfair competitive restrictions” on independent and self-repair of devices. However, what Apple is offering doesn’t have the force of law—and it’s not as comprehensive as what many state lawmakers are proposing.

That raises the question of whether Apple is still trying to kill or soften right-to-repair legislation through its trade groups.

Of the 11 associations on Apple’s 2020 disclosure that oppose right-to-repair legislation, seven continue to publicly count Apple as a member or sponsor: ACT | The App Association, the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), CTIA – The Wireless Association, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), TechNet, and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).

Four of those—CTA, CTIA, PRBA, and TechNet —testified against a Washington state right-of-repair bill, HB 1810, in January 2022, showing that their lobbying campaign on the issue is still going strong. (Apple played an outsized role in the defeat of previous versions of the bill in Washington state, a lawmaker told Bloomberg News.)

The fact that Apple’s trade groups have continued to lobby against right-to-repair legislation—months after Apple announced a new right-to-repair policy—suggests that the iPhone giant may not be entirely committed to “creating greater access to Apple genuine parts,” as Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said in January.

Of the other four groups in Apple’s 2020 disclosure that have opposed the right to repair, NetChoice and Repair Done Right currently don’t list Apple as a member, and Apple reportedly withdrew from another, the State Privacy and Security Coalition, over concerns the group was pushing legislation that failed to protect consumer privacy. The fourth group, the Security Innovation Center, doesn’t appear to have an active website.

TTP identified another Apple-linked group, CompTIA, that opposes right to repair. An Apple executive serves on the group’s policy executive board.