Elliott Negin

How the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council turns disinformation into law

State lawmakers introduced nearly 2,900 bills based on ALEC templates from 2010 through 2018. More than 600 of them became law.

In June 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill banning the state from contracting with or investing in businesses that divest from coal, oil or natural gas companies. For Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian—one of the state’s top energy regulators—the message was clear: “Boycott Texas, and we’ll boycott you.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Since the beginning of this year, lawmakers in Indiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia have introduced bills that read a lot like the Texas anti-divestment law, and legislators in a dozen other states have also expressed support for the legislation’s objective.

Mere coincidence? Not at all. The template for the bill, titled the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, was supplied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a lobby group backed by corporations and right-wing foundations that provides state lawmakers with ready-made, fill-in-the-blank sample legislation drafted by, or on behalf of, ALEC’s private sector members, including tobacco, fossil fuel and electric utility companies.

The bills in Indiana, Texas and West Virginia are near-verbatim copies of ALEC’s draft legislation, while the Oklahoma bill is a boiled-down version. And in each case, besides Oklahoma, at least one of the bill sponsors is an ALEC member. In Texas, five of the six primary authors of the bill and four of the five sponsors are ALEC members. Wayne Christian, the “Don’t mess with Texas” guy, is a member, too.

The Energy Discrimination Elimination Act is just one of the thousands of pieces of legislation ALEC has disseminated nationwide since its formation in 1973. According to a two-year investigation of “copycat” bills published in 2019 by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity, state lawmakers introduced nearly 2,900 bills based on ALEC templates from 2010 through 2018. More than 600 of them became law.

What explains ALEC’s track record? A big piece of the answer lies in the way the group spreads disinformation and hides its activities from the general public.

Peddling Disinformation

ALEC’s disinformation starts with how the group describes itself.

Originally called the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators, ALEC falsely claims it is a “nonpartisan” organization that enables private sector members to collaborate with legislators on policies and programs promoting what it calls “Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty”—a classic libertarian mantra.

Nonpartisan? Hardly. Virtually all of the roughly 2,000 state lawmakers, officials and staffers who pay a token fee of $200 for a two-year ALEC membership are Republicans.

Likewise, despite ALEC’s positive gloss, the principles it espouses would establish a corporatocracy. By “free markets,” ALEC means giving free rein to corporations by rolling back public health, environmental, consumer and voting protections; by “limited government,” it means radically downsizing the federal government; and by “federalism,” it means transferring authority from the federal government to governors and state legislatures, which corporations can more easily dominate.

ALEC’s definition of Jeffersonian principles also ignores the fact that Thomas Jefferson had some harsh words to say about undue corporate influence. In a letter to former U.S. Senator George Logan of Pennsylvania, he wrote that we must “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of their country.” That sentiment pretty much flies in the face of one of ALEC’s main reasons for being: representing the narrow interests of its corporate benefactors.

Those benefactors are the real power behind ALEC—a network of nearly 300 companies, trade groups, corporate law firms and private libertarian foundations that pay annual dues of $12,000 to $25,000, plus as much as $40,000 to sponsor an ALEC conference session. Their tax-deductible membership fees grant them direct access to ALEC lawmakers and the opportunity to draft sample bills. Many of these corporations also ply the lawmakers with generous campaign contributions to encourage them to introduce and pass ALEC legislation.

ALEC’s current corporate members include Altria Group (formerly Phillip Morris), American Electric Power, Anheuser-Busch, Chevron, Duke Energy, Eli Lilly, Farmers Insurance, FedEx, Koch Industries, Marathon Oil, Pfizer and UPS. Among its biggest foundation donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Adolph Coors Foundation, the Koch family foundations, the Searle Freedom Trust and the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, which together donated $9.25 million to ALEC between 2014 and 2019, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a watchdog group that hosts the ALEC Exposed website. That $9.25 million, the center found, amounted to 60 percent of the known donations to ALEC over that time period.

Step One of ALEC’s Tactics: Orwellian Framing

When ALEC promotes new legislation, it regularly employs the kind of “up is down” framing immortalized by George Orwell in his dystopian classic “1984.” As detailed in the investigation by the three news organizations, ALEC routinely gives its bills deceptive titles and descriptions that hide their true objective, exploiting the fact that lawmakers—and even bill sponsors—often do not bother to read the text of the legislation itself.

A good example is the Asbestos Claims Transparency Act, which lawmakers introduced in at least 17 states between 2012 and 2018 and was passed into law by at least 11 states. Despite its title, the bill does not require companies to disclose information about products containing asbestos or inform those who had been exposed to the cancer-causing mineral about how to get help and seek compensation.

Even when lawmakers do take the time to read bills based on ALEC templates, ALEC uses draft language that is often purposely “unremarkable or technical” to obscure their real-world impact, the investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity found. For example, “[b]ans on raising the local minimum wage were dubbed ‘uniform minimum wage’ laws. Changes to civil court rules to shield companies from lawsuits were described as ‘congruity’ or reforms to make laws consistent. [And] [r]epealing business regulations was disguised under the term ‘rescission.’”

Step Two: Send in the Corporate Deceivers

Next, to indoctrinate—or just mislead—state lawmakers, ALEC provides them access to a multitude of purportedly independent, “neutral” experts who are, in fact, shilling for special interests.

For example, according to the three news organizations’ investigation, Colorado state Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, who introduced the aforementioned Asbestos Claims Transparency Act in 2017, relied on outside experts to explain the bill to his statehouse colleagues. One of the alleged experts, an attorney at a corporate law firm was—unbeknownst to Sonnenberg—the co-chair of ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force. He also was a paid consultant for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, which lobbies for so-called “tort reform” to shield corporations that harm people and the environment from lawsuits. Colorado legislators ultimately rejected the bill, but according to the three news organizations, it was just one of more than 80 bills introduced from 2010 through 2018 specifically designed to “limit the public’s ability to sue corporations, including limiting class-action lawsuits, a plaintiff’s ability to offer expert testimony, and cap punitive damages for corporate wrongdoing.”

The ALEC-drafted Energy Discrimination Elimination Act Texas passed last year is yet another example of the council deceiving state lawmakers. The bill targets the environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards that banks, investment firms and pension funds are increasingly applying to make it harder for fossil fuel companies to obtain insurance, financing and other support if they don’t meet ESG criteria.

It is no surprise that such a law would appeal to legislators in Oklahoma, Texas and other states where the fossil fuel industry holds sway, but why would ALEC lawmakers in other states support it? Perhaps because ALEC has been supplying them with a steady stream of climate disinformation.

There has been a scientific consensus for years that human activity—mainly burning fossil fuels—is the primary cause of climate change. There is no debate. Yet, over the last two decades, ALEC conferences have featured fossil fuel industry-funded “experts” who have falsely claimed that the benefits of carbon emissions far outweigh the costs, insisted that carbon dioxide is not the primary cause of global warming, and likened climate science advocates to Nazis. ALEC doesn’t go that far in its official statements, but it continues to falsely assert that the jury is still out on the role human activity plays in global warming.

At the same time, ALEC—which relentlessly denigrates clean energy solutions—has been flooding state lawmakers with sample legislation designed to weaken or repeal state renewable energy and efficiency standards, slash incentives for installing rooftop solar panels, eliminate tax breaks for purchasing electric vehicles, oppose federal efforts to limit power plant carbon pollution, and criminalize protests against pipeline projects.

Equally troubling, ALEC’s climate science disinformation efforts have had a discernible “trickle up” impact on federal policy. More than 60 percent of the 77 “alumni” ALEC lists on its website who are in the U.S. Congress are climate science deniers: nine of the 13 senators, including James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), and 39 of the 64 House members, including Andy Biggs (R-AZ), James Comer (R-KY) and Steve Scalise (R-LA).

Step Three: Exploit Understaffed Legislators

Disinformation thrives when legislators are distracted or not paying close attention, and ALEC takes advantage of the fact that state lawmakers have limited time, salaries and resources.

“States are prime targets for corporations because it’s easier to get things out of state legislatures than Congress,” explained political scientist Darrell West, the Brookings Institution’s director of governance studies, during a conversation I had with him a few years ago. “The biggest problem is state legislators are understaffed.”

Stella Rouse, director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at the University of Maryland, seconded that assessment, noting that the job of researching and drafting bills can be challenging and time-consuming. “The legislative staff issue is huge,” she told me. “They are vital. Legislators want to introduce bills, but when they don’t have a staff—or it is very limited—ALEC provides them with a shortcut by providing a ready-made bill. ALEC provides the expertise that legislatures lack.”

The fact that most state legislatures are part-time and consequently don’t pay lawmakers full-time salaries also strengthens the hand of groups such as ALEC, added West. “Many legislators have to have jobs on the side, so they don’t have a lot of time to put into legislating. That makes them dependent on outside sources.”

Alex Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, explains that ALEC’s success hinges on more than supplying sample legislation. The author of “State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation,” Hertel-Fernandez told the Washington Post in a 2019 interview that “ALEC also provides research help for bill development, political strategy and talking points, and even the witnesses the legislators can call to testify on behalf of a bill. Beyond these immediate services, ALEC fosters a network through its regular convenings that establishes social bonds between its legislative and its staff and other corporate and advocacy members.” (ALEC’s 49th annual meeting will take place in Atlanta at the end of July.)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a nonpartisan, professional development organization, only four states—California, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania—have what could be considered a full-time legislature. Another six—Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin—have nearly full-time legislatures. Lawmakers in another 26 states devote about three-quarters of a full-time job to legislative duties, NCSL found, while lawmakers in the remaining 14 states work only about half-time and are lucky if they have even one staff member.

Step Four: Undermine Democracy

Besides plugging bills to limit consumer rights and thwart efforts to address the climate crisis, ALEC also has been playing a behind-the-scenes role in the voter suppression movement, another front that serves its funders’ goal to impede voters who might support candidates and policies that challenge corporate dominance. To do that, ALEC amplifies the false narrative of widespread voter fraud and seeks to limit federal authority over election rules.

The organization’s anti-democratic efforts began at least a decade ago when it promoted a discriminatory voter ID law — as well as the infamous self-defense law used to excuse the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Racial justice protests against “stand your ground” self-defense laws, which came under scrutiny after Martin’s death, prompted at least eight of ALEC’s corporate members, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Walmart, to quit. In response to the backlash, ALEC disbanded its public safety and elections committee.

The organization, however, never completely abandoned its voter suppression agenda. In 2017, it disseminated a sample bill that called for repealing the 17th amendment, which Congress passed in 1912 to allow voters—instead of state legislatures—to elect U.S. senators.

That constitutional amendment bill didn’t go anywhere—likely because it went too far—but in 2018, ALEC drafted a sample resolution to limit judicial power over redistricting, making it easier for ALEC-dominated legislatures to gerrymander district electoral maps.

More recently, ALEC members have been quietly involved in “block the vote” efforts. More than a year before the 2020 election, ALEC set up a secret working group to address redistricting, ballot measures and election law, and by the spring of 2021, more than 100 ALEC lawmakers in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas were sponsoring or cosponsoring bills that would make it harder for college students, people with disabilities, and Black and Brown citizens to vote. According to internal documents obtained by the watchdog group Documented, ALEC is also working closely with Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the libertarian Heritage Foundation, on a $24-million campaign to lobby lawmakers in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin—to pass tighter voting restrictions.

Likely fearing the possibility of alienating its corporate members again, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson has repeatedly denied that her organization is involved in voting issues, and the group has not posted any sample voting restriction bills on its website, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. To avoid public scrutiny, ALEC has outsourced its voter suppression work to a dark money voter suppression group disingenuously called the Honest Elections Project. Last July, ALEC hosted a two-day “exclusive, invitation-only academy” in Utah for state lawmakers with the Honest Elections Project just before its annual meeting, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. The center reported that the event was at least the second time ALEC partnered with the voter suppression group to “educate” ALEC members.

ALEC veterans on Capitol Hill are also apparently committed to undermining democracy. More than half of the 77 alumni listed on ALEC’s website currently serving in Congress (40 in the House and one in the Senate) were among the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election based on lies Donald Trump and his followers spread about widespread voter fraud.

Little Public Oversight

ALEC’s success depends not only on the fact that overworked legislators can be easily manipulated, but also on the fact that the general public pays little attention to what goes on at statehouses. A 2018 survey by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that only 19 percent of the respondents could name their state legislators and a third did not even know the name of their governor. Nearly half did not know whether their state had a one or two-house legislature.

“Most people say they like their state leaders, and a large majority even remembers learning about state government in school,” Johns Hopkins University political scientist Jennifer Bachner, one of the researchers and director of the school’s Government Analytics program, said in a press release. “Despite this, most people are not aware of who exactly represents them and the significant decisions made by their state government.”

Certainly, one major reason for pervasive public ignorance about state government is the rapid decline of local newspapers, which historically devoted substantially more resources to covering politics than broadcast media. From 2005 through 2020, roughly a quarter of all local print newspapers across the country—about 2,200—closed, the Washington Post reported last November. And “in many places where papers still exist,” the Post pointed out, “a lack of resources prevents them from reporting thoroughly on issues vital to the community—issues [such as] public safety, education and local politics.”

The Post also reported that the number of newspaper journalists dropped by more than half between 2008 and 2020, which has had a significant impact on statehouse coverage. An April Pew Research Center study quantified that loss. It found that the number of newspaper reporters covering statehouses full-time has dropped 34 percent since 2014, from 374 to just 245 this year. All told, Pew found that there are now only 850 full-time statehouse reporters from all media.

Overall, however, the number of reporters covering statehouses increased 11 percent since 2014, Pew found, due to a jump in part-time reporters and the establishment of new, nonprofit news organizations “after years of staff cutbacks in the newspaper industry.” Not all of those nonprofit news outlets, however, are necessarily trustworthy.

One such nonprofit, The Center Square, offers conservative spin masquerading as news, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. The operation, a project of the Franklin News Foundation, offers its stories gratis to newspapers that cannot afford to cover statehouses themselves. Like ALEC, it is supported by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which donated $500,000 between 2019 and 2020, and the Charles Koch Foundation, which chipped in $212,000 between 2016 and 2018.

To make matters worse for bona fide reporters, Republican leaders in GOP-controlled statehouses in Iowa, Kansas and Utah recently passed rules limiting when journalists can report from the floors of their legislative chambers, making it even more difficult for them to ask questions and follow policy deliberations. No surprise, ALEC members are well-represented in each of these states’ senate Republican leadership: two out of eight in Iowa, four out of five in Kansas, and six out of 10 in Utah.

Attention and Activism Are Key to Fighting Back

Given ALEC’s stealthy influence on statehouses, especially the 62 state legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, it is imperative that concerned citizens engage with their legislators and closely monitor ALEC’s activities in their state. As campaigns by civil rights, labor and environmental organizations have demonstrated, it is possible to pressure ALEC’s corporate sponsors to leave the organization, making it harder for ALEC to fund its disinformation campaigns.

Protests organized by Color of Change and other racial justice groups against ALEC’s voter ID and “stand your ground” laws resulted in several high-profile corporate members leaving ALEC. Since then, a brighter spotlight on ALEC’s controversial positions has encouraged a veritable Who’s Who of U.S. businesses to desert the organization, including Amazon, AT&T, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Facebook, General Electric, General Motors, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Verizon and Visa.

ALEC’s scientifically indefensible stance on climate change also has prompted some of its corporate members to defect—even in the energy sector—especially after news organizations and advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) drew attention to ALEC’s flagrant lies. Oil and gas giants BP America, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Shell, as well as electric utilities Entergy, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Xcel Energy, have all since severed ties with the organization.

Public interest groups are also turning up the heat on ALEC over its relatively recent voter suppression efforts. In June 2021, a diverse coalition of more than 300 organizations sent a letter to 40 ALEC corporate and trade association members, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urging them to quit ALEC “based on its active efforts to restrict the American people’s freedom to vote and spread lies about the integrity of our elections to undermine American democracy.”

As Louis Brandeis famously wrote in 1913, three years before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In other words, you have to force disinformation out of the shadows to vanquish it.

Thanks to efforts to bring ALEC’s disinformation to light, as well as pressure from shareholders, unions and public interest organizations, more than 100 corporate and nearly 20 trade association and foundation members have canceled their memberships since 2012, and ALEC’s annual revenue dropped from a high of $10.35 million in 2017 to $7.97 million✎ EditSign in 2020. When it comes to fighting ALEC’s corporate-friendly, anti-democratic legislative agenda, close attention and continued activism are key to exposing the organization’s true nature and thwarting its ultimate goal of decimating public health, environmental and workplace safeguards to pad the profits of its corporate supporters.

Author’s Note: The organizations that closely monitor ALEC include the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Media and Democracy (host of ALEC Exposed), Common Cause, Documented, Stand Up to ALEC and True North Research. For more on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) efforts to counter disinformation, see “What You Can Do About Disinformation.” Lindsey Berger, campaign manager for the UCS Center for Science and Democracy, and Lisa Graves, founder and executive director of True North Research, provided research for this article.

Author Bio: Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Charles Koch must be held accountable for his climate disinformation campaign

The U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee kicked off its investigation of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long climate change disinformation campaign last fall by inviting top executives from BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell to testify about their role and subpoenaing their companies for internal documents.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The committee followed up that hearing—during which the executives disingenuously denied funding such a campaign—with another hearing on February 8 focusing on the oil companies’ inadequate plans to cut their carbon emissions. The next round is slated to feature board directors from the same four oil companies testifying on their companies’ climate pledges, followed by testimony from social media companies and advertising agencies about the part they have played in manufacturing doubt about climate change.

But before the committee wraps up its investigation, it would be sorely remiss if it didn’t haul in libertarian industrialist Charles Koch, the Daddy Warbucks of climate disinformation, for questioning.

The 20th-richest person in the world with a net worth of $58 billion, Koch, 86, is the longtime CEO of Koch Industries, a conglomerate that owns oil refineries and pipelines; markets crude oil, coal, chemicals, wood pulp and paper; trades energy derivatives; and boasts annual revenues of $115 billion. The second-largest privately held company in the country, Koch Industries is one of the top 25 U.S. corporate water and carbon polluters, is a defendant in a climate accountability lawsuit brought by the state of Minnesota, and is continuing to operate its businesses in Russia while Koch-backed groups oppose U.S. sanctions imposed on the Kremlin after it invaded Ukraine.

Koch-controlled foundations donated more than $145 million to a network of 90 think tanks and advocacy groups from 1997 through 2018 to disparage climate science and block efforts to address climate change. Since the death of Charles Koch’s brother David in 2019, the Charles Koch Foundation has continued to finance this disinformation campaign, giving more than $17 million to 23 groups in 2019 and 2020✎ EditSign, pushing the Koch grand total north of $162 million. By contrast, the second-largest funder of climate disinformation, ExxonMobil, spent $39.2 million✎ EditSign on some 70 denier groups from 1998 through 2020.

To maintain leverage on Capitol Hill, Koch Industries’ political action committee (PAC), affiliates and employees also contribute significantly more to federal candidates, party committees, outside groups, leadership PACs and 527 groups than their counterparts at BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil or Shell. In the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, Koch Industries’ total outlay of $26.7 million was more than the $21.7 million the four oil and gas companies contributed collectively.

In addition, Koch Industries spent more than $38 million on its Washington lobbying operation during the last two full election cycles, from 2017 through 2020. That’s slightly less than ExxonMobil’s $40.98 million and Chevron’s $39.47 million, but the company enjoyed a distinct advantage over the two oil giants besides outspending them on campaign contributions: President Donald Trump’s transition team head, Vice President Mike Pence—a longtime Koch network veteran who played a key role in promoting the Koch-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax” pledge when he was in the House—tapped at least 50 Koch network alumni to work inside the Trump administration. They included Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short. Egged on by Koch devotees both inside and outside the government, the Trump administration rolled back at least 260 regulations, including more than 100 environmental rules.

The Biden administration cleared out the Koch disciples when it took office and is in the process of rolling back the Trump rollbacks, but Koch and his donor network still hold considerable sway over the Republican Party. They will continue to spend hundreds of millions on Capitol Hill and, looking ahead to 2024, a number of Koch network stalwarts are considering a run for president, including Pence, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Florida Senator Rick Scott. The Koch network, with its toxic anti-government bias, will likely cast a long shadow over Washington for years to come.

Decades of Disinformation

For more than two decades, the Koch network has been diligently spreading disinformation to sabotage efforts to transition to a clean energy economy, more often than not by attacking proposed climate policies on economic grounds. Examples of its malfeasance are legion:

  • To stop a version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the Senate after it squeaked by in the House in 2009, Americans for Prosperity persuaded a critical mass of lawmakers to sign its “No Climate Tax” pledge, disingenuously calling the bill “the largest excise tax in history.” Since then, the overwhelming majority of legislators who have received campaign contributions from Koch Industries’ PAC and employees have rejected a carbon tax in amendments and nonbinding resolutions.
  • To slow the exponential growth of solar power, the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council has armed utilities and state lawmakers with model legislation against net metering, which credits solar panel owners for the excess energy they generate and return to the grid, claiming that rooftop solar credits will drive up non-solar customers’ electric rates. The Energy Department, however, concluded that the credits will have a negligible impact on monthly electric bills.
  • To undermine the widespread adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), the Koch network has urged Congress to kill the federal income tax credit for EV buyers. “Congress should not be in the business of picking winners and losers by subsidizing one form of energy over others, regardless of its source,” Philip Ellender, Koch Industries’ president of government and public affairs, argued in a letter to Congress in October 2018. Never mind that the oil and gas industry has benefited from massive annual federal subsidies for more than 100 years.
  • After succeeding in prodding President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, arguing that the accord would threaten the “economic future of our country,” the Koch network is now spearheading a campaign to kill the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, falsely claiming that it “is the biggest spending bill in American history.”

There are plenty of other examples, but the above sample illustrates the breadth of the Koch network’s reach. Charles Koch and his fellow travelers have played an outsized role scaring the public about the potential impact of climate solutions on their pocketbooks (but at the same time, they spent more than $20 million to promote President Trump’s $1.5-trillion tax cut that largely benefited corporations and the ultra-wealthy). By practically any measure, Koch is as consequential a disinformer as the four oil company executives who testified last fall before the House Oversight Committee combined.

Put Koch Under Oath

If the House Oversight Committee called Charles Koch to testify, it could, for starters, ask him about his views on climate change.

The executives from BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell who testified last October downplayed the central role human activity—mainly burning fossil fuels—plays in triggering climate change, but after much hemming and hawing they all conceded that global warming poses an “existential threat.”

Koch, for his part, has never acknowledged that climate change is a serious problem and rarely talks about it publicly. On the rare occasion when reporters broach the topic, he responds with… disinformation.

Koch’s most recent public comments about climate change came during lengthy interviews with the Washington Post in 2015 and 2016. Asked if he worried about climate change in an August 2015 interview, Koch replied that he believes “it’s been warming some” but added that “[t]here’s a big debate on that, because it depends on whether you use satellite measurements, balloon[s], or you use ground ones that have been adjusted.” Climate scientists, he added, “have these models that show it, but the models don’t work….”

In fact, all of the measurements Koch cited indicate that there has been a long-term global warming trend due to climate change. And, coincidentally, just a week before the Washington Post published the Koch interview, a peer-reviewed study found that global climate models are even more accurate than previously thought.

In August 2016, the Washington Post ran another Koch interview, during which he was asked if anyone could produce a study that would convince him “that carbon regulation is necessary to heed off disastrous global warming.” “Yeah,” Koch replied. “If we… use the scientific method rather than trying to shut down and shout down and punish anybody who wants to enter into debate about it…. If we’re all trying to find the truth of the matter, then I’m all for that.”

Notably, Koch did try to get to the truth of the matter in his own way a few years earlier. The Charles Koch Foundation donated $150,000 to Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit research institute founded in 2010 by Richard Muller, a physicist and self-proclaimed climate science skeptic, to review the temperature data that underpinned global-warming claims. Presumably to Koch’s surprise—and dismay—Muller announced in a July 2012 New York Times op-ed that his investigation verified that global warming is indeed real, is “almost entirely” caused by human activity, and is even worse than what the climate science community had concluded at the time.

It would be enlightening for the House Oversight Committee to ask Koch about Berkeley Earth’s findings, especially since after Muller announced them, the Koch network stepped up its campaign to characterize climate policies as being too costly, despite the fact that the consequences of failing to curb carbon emissions will cost infinitely more than taking preventive measures.

In late 2012, for example, the Koch brothers financed “bogus studies” falsely claiming that state standards requiring utilities to ramp up their use of renewable energy would dramatically drive up electric rates. Six years later, in 2018, when the House was about to vote on a nonbinding carbon tax resolution, Ellender—the Koch Industries lobbyist—took the same tack. “A carbon tax would make energy more expensive and raise the costs of consumer products and services on which people depend,” he wrote in a letter to the lawmakers. “It would also make U.S. producers less cost competitive, driving production and jobs to other parts of the world.”

The House passed the resolution, which stated that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy,” by a 229 to 180 vote. Nearly 70 percent of the representatives who voted for the resolution—159—collectively received more than $1.28 million in campaign contributions from Koch Industries PAC and employees during the 2018 election cycle.

Investing in Clean Energy While Trashing It

Koch’s jaundiced take on climate change would undoubtedly be welcomed by the 20 Republican members of the Oversight Committee, 14 of whom are climate science deniers. During the 2020 election cycle alone, Koch Industries’ employees and PAC gave more than $136,000 in campaign contributions to 18 of the GOP committee members, while their counterparts at BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell collectively donated $40,347 to 14 of them.

The committee members who are less beholden to the fossil fuel industry, however, should take the opportunity to press Koch about his company’s seemingly contradictory investments in sectors that his network is still trying to knee-cap, such as electric vehicles and renewable energy.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Koch Industries subsidiaries have invested at least $750 million in a range of battery technologies and battery-related raw materials, chemicals and recycling. Among the Koch conglomerate’s relatively new holdings are New Jersey zinc battery startup Eos Energy Enterprises and Canada’s lithium-ion battery recycler Li-Cycle Holdings, lithium development company Standard Lithium, and Lithion Power Group, a lithium-ion battery startup.

Likewise, Koch subsidiaries have jumped into smart grid and electric vehicle charging technologies. In 2020, Koch Engineered Solutions acquired Sentient Energy, a smart grid solutions company, and last year Koch Strategic Platforms invested in EVBox, a Netherlands-based electric vehicle charging station manufacturer.

Koch Engineered Solutions is also bullish on solar, but not on distributed rooftop solar, which the Koch network has been trying to stop. Last November, it bought DEPCOM Power, an Arizona company that builds large-scale solar power plants, and plans to supply solar farms in the United States and Canada.

Koch Industries’ relatively recent investments in batteries and renewables—which, granted, amount to a tiny percentage of the conglomerate’s far-flung operations—are just the beginning, according to Koch Engineered Solutions President Dave Dotson. “We are believers in the electrification of everything, driven by economics and consumer trends,” he told S&P Global Market Intelligence, “and look for where we can add value across the electric value chain from generation to end-user consumption.”

Dotson’s business strategy should come as a surprise to anyone who has been closely following his boss, and should prompt the House Oversight Committee to ask Koch how his company’s recent shopping spree squares with his network’s ongoing campaign against climate solutions.

An unabashed libertarian, Koch likely would respond that the private sector should take the lead, not the government, on energy—and just about everything else. For Koch, government efforts to manage the economy, protect public health and the environment, and provide social welfare programs are a slippery slope to totalitarianism and must be rolled back, if not eliminated. In his most recent book (co-authored with Brian Hooks), Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World, Koch argues that individuals, corporations and nonprofit groups are better suited to solve society’s most pressing problems—including the coronavirus pandemic—than the government.

Koch’s philosophy, however, fails to account for the fact that it was the private sector—specifically the fossil fuel industry—that got us into the dire situation in which we find ourselves today, faced with increasingly severe climate change-driven impacts. Major oil companies were aware their products wreck the climate at least 50 years ago and have spent hundreds of millions of dollars since then to manufacture doubt about climate science, disparage renewables and block government action. Now that Koch Industries, as well as some oil majors, see that there is money to be made by diversifying into clean energy technologies, they are slowly adding them to their portfolios but spending a fraction of what they are still dedicating to their oil, gas and chemical operations. It’s much too little, much too late.

If the House Oversight Committee is serious about getting to the bottom of the fossil fuel industry’s longtime campaign to stymie climate policy, it should call Koch on the carpet. By doing so, the committee could shine a light on his prominent role in sponsoring disinformation, as well as expose the threat he and his followers pose to U.S. democracy.

Author Bio: Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The truth about ExxonMobil's campaign to fund climate science denial

In a secret video recording made public in late June, a top ExxonMobil lobbyist—Keith McCoy, who was fired soon afterward—not only conceded that the oil giant's support for a carbon tax is a sham, but he also admitted that the company quietly financed climate science denier groups to stave off government action and maximize its profits—a fact that my organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others revealed more than a decade ago.

"Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes," McCoy, then ExxonMobil's senior director of federal relations, said during the interview. "Did we join some of these 'shadow groups' to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that's true. But there's nothing illegal about that. We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders."

For all his candor, McCoy got at least one thing wrong. ExxonMobil did "join"—in other words, pay—denier groups to spread disinformation to blunt initial government attempts to curb carbon emissions. But McCoy inaccurately used the past tense. In fact, the company continues to fund them.

That videotaped interview caused some major heartburn for McCoy's boss, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, especially since the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has invited Woods—as well as top executives from the American Petroleum Institute, BP America, Chevron, Shell Oil and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—to testify at a hearing on October 28 on the "long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming."

ExxonMobil has been at the heart of that campaign. Since 1998, the company has paid a network of seemingly independent think tanks and advocacy groups more than $39 million to manufacture doubt about climate science and stymie government action. Only Charles Koch and his late brother David, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries, are known to have spent more.

In 2020, according to ExxonMobil's most recent corporate grantmaking report, the company spent $490,000 on three grantees—the American Enterprise Institute ($100,000), the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University ($140,000), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($250,000). That amount is down from the $790,000 the company reported it spent on nine climate science denier groups in 2019 and a fraction of what it spent in the past, but there's a catch.

True, the company lost more than $22 billion in 2020 and cut back its grants across the board. But another factor for this decline is that ExxonMobil changed how it reports grants. As first reported by Salon, the company only listed grants of $100,000 or more in its 2020 annual giving report. In previous years, it included grants of $5,000 or more. The change reduces transparency and ultimately means there is no way to tell how much the company spent in smaller donations to support climate disinformation in 2020 or compare the grants it made in 2020 with previous years.

Only three denier groups—the same three named in the 2020 grantmaking report—received $100,000 or more from ExxonMobil in 2019. That year, their grants collectively amounted to $625,000. The other six denier groups the company funded in 2019—the Center for American and International Law ($5,000), the Federalist Society ($10,000), the Hoover Institution ($15,000), the Manhattan Institute ($90,000), Mountain States Legal Foundation ($5,000) and the Washington Legal Foundation ($40,000)—collectively received $165,000. None of those grants, even if ExxonMobil continued them, would wind up in the 2020 report, given the company's new threshold.

Still, it's worth taking a closer look at where the bulk of ExxonMobil's self-reported climate disinformation budget did go in 2020.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Since 2014, ExxonMobil has given more than $5 million on top of its annual dues to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a major player in blocking action on climate change for decades. A few years after becoming an ExxonMobil grantee, the Chamber gained some unwanted notoriety by financing a widely debunked report that then-President Trump cited as a primary rationale for pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

In 2019, however, the Chamber appeared to flip 180 degrees, declaring on its website, "Our climate is changing and humans are contributing to these changes. Inaction is simply not an option." The assertion that human activity is merely contributing to climate change is inaccurate, given that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause, but the statement did represent a quantum leap from when the association spuriously maintained in comments submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 that "a warming of even 3 [degrees Celsius] in the next 100 years would, on balance, be beneficial to humans."

That said, the Chamber vowed in an August 24 press release to "do everything [it] can to prevent" the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill—which would slash carbon emissions from the electric power and transportation sectors—"from becoming law." And in a section on its website addressing climate change, the Chamber calls for "the increased use of natural gas" to make "further progress."

Increase the use of natural gas?! That runs counter to what climate science says about the need to swiftly decarbonize the energy sector, essentially trading one major carbon pollution source—coal—for another—methane, which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet. Moreover, according to a December 2019 study in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to the boom in natural gas use over the last decade alone have now surpassed the emissions avoided by closing coal-fired power plants.

The American Enterprise Institute

Economist Benjamin Zycher might be considered the climate science denier in residence at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has received $4.86 million from ExxonMobil since 1998. Zycher insists that a carbon tax would be "ineffective," has called the Paris climate agreement an "absurdity," and rejects the scientific consensus about the causes and seriousness of global warming.

Zycher published his most recent broadside against climate science in the Summer 2021 issue of National Affairs, a formerly independent conservative policy quarterly that AEI brought in-house in 2019. In his essay, "The Case for Climate-Change Realism," he falsely argued that the "available science" does not support the notion that human activity is "the single most significant cause of climate change" and the "available data" undercut the assessment that extreme weather events are "evidence of an ongoing climate crisis."

As he has in previous articles, Zycher cited roundly debunked hypotheses for the primary causes of climate change, including a shift in northern Pacific Ocean circulation patterns called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which scientists have determined is incapable of causing a long-term warming trend, and "changes in solar activity," when, in fact, the sun's energy has declined since the 1980s while average global temperatures have continued to climb.

This summer was not a fortuitous time to be peddling discredited theories. On August 9, less than two months after Zycher posted his essay, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark, nearly 4,000-page "code red for humanity" report warning that the climate crisis is close to spiraling out of control and human activity is "unequivocally" to blame.

Zycher's main objective? To make a case, no matter how specious, for continued reliance on fossil fuels, which he falsely claimed are less expensive than renewables. Proposals to cut carbon emissions, including the Paris agreement, would have little real impact, he argued, and could "be accomplished only by substituting expensive energy for cheaper energy." In fact, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg, it is "now cheaper to build and operate new large-scale wind or solar plants in nearly half the world than it would be to run an existing coal or [natural] gas-fired power plant." To be sure, no one would confuse Zycher for a scientist or National Affairs for a peer-reviewed journal. But he serves ExxonMobil's interests as a seemingly independent expert who continues to express doubt about climate science and the viability of renewable energy, thereby providing cover for climate science deniers in Congress.

George Washington University's Regulatory Studies Center

The relatively unknown Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington (GW) University received $140,000 from ExxonMobil in 2020 and $1.2 million from the company since 2013. Director Susan Dudley founded the center in 2009 after serving as President George W. Bush's "regulatory czar" at the Office of Management and Budget and, before that, running the Regulatory Studies Program at Koch-financed Mercatus Center at George Mason University. She currently serves in various capacities for other longtime climate science disinformation groups, including the Koch-founded Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Regulatory Studies Center portrays itself as an "objective, unbiased" policy shop, but—like the Mercatus Center—its primary raison d'être is to weaken and quash government regulations, according to a 2019 analysis by the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen. The GW center's main tools are reports and public comments it submits to Congress, and although it does not get much mainstream news media attention, it has found a receptive audience on Capitol Hill—and in the previous administration. Much of the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda, Public Citizen found, echoed the center's recommendations, including "dramatically reducing the cost that the government attributes to carbon emissions."

But should the Regulatory Studies Center be lumped in with climate science disinformation groups? In response to the Public Citizen report, as well as criticism from UnKoch My Campus and GW student groups, the center issued a statement in February disputing the charge that it rejects climate science. "Contrary to unsubstantiated claims, no one in the Regulatory Studies Center questions climate science," it said. "In fact, most of the Center's scholars do not focus on environmental or energy issues at all. Those who have written on climate issues address economic and legal questions, not the science."

Whether or not the center directly disputes climate science is beside the point. In the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence, most ExxonMobil-funded disinformation groups have revised their position on the reality of climate change. Instead of challenging the science, their efforts now tend to focus on denigrating renewable energy, overstating the costs of transitioning to a clean energy economy while ignoring the benefits, and preventing government action. That is exactly what the Regulatory Studies Center does. In recent years, for example, it has published papers and filed public comments opposing stronger efficiency standards for home appliances and vehicles that would dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

The center also has enlisted the help of unabashed climate science deniers. In the fall of 2018, for example, it tapped Julian Morris to file a public comment supporting the Trump administration's proposed rollback of Obama-era standards for cars and light trucks designed to increase fuel economy and, for the first time, substantially reduce tailpipe carbon emissions. Morris, president and founder of the International Policy Network and vice president of research at the Reason Foundation—two libertarian, climate science denier organizations—falsely declared in a paper published in March 2018 that the "effects of climate change are unknown—but the benefits may well be greater than the costs for the foreseeable future."

Millions More for Disinformation

The money ExxonMobil donated in 2020 to AEI, the GW Regulatory Studies Center and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents only a small percentage of the company's recent outlays to sway public opinion and blunt government climate action. It is difficult to document all of the company's related expenditures, but they include:

  • More than $5 million on Facebook ads in 2020, which is more than half of the $9.6 million that the U.S. oil and gas industry spent on the ads, according to an analysis by the think tank InfluenceMap that reviewed more than 25,000 ads on Facebook's U.S. platform. Many of the ads described natural gas as a "green" fuel source and argued that cutting carbon emissions would drive up energy costs.
  • An estimated $10 million in annual dues to the American Petroleum Institute (API) (based on how much Shell Oil recently revealed it paid). The U.S. oil and gas industry's oldest and largest trade association, API is working overtime to block stricter methane emissions standards. McCoy indirectly referenced API during the secretly taped interview when he said ExxonMobil relied on third parties to publicly represent its interests in Congress. "We don't want it to be us, to have these conversations, especially in a hearing," he said. "It's getting our associations to step in and have those conversations and answer those tough questions and be, for the lack of a better term, the whipping boy for some of these members of Congress."
  • At least $100,000 in annual dues to trade associations (based on what it reported it spent in 2019) that have a long track record of peddling climate disinformation, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Nearly $834,000 during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles to 118 of the 139 climate science deniers currently in Congress. Over that same time period, the company reportedly spent nearly $41 million to lobby in Washington, but neither McCoy nor ExxonMobil's other in-house lobbyists have broached the topic of a carbon tax—the company's avowed top priority—with legislators since 2018, according to its quarterly lobbying reports.

So while ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods and his colleagues proclaim that they fully understand the threat posed by climate change and are "committed to being part of the solution," the evidence shows they continue to spend tens of millions of dollars every year to promote gridlock in Congress on the issue. The future of the planet as we know it hangs in the balance, but as McCoy acknowledged in his interview, ExxonMobil was—and still is—looking out for its investments and its shareholders' short-term interests, regardless of the long-term consequences.

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

The truth behind ExxonMobil’s claims to support a carbon tax

When then-ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy conceded in a secretly recorded videoin May that the oil giant voiced support for a carbon tax only because it assumed it would never happen, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said the company was "shocked by these interviews" and stood by its "commitments to working on finding solutions to climate change."

Wood's reaction was reminiscent of Captain Louis Renault feigning surprise to discover gambling at Rick's Café in the 1942 film "Casablanca." After quietly pocketing his winnings, Renault justifies closing down the nightclub by exclaiming, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

Woods was shocked? Really? Just one look at his company's financial records would show that despite claiming to endorse a carbon tax—initially in a cynical attempt to derail a cap-and-trade bill that was under consideration in 2009—ExxonMobil has funneled millions of dollars over the last decade to lawmakers who staunchly oppose the idea.

Backing Climate Science Deniers

One tried-and-true way corporations ensure access to Congress is by making campaign contributions. Although there may not be a verifiable quid pro quo, donations guarantee access, and access guarantees influence.

So, given ExxonMobil's professed support for a carbon tax, one might reasonably assume that the company's political action committee (PAC) and employees would back lawmakers who sponsor such legislation and, over time, withdraw their funding for senators and representatives who stand in the way.

In fact, the opposite is true.

During the video interview, McCoy—who at the time was ExxonMobil's senior director of federal relations—compared lobbying Congress with fishing.

"When you have an opportunity to talk to a member of Congress," he said, "I liken it to fishing, right? You know you have bait, you throw that bait out…. And… [then you start to] reel them in…. They're a captive audience. They know they need you. And I need them."

The goal, he explained, is to develop a close relationship with legislative staff. "You want to be able to go to the chief… and say, look, we've got this issue, we need Congressman So-and-So to be able to either introduce this bill, we need him to make a floor statement, we need him to send a letter," he said. "You name it, we've asked for everything."

Not quite everything. ExxonMobil apparently has not asked for a carbon tax, notwithstanding the fact that the company was one of the founding members of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), a bipartisan, industry-supported group, which was formed in 2017 to promote a carbon tax, and a year later, the company pledgedto give $1 million over a two-year period to Americans for Carbon Dividends(AFCD), the council's lobbying arm. Over the last decade, members of both houses have voted on a handful of carbon tax-related amendments and nonbinding resolutions. In every case, a sizable majority who received donations from ExxonMobil's PAC and employees rejected the idea. For example:

  • In March 2015, the Senate voted 58 to 42 to pass a budget amendment prohibiting a carbon tax. Thirty of the 40 senators who had received ExxonMobil campaign contributions since 2010, including amendment sponsor Roy Blunt (R-MO), voted in favor of the prohibition.
  • In June 2016, the House passed a resolution introduced by Steve Scalise (R-LA) stating that a carbon tax "would be detrimental to American families and businesses" by a 237 to 163 margin. Eighty-five percent of the House members who voted for the resolution had received ExxonMobil political donationssince 2013. By contrast, only 26 of the representatives who voted against the resolution—16 percent—had received ExxonMobil money.
  • In July 2018, the House passed another Scalise-sponsored resolution asserting that "a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy," this time by a 229 to 180 vote. During the 2018 election cycle, 75 percent of the representatives who gave the resolution a thumbs up received ExxonMobil donations. Only 23 percent of the 180 who voted against it got ExxonMobil funding.

The disparity between ExxonMobil's PAC donations to supporters of the July 2018 Scalise resolution and its opponents is even more telling, given that PACs—which can contribute as much as $10,000 to a candidate per two-year cycle—more accurately represent a company's agenda than that of individual employees. The ExxonMobil PAC contributed more than $935,000 to 74 percent of the resolution's supporters, but only $109,500 to opponents during the 2018 election cycle. Scalise, the resolution's sponsor, and 37 of his 48 resolution cosponsors received ExxonMobil PAC contributions.

The most recent congressional carbon tax vote took place in the Senate in February during a round of votes on the pandemic relief bill. John Hoeven (R-ND) sponsored an amendment that would have prohibited such a tax. It was rejected on a strict party-line vote: All 50 Republican senators voted for the amendment; all 50 Democratic senators voted no.

ExxonMobil PAC donations to those senators are mostly party-line, too. Twenty-seven of the 50 Republicans collectively have received $233,000 during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles. Over that same time frame, the PAC contributed just $62,000 to 11 of the Democrats.

Snubbing Carbon Tax Proponents

In January 2018, ExxonMobil Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Suzanne McCarron reaffirmed the company's support for a carbon tax, the Paris climate agreement and other related climate policies in a blog post on the company's website. ExxonMobil, she maintained, is "committed to being part of the solution."

Nevertheless, during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, ExxonMobil employees and its PAC donated nearly $834,000 to 28 of the 30 senators and 90 of the 109 representatives currently in Congress who, according to the Center for American Progress, still reject the scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising and that burning fossil fuels is largely to blame. The company's PAC funded 16 of the climate science deniers in the Senate and 81 in the House.

Lawmakers sponsoring carbon tax legislation, meanwhile, have enjoyed considerably less support. Over the last two election cycles, climate science deniers in the 117th Congress received six and a half times more from ExxonMobil than carbon tax proponents.

Two carbon tax bills have been introduced in the Senate this session, both by Democrats: one sponsored by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, which has nine cosponsors, the other by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin. Three carbon tax bills have been introduced in the House: one sponsored by Pennsylvania's Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick with one cosponsor, another by Connecticut's Democratic Rep. John Larson with two cosponsors, and a third by Florida's Democratic Rep. Theodore Deutch with 84 cosponsors.

Since 2017, ExxonMobil employees and the company PAC have donated only $127,692 to these carbon tax proponents: $35,486 to eight of the 11 sponsors and cosponsors in the Senate and $92,206 to 33 of the 90 sponsors and cosponsors in the House. The PAC contributed to only three of the senators and 12 of the representatives.

Despite this decidedly lopsided funding pattern, McCoy insisted during the interview that ExxonMobil wants to work with lawmakers on carbon tax legislation. "Put forth a bill and we'll show you that we'll support that bill, we'll help you work on that bill," he said. But, he added, "Nobody wants to do that because it's not politically expedient to put forth a tax for people, it just isn't."

In fact, a number of lawmakers have "put forth a bill" to establish a carbon tax in successive congressional sessions, but the company has shown no support, and neither McCoy nor ExxonMobil's other in-house lobbyists have broached the topic with members of Congress since 2018—the same year it announced its $1 million donation to the Climate Leadership Council's lobbying arm, AFCD—according to ExxonMobil's quarterly lobbying reports.

Staffers working for Rep. Larson and Sen. Whitehouse, who both have been sponsoring carbon tax legislation for years, recently verified that ExxonMobil has not expressed support for their respective proposals. Larson introduced a bill in 2009, the same year that ExxonMobil announced that it favored the policy, while Whitehouse first sponsored one in 2014 and has reintroduced a version of it in every session since.

Out of frustration, Whitehouse and his fellow bill sponsor, Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, sent a letter to ExxonMobil in August 2016 criticizing the company for its indifference.

"Regarding ExxonMobil's alleged seven years of support for a carbon fee, we've seen no meaningful evidence of that," the senators wrote. "None of the top executives that make up ExxonMobil's management team has expressed interest in meeting with any of us to discuss the Whitehouse-Schatz proposal or any carbon fee legislation."

Five years later, nothing has changed on that front. A Whitehouse spokesperson says his office is not aware of ExxonMobil supporting any carbon pricing legislation, let alone the senator's.

But McCoy's revelations did have consequences: The Climate Leadership Council kicked ExxonMobil out of the organization in August; the Union of Concerned Scientists and other public interest groups cited McCoy's comments in a "friend of the court" brief filed in Minnesota's climate science deception lawsuit against ExxonMobil; and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform asked McCoy to testify about his company's campaign to mislead the public "about the dangers of fossil fuels and their role in causing global climate change."

As for McCoy's job status, an ExxonMobil spokesperson told E&E News in late September that "McCoy no longer works for the company."

If McCoy does wind up testifying before Congress, he would serve as the opening act for a hearing that the Oversight Committee plans to hold on October 28 featuring his former boss Darren Woods and top executives from other major oil and gas companies. Finally, under oath, Woods and his colleagues will have to answer questions about their decades-long effort to block government action on climate.

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Trump Vows to Kill 50 Years of Federal Health and Safety Protections

President Trump wants to set the regulatory clock back to 1960, and last week he acted it out for the cameras.

Wielding a pair of golden scissors at a White House photo op, he cut red tape strung around two stacks of paper. One was a small pile of some 20,000 pages representing the amount of regulations in 1960; the other a mound of more than 185,000 pages representing those of today.

“We’re getting back below the 1960 level,” Trump declared, “and we’ll be there fairly quickly.”

There’s only one problem. That mountain of paper Trump used as a prop symbolizes hard-won measures that protect us.

To refresh the president’s memory, back in the 1960s, smog in major U.S. cities was so thick it blocked the sun. Rivers ran brown with raw sewage and toxic chemicals. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and at least two other urban waterways were so polluted they caught on fire. Lead-laced paint and gasoline poisoned children, damaging their brains and nervous systems. Cars without seatbelts, airbags or safety glass were unsafe at any speed. And hazardous working conditions killed an average of 14,000 workers annually, nearly three times the number today.

In response, Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and other landmark pieces of legislation to protect public health and safety. Some of those laws also created the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other federal agencies to write and enforce safeguards.

None of those laws, or the regulations they spawned, existed in 1960.

Trump Grew Up on Dirty Air

Trump should remember quite well what it was like in the 1960s. After all, he lived in New York, at the time one of the dirtiest cities in the country. Garbage incinerators routinely rained ash on city streets, while coal- and oil-fired power plants spewed a noxious mix of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and toxic metals. John V. Lindsay, the city’s mayor from 1966 to 1973, famously quipped, “I never trust air I can’t see,” but it was no laughing matter. On Thanksgiving weekend the year Lindsay took office, the smog was so bad it killed some 200 people.

The waterways coursing around the city’s boroughs, especially the Hudson River, were just as filthy. In 1965, then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller accurately called the Hudson “one great septic tank.” Indeed, 170 million gallons of raw sewage fouled the river daily while factories along its banks treated it as a waste pit. A General Motors plant in Sleepy Hollow, 27 miles north of New York City, poured its paint sludge directly into the river. Even worse, General Electric manufacturing plants in Fort Edwards and Hudson Falls dumped about 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a probable human carcinogen, into the river over a 30-year period ending in 1977. Since 1984, a 200-mile stretch of the river from Hudson Falls to Manhattan’s southern tip has been on the EPA’s Superfund program list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites.

Protections Prevent Disease and Save Lives

Fast forward to today. By and large, the environmental laws Congress began passing in the 1970s have been remarkably successful.

Thanks to the Clean Water Act, for example, tens of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash have been kept out of U.S. waterways since it was enacted 45 years ago. In New York City, harbor water quality has improved so much that humpback whales have returned for the first time in a century.

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, nationwide emissions of six common pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter (soot) and sulfur dioxide — plunged 70 percent on average between 1970 and 2015.

New Yorkers are breathing easier, too. On Earth Day last April, the city’s health department released a report announcing that air pollution in the Big Apple is at the lowest level ever recorded. Between 2008 and 2015, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter declined 23 percent and 18 percent, respectively, while sulfur dioxide levels plummeted 84 percent after the city and state tightened heating oil rules.

That’s all good news for public health. In 2010 alone, according to an EPA study, Clean Air Act programs that reduced levels of fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone prevented an estimated 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and 1.7 million asthma attacks across the country.

These accomplishments, however, do not mean it’s time to eliminate or weaken environmental safeguards. There is still much left to do. Consider that in just one year — 2015 — polluters dumped more than 190 million tons of toxic chemicals into waterways nationwide; at least 5,000 community drinking water systems violated federal lead regulations; and some 116 million Americans lived in counties with harmful levels of ozone or particulate matter pollution, which have been linked to lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular damage, reproductive problems and premature death.

If You Can’t Kill ’Em, Just Don’t Enforce ’Em

Fortunately, it will be very difficult for the Trump administration to roll back 50 years’ worth of congressionally mandated rules protecting the public from industrial poisons, harmful drugs, adulterated food and defective products. Trump’s regulation czar conceded the point immediately after the December 14 White House photo op.

“I think returning to 1960s levels would likely require legislation. It’s hard for me to know what that looks like,” said Neomi Rao, director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. “Deregulation also takes time. If we’re doing something consistent with the law, it takes time to reduce rules.”

In the meantime, the Trump administration is resorting to the next best—or worst—thing, depending on your perspective: It has cut back dramatically on enforcing environmental laws.

A recent New York Times investigative report compared the number of enforcement actions filed in the first nine months of the Trump EPA with what the two previous administrations did over the same time period. Under Scott Pruitt, the EPA initiated about 1,900 cases, about a third fewer than under Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s first EPA administrator, and about a quarter fewer than under Christine Todd Whitman, who directed the agency under President George W. Bush and was not known for aggressive enforcement.

The Times also found that the Trump EPA is reluctant to seek civil penalties. In its first nine months, the agency tagged polluters for about $50.4 million for violations. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to roughly 70 percent of what the Bush EPA levied and only about 39 percent of what the Obama EPA sought over the same time frame.

To make matters worse, Pruitt is threatening to cut off funding for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, which files lawsuits on behalf of the EPA’s Superfund program to force polluters to cover the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites. In recent years, the EPA has reimbursed the division more than $20 million annually.

In an apparent attempt to blunt criticism, Trump acknowledged at last week’s photo op that purging a half century of protections could have an adverse impact, and he assured Americans that he would not let that happen.

“We know that some of the rules contained in these pages have been beneficial to our nation, and we’re going to keep them,” he said. “We want to protect our workers, our safety, our health, and we want to protect our water, we want to protect our air, and our country’s natural beauty.”

Somehow, I’m not convinced. Given the president’s penchant for lying, his administration’s abysmal track record, and now his avowed intention to kill nearly 90 percent of federal regulations, the smoke Trump is blowing is as thick as 1960s New York smog.

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Trump Enviro Pick Displays 'Outrageous' Level of Climate Denial at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s pick to chair the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), testified at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday and, like many Trump nominees to date, showed herself to be an unqualified, polluter-friendly ideologue who rejects mainstream climate science.

“Your positions are so far out of the mainstream, they are not just outliers, they are outrageous,” Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey exclaimed at one point in clear exasperation. “You have a fringe voice that denies science, economics and reality.”

What Markey failed to note, however, is that White has personally experienced climate change-related extreme weather events in her home state of Texas, and scientists say they are only going to get worse.

Unqualified from the Start

White, who Trump previously considered for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, is a cattle rancher and dog breeder who chaired the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)—the Lone Star State’s version of the EPA—from 2001 to 2007 and was a member of the Environmental Flows Study Commission, the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Wildlife Association board.

Her qualifications for those positions? None.

White earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Humanities and Religion at Stanford, attended Princeton’s comparative religion doctoral program, and completed a year of law school at Texas Tech. It’s not quite the background one would expect for someone serving on environmentally related boards, let alone running the TCEQ. But in Texas, as in Florida and Wisconsin, ideology trumps science credentials, and White holds a politically correct pro-fossil fuels viewpoint.

That bias serves her well in her current job with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a libertarian think tank funded by what Texans for Public Justice characterized as a “Who’s Who of Texas polluters, giant utilities and big insurance companies.” Among TPPF’s benefactors are Chevron, Devon Energy and ExxonMobil; Koch Industries and its family foundations; and Luminant, the largest electric utility in Texas. White, who joined TPPF in January 2008, runs the nonprofit’s energy and environment program and co-heads its Fueling Freedom Project, whose mission is to “push back against the EPA’s onerous regulatory agenda that threatens America’s economy, prosperity and well-being.”

Climate Paranoia Strikes Deep

Recent media coverage of White’s nomination for the CEQ post has shined a light on her lack of scientific understanding — and her paranoia about the rationale for addressing climate change. She falsely claims that climate science is “highly uncertain,” characterizes it as the “dark side of a kind of paganism, the secular elite’s religion,” and argues that the “climate crusade,” if unchecked, would essentially destroy democracy. That’s right. White believes the United Nations and climate scientists are bent on establishing a “one-world state ruled by planetary managers.” Further, she routinely trumpets the benefits of carbon emissions, insisting that carbon dioxide “has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that could harm human health.” Carbon is a good thing, she says, because “the increased atmospheric concentration of man-made CO2 has enhanced plant growth and thus the world’s food supply.” Never mind that farmers and ranchers in her own state have been whipsawed in recent years by devastating heat waves, drought and floods, all linked to climate change.

At her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, White cited reducing ground-level ozone in Houston and Galveston when she chaired the TCEQ as her greatest accomplishment. But according to a recent editorial in the Dallas Morning News, she pushed for weaker ozone standards while she was at the helm of the agency.

“Her record is abominable,” the October 17 editorial stated. “White consistently sided with business interests at the expense of public health as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She lobbied for lax ozone standards and, at a time when all but the most ardent fossil fuel apologists understood that coal isn’t the nation’s future, White signed a permit for a lignite-fired power plant, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas’ efforts to meet air quality standards.”

Predictably, White also disparages renewable energy. “In spite of the billions of dollars in subsidies, retail prices for renewables are still far higher than prices for fossil fuels,” she wrote in her 2014 tractFossil Fuels: The Moral Case. “At any cost, renewable energy from wind, solar, and biomass remains diffuse, unreliable, and parasitic….” In fact, fossil fuels have received significantly more in federal tax breaks and subsidies for a much longer time than renewables; new wind power is now cheaper than coal, nuclear and natural gas; and the Department of Energy projects that renewable technologies available today have the potential to meet 80 percent of U.S. electricity demand by 2050.

Ignoring the Evidence

Most of Trump’s nominees for other key science-based positions—notably EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt—agree with White’s twisted take on climate science and renewables. What sets her apart, besides her penchant for calling advocates for combating climate change “pagans,” “Marxists” and “communists,” is her up-close-and-personal experience with climate change-related extreme weather events.

White and her husband, Beau Brite White, live in Bastrop County, an outlying Austin bedroom community, and own a vast cattle ranch of 118,567 acres—more than 185 square miles—in Presidio County, which sits on the state’s southwest border with Mexico.

Bastrop and Presidio counties are both struggling with drought due to low precipitation and high temperatures and, like the rest of Texas, suffered from an especially extreme drought in 2011. Part of a prolonged period of drought stretching from 2010 to 2015, the one in 2011 was the hottest and driest on record, and climate change likely played a significant role. A 2012 study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that the high temperatures that contribute to droughts such the one that struck Texas in 2011 are 20 times more probable now than they were 40 to 50 years ago due to human-caused climate change.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment report, released on November 3, agreed. “The absence of moisture during the 2011 Texas/Oklahoma drought and heat wave was found to be an event whose likelihood was enhanced by the La Niña state of the ocean,” the report, authored by scientists at 13 federal agencies, concluded, “but the human interference in the climate system still doubled the chances of reaching such high temperatures [emphasis added].”

The 2011 heat wave was particularly intense in Presidio County. According to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a meteorology professor at Texas A&M University, the county “achieved the triple-triple: at least 100 days reaching at least 100 degrees.”

Bastrop County, meanwhile, has become a tinderbox. Wildfires are happening there with greater frequency and intensity for a variety of reasons, including rising temperatures and worsening drought as well as population growth and development. In 2011, the county experienced the worst wildfire in Texas history, which destroyed more than 1,600 homes and caused $325 million in damage. Two years ago, in October 2015, the Hidden Pines Fire torched 7 square miles in the county and burned down 64 buildings.

White’s Neighbors Know Better

White may refuse to acknowledge what is happening in her own backyard, but most of her neighbors realize that human-caused climate change is indeed a problem, according to polling data released last March by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. The survey, conducted in 2016 in every county nationwide, found that a majority of residents in Bastrop and Presidio counties—67 percent and 78 percent respectively—understand that global warming is happening, while more than half of the respondents in both counties (52 percent in Bastrop and 62 percent in Presidio) know it is mainly caused by human activity.

Majorities in both counties also want something done about it. More than 70 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant and at least 65 percent in both counties want states to require utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewables.

Given their responses, White’s neighbors in Bastrop and Presidio counties make it clear that if they were polled on whether she should become the next chair of a little-known but powerful White House office that oversees federal environmental and energy policies, a majority would likely say no—and with good reason: Unlike White, for them, seeing is believing.

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Scott Pruitt Has More Than Doubled the Number of Polluter-Friendly Members of EPA's Science Advisory Board

On Halloween, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt gave Americans the equivalent of an apple filled with razor blades.

Instead of picking the best experts for his agency’s Science Advisory Board to protect public health, Pruitt appointed candidates who oppose the very laws the EPA is supposed to enforce.

To make matters worse, Pruitt did not renew terms for a number of respected members and even dismissed several independent scientists before their terms were up. All told, Pruitt shrunk the SAB from 47 to 42 participants and more than doubled the number of its polluter-friendly members.

Undermining the SAB’s integrity might make sense to a former Oklahoma attorney general who openly promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industry. But doing so jeopardizes the independent science the agency needs to protect American health and safety.

Pruitt’s Ill-Advised Appointments

The Science Advisory Board was established by Congress nearly 40 years ago as an impartial reality check. As Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently explained, the board “doesn’t make policy recommendations or decisions. It holds no veto power. It should exist as a check on anyone with an agenda, from environmentalists to oil companies. If the science is on your side, the board validates it. If you make unsupportable claims, the board calls you out.”

The SAB’s role as “arbiter of scientific fact” has proven to be invaluable. Over the last five years, for instance, the board provided the EPA recommendations for integrating science more effectively into its decision making process; advised the agency on the best model to use when evaluating the health threats posed by perchlorate, a likely carcinogen; and determined that the EPA’s preliminary finding that the hydraulic fracturing drilling process has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts” on drinking water resources was not supported by the best available science. The final version of the fracking study, released in December 2016, correctly concluded that the technique has indeed contaminated some drinking water supplies across the country.

As reconstituted by Pruitt, however, the SAB is more likely to come down in favor of industrial polluters than public health.

Take the new board chairman, Michael Honeycutt, who directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division. Over the last decade, Honeycutt rolled back the state’s protections for 45 toxic chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde. He also attacked EPA rules for ground-level ozone (smog), which aggravates lung diseases, and particulate matter (PM) (soot), which has been linked to lung cancer, cardiovascular damage, reproductive problems and premature death. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence linking fine soot particles to premature death, Honeycutt testified before Congress that “some studies even suggest PM makes you live longer.”

Many of Pruitt’s other appointees to three-year terms on the SAB share a similar disregard for established science.

  • Kimberly White is senior director of chemical products at the American Chemistry Council, the country’s largest chemical manufacturing trade association. Representing the interests of 155 corporate members, including BP, Dow, DuPont and ExxonMobil, the ACC has delayed, weakened and blocked science-based health, environmental and workplace protections at the state, national and even international levels.
  • Samuel Cohen, a professor at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, produces industry-friendly papers and testimony for chemical companies and trade groups, including the American Chemistry Council. He has downplayed the risks of monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA) for the arsenic-based weed killer’s manufacturers and testifiedon behalf of Dupont during a kidney cancer trial involving perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the main ingredient in Teflon.
  • Economist John D. Graham, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for five years during the George W. Bush administration, has a long history of emphasizing industry’s costs to reduce pollution, while discounting scientific evidence of exposure risks and ignoring the benefits of a cleaner environment.
  • Anne Smith, a senior vice president at NERA Consulting, is another economist with a pronounced corporate bias. Over the past few years, NERA has written reports for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and other industry trade groups arguing that the EPA underestimates the cost of its rules, including ones designed to lower mercury emissions and reduce ground-level ozone. In February 2015, Smith testified before Congress against the Clean Power Plan to curb coal-fired power plant carbon emissions.
  • Donald Van der Vaart, former secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, was the agency’s point man against federal air quality rules, including a cap on nitrogen oxide emissions, a major component of ground-level ozone. Last November, he sent a letter to then President-elect Trump denouncing “federal overreach” and asking him to all but eliminate the EPA. “By returning responsibility for implementing these laws to the states,” Van der Vaart wrote, “your administration can avoid the agenda-driven federal regulatory process that has stifled our country’s competitiveness.”

Pruitt also enlisted Richard Smith and S. Stanley Young to serve on the board. The two statisticians co-authored an August 2017 study claiming there is “little evidence” of a connection between fine particulate pollution and premature death, ignoring established scientific understanding of air pollution and health risks. Three other appointees, meanwhile, directly represent the energy industry: Merlin Lindstrom is vice president of technology at Phillips 66, Robert Merritt was a geology manager at Total, and Larry Monroe was the chief environmental officer at Southern Company.

Independent Scientists Shut Out

Perhaps most shocking, Pruitt upended four decades of precedent by banning scientists who have received EPA grants from serving on the SAB or any other agency advisory panel. Why? In Pruitt’s estimation, they have a conflict of interest. He followed through by kicking at least a half-dozen EPA-funded scientists off the SAB before their terms were over.

Pruitt’s attack on EPA grantees particularly rankled Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and a former regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The suggestion that federal research grants would conflict with advisory board work is frankly dishonest,” Rosenberg said. “Pruitt is turning the idea of ‘conflict of interest’ on its head by claiming that federal research grants should exclude a scientist from an EPA advisory board while industry funding shouldn’t. The truth is, EPA grants don’t come with strings. They’re meant to help promote the best independent science.

“Independent science is absolutely critical to making good policies that keep our air and water clean and our communities safe,” he added. “But this administration — particularly Administrator Pruitt — seems to have taken every opportunity to cut science out. Pruitt’s Halloween announcement is a blatant effort to stack the board and put narrow industry interests ahead of public health and safety. We will pursue all legal options available to us to prevent any scientist ban from remaining in place.”

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Scott Pruitt Declares War on Wind and Solar Energy, While Fossil Fuels Get Billions in Subsidies

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently proposed eliminating federal tax credits for wind and solar power, arguing that they should “stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources” as opposed to “being propped up by tax incentives and other types of credits....”

Stand on their own?

Pruitt surely must be aware that fossil fuels have been feasting at the government trough for at least 100 years. Renewables, by comparison, have received support only since the mid-1990s and, until recently, have had to subsist on scraps.

Perhaps a review of the facts can set Administrator Pruitt straight. There’s a strong case to be made that Congress should terminate subsidies for fossil fuels and extend them for renewables, not the other way around.

A Century (or Two) of Subsidies

To promote domestic energy production, the federal government has been serving the oil and gas industry a smorgasbord of subsidies since the early days of the 20th Century. Companies can deduct the cost of drilling wells, for example, as well as the cost of exploring for and developing oil shale deposits. They even get a domestic manufacturing deduction, which is intended to keep U.S. industries from moving abroad, even though—by the very nature of their business—they can’t move overseas. All told, from 1918 through 2009, the industry’s tax breaks and other subsidies amounted to an average of $4.86 billion annually (in 2010 dollars), according to a 2011 study by DBL Investors, a venture capital firm. Accounting for inflation, that would be $5.53 billion a year today.

The DBL study didn’t include coal due to the lack of data for subsidies going back to the early 1800s, but the federal government has lavished considerably more on the coal industry than on renewables. In 2008 alone, coal received between $3.2 billion and $5.4 billion in subsidies, according to a 2011 Harvard Medical School study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Meanwhile, wind and other renewable energy technologies, DBL found, averaged only $370 million a year in subsidies between 1994 and 2009, the equivalent of $421 million a year today. The 2009 economic stimulus package did provide $21 billion for renewables, but that support barely began to level the playing field that has tilted in favor of oil and gas for 100 years and coal for more than 200.

A 2009 study by the Environmental Law Institute looked at U.S. energy subsidies since the turn of this century. It found that between 2002 and 2008, the federal government gave fossil fuels six times more than what it gave solar, wind and other renewables. Coal, natural gas and oil benefited from $72.5 billion in subsidies (in 2007 dollars) over that seven-year period, while “traditional” renewable energy sources—mainly wind and solar—received only $12.2 billion. A pie chart from the report shows that 71 percent of federal subsidies went to coal, natural gas and oil, 17 percent—$16.8 billion—went to corn ethanol, and the remaining 12 percent went to traditional renewables.

A new study by Oil Change International brings us up-to-date. Published earlier this month, it found that federal subsidies in 2015 and 2016 averaged $10.9 billion a year for the oil and gas industry and $3.8 billion for the coal industry. By contrast, the wind industry’s so-called production tax credit, renewed by Congress in December 2015, amounted to $3.3 billion last year, according to a Congress Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate. Unlike the fossil fuel industry’s permanent subsidies, Congress has allowed the wind tax credit to expire six times in the last 20 years, and it is now set to decline incrementally until ending in 2020. Similarly, Congress fixed the solar industry’s investment tax credit at 30 percent of a project’s cost through 2019, but reduced it to 10 percent for commercial projects and zeroed it out for residences by the end of 2021. The JCT estimates that the solar credit amounted to a $2.4-billion tax break last year. Totaling it up, fossil fuels — at $14.7 billion — still received two-and-a-half times more in federal support than solar and wind in 2016.

The Costs of Pollution

Subsidy numbers tell only part of the story. Besides a century or two of support, the federal government has allowed fossil fuel companies and electric utilities to “externalize” their costs of production and foist them on the public.

Although coal now only generates 30 percent of U.S. electricity, down from 50 percent in 2008, it is still responsible for two-thirds of the electric utility sector’s carbon emissions and is a leading source of toxic pollutants linked to cancer; cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases; and premature death. The 2011 Harvard Medical School study cited above estimated coal’s “life cycle” cost to the country—including its impact on miners, public health, the environment and the climate—at $345 billion a year.

In July 2016, the federal government finally began regulating the more than 1,400 coal ash ponds across the country containing billions of gallons of heavy metals and other byproducts from burning coal. Coal ash, which has been leaching and spilling into local groundwater, wetlands, creeks and rivers, can cause cancer, heart and lung disease, birth defects and neurological damage in humans, and can devastate bird, fish and frog populations.

But that was last year. Since taking office, the Trump administration has been working overtime to bolster coal, which can no longer compete economically with natural gas or renewables. Earlier this year, it rescinded a rule that would have protected waterways from mining waste, and a few months ago it filed a repeal of another Obama-era measure that would have increased mineral royalties on federal lands. More recently, Energy Secretary Rick Perry asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure that coal plants can recover all of their costs, whether those plants are needed or not.

Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, but its drilling sites, processing plants and pipelines leak methane, and its production technique—hydraulic fracturing—can contaminate water supplies and trigger earthquakes. Currently the fuel is responsible for nearly a third of the electric utility sector’s carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the U.S. transportation —whose oil-powered engine exhaust exacerbates asthma and likely causes other respiratory problems and heart disease—is now the nation’s largest carbon polluter, edging out the electric utility sector last year for the first time since the late 1970s.

Like the coal industry, the oil and gas industry has friends in high places. Thanks to friendly lawmakers and administrations, natural gas developers are exempt from key provisions of seven major environmental laws that protect air and water from toxic chemicals. Permitting them to flout these critical safeguards forces taxpayers to shoulder the cost of monitoring, remediation and cleanup—if they happen at all.

The Benefits of Clean Energy

Unlike fossil fuels, wind and solar energy do not emit toxic pollutants or greenhouse gases. They also are not subject to price volatility: wind gusts and solar rays are free, so more renewables would help stabilize energy prices. And they are becoming less expensive, more productive, and more reliable every year. According to a recent Department of Energy (DOE) report, power from new wind farms last year cost a third of wind’s price in 2010 and was cheaper than electricity from natural gas plants.

Perhaps the biggest bonus of transitioning to a clean energy system, however, is the fact that the benefits of improved air quality and climate change mitigation far outweigh the cost of implementation, according to a January 2016 DOE study. Conducted by researchers at the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the study assessed the impact of standards in 29 states and the District of Columbia that require utilities to increase their use of renewables by a certain percentage by a specific year. Called renewable electricity (or portfolio) standards, they range from California and New York’s ambitious goals of 50 percent by 2030 to Wisconsin’s modest target of 10 percent by 2015.

It turns out that it cost utilities nationwide approximately $1 billion a year between 2010 and 2013—generally the equivalent of less than 2 percent of average statewide retail electricity rates—to comply with the state standards. On the benefit side of the equation, however, standards-spawned renewable technologies in 2013 alone generated $7.4 billion in public health and other societal benefits by reducing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions. They also saved consumers as much as $1.2 billion by lowering wholesale electricity prices and as much as $3.7 billion by reducing natural gas prices, because more renewable energy on the grid cuts demand—and lowers the price—of natural gas and other power sources that have higher operating costs.

Take Fossil Fuels Off the Dole

If the initial rationale for subsidizing fossil fuels was to encourage their growth, that time has long since passed. The Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank, published a fact sheet in May 2016 identifying nine unnecessary oil and gas tax breaks that should be terminated. Repealing the subsidies, according to CAP, would save the U.S. Treasury a minimum of $37.7 billion over the next 10 years.

An August 2016 report for the Council on Foreign Relations by Gilbert Metcalf, an economics professor at Tufts University, concluded that eliminating the three major federal tax incentives for oil and gas production would have a relatively small impact on production and consumption. The three provisions—deductions for “intangible” drilling costs, deductions for oil and gas deposit depletion, and deductions for domestic manufacturing—account for 90 percent of the cost of the subsidies. Ending these tax breaks, Metcalf says, would save the Treasury roughly $4 billion a year and would not appreciably raise oil and gas prices.

At the same time, the relatively new, burgeoning clean energy sector deserves federal support as it gains a foothold in the marketplace. Steve Clemmer, energy research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, made the case in testimony before a House subcommittee last March that Congress should preserve wind and solar tax incentives beyond 2020.

“Until we can transition to national policies that provide more stable, long-term support for clean, low-carbon energy,” he said, “Congress should extend federal tax credits by at least five more years to maintain the sustained orderly growth of the industry and provide more parity and predictability for renewables in the tax code.” Clemmer also recommended new tax credits for investments in low- and zero-carbon technologies and energy storage technologies.

Despite the steady barrage of through-the-looking-glass statements by Trump administration officials, scientific and economic facts still matter. Administrator Pruitt would do well to examine them. Congress should, too, when it considers its tax overhaul bill, which is now being drafted behind closed doors. If they did, perhaps they would recognize that—economically and environmentally—it would be far better for the future of the planet to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and provide more incentives for clean energy.

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Coal Is Going Down, No Matter What Trump and Pruitt Fantasize

Last Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he will repeal the Obama administration’s regulation to curb power plant carbon emissions, telling coal miners in Kentucky that “the war on coal is over.” The next day he kept his promise, issuing a proposed rule to eliminate the Clean Power Plan.

It was hardly a surprise. After all, President Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and vowed during his campaign to bring back coal jobs, which is why Pruitt made his preliminary announcement in Kentucky, where workers have a direct economic stake.

Despite the rhetoric, however, Pruitt and Trump can’t alter the harsh reality of the U.S. coal industry: Terminating the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to bring it back.

Consider the facts: As recently as 2008, coal-fired power plants generated half of all U.S. electricity. Since then, demand for coal has dropped steadily due to cheap natural gas, new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency initiatives, and bad investment decisions, forcing three of the four largest U.S. coal companies — and smaller ones as well — into bankruptcy. Today, coal accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

As for jobs, mechanization displaced miners years ago. In 1980, more than 228,000 people worked in the coal industry. In July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry employed only 50,400. Employment is especially anemic in Kentucky, which supplies 7 percent of the nation’s coal, making it the third-largest coal-producing state. The coal industry employed just 5,600 people in Kentucky in July, according to the BLS, a mere 0.28 percent of the state’s nonfarm working population and 70 percent fewer than at the end of 2008.

Mining jobs aside, according to a new Union of Concerned Scientists analysisthe rapid transition away from coal-powered electricity is likely to continue no matter what the Trump administration does.

“A significant portion of today’s coal fleet can’t compete economically with cleaner energy options,” said Jeremy Richardson, a UCS senior energy analyst and the report’s lead author. “That’s particularly the case in the Southeast, where operational costs for coal units are considerably higher than what utilities would have to pay for natural gas or renewables.”

Coal Plant Retirements Will Continue

The numbers tell the story: Nine years ago, 1,256 turbine units at 526 coal-fired power plants had a generating capacity of nearly 357 gigawatts (GW). (One gigawatt can power some 700,000 average homes.) Now, 706 units at 329 coal-fired power plants have a capacity of 284 GW — 20 percent less. In the intervening years, utilities converted 98 units to burn natural gas and retired 452 others.

Of the remaining 706 units, utilities have already announced plans to either retire or convert 163 more by 2030, amounting to roughly 18 percent of total U.S. coal capacity. But even that does not provide the full picture: UCS identified another 122 units at 58 plants that are uneconomic compared with natural gas — an additional 20 percent of coal capacity that is ripe for retirement. Taken together, UCS analysis shows that U.S. coal-fired electricity capacity could drop by more than a third in the next 15 years.

This inevitable decline will affect some states far more than others. Ironically, the state that consumes the highest percentage of uneconomic coal-fired electricity is West Virginia, the second-largest U.S. coal-producing state. UCS found that 12 of the 19 coal-fired units currently operating in the state are ripe for retirement, accounting for some 57 percent of the state’s electricity. Four other states are generating more than 20 percent of their electricity from uneconomic coal-fired units: Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Fewer Coal Plants, Better Health

Shutting down more old, inefficient coal units or converting them to run on natural gas will undoubtedly have a positive effect on public health. The data show that tighter pollution controls and closures already have dramatically reduced toxic coal plant pollutants linked to cancer and cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. Between 2004 and 2012, for example, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions — the main components of fine particulate pollution — dropped 68 percent and 55 percent, respectively, according to a 2015 Clean Air Task Force study. As a result, the study found, the number of asthma attacks attributable to coal plant pollution plunged 77 percent, heart attacks decreased 69 percent, hospital admissions plummeted 74 percent, and premature deaths declined 68 percent, from 23,600 to 7,500.

Closing more coal plants would particularly benefit low-income communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately harmed by coal’s toxic emissions. A 2012 NAACP study found that the nearly 6 million Americans who lived within 3 miles of a coal plant in 2000 had an average per capita income of $26,000 in today’s dollars — 15 percent lower than the national average — and 39 percent were people of color. According to UCS, by 2016 the number of Americans living within 3 miles of a coal plant was down to 3.3 million, and when the units scheduled for retirement are shuttered, fewer than 2 million will live that close.

According to an August 2016 Carnegie Mellon study in the journal Energy, converting all currently operating coal power plants to natural gas would further reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent and 60 percent, respectively. But coal plants are also one of the nation’s largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for roughly 20 percent. Replacing them with natural gas would not do enough to reduce the electric power sector’s contribution to climate change, not only because the burning of natural gas produces carbon dioxide, but also because gas leaks at drilling sites, processing plants and pipelines release methane, a more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. The UCS analysis recommends a better approach.

The Case for Renewable Energy

“In states where many outmoded coal units will likely close, a wholesale shift from one fossil fuel to another is tempting, but it would be a big mistake,” said Sam Gomberg, a UCS senior energy analyst and coauthor of the new UCS report. “Aside from the fact that it wouldn’t adequately combat global warming, there are other problems with relying too heavily on natural gas, including yo-yoing prices and utilities getting stuck with obsolete infrastructure.” To avoid these pitfalls, Gomberg said, states should diversify their energy mix with renewable resources such as wind and solar power, energy efficiency, and emerging technologies, including battery storage and smart meters.

Given the scale and scope of the energy transition now under way, the choices utilities make to replace coal will have a major impact on public health, the environment, and economic justice.

“Our analysis makes it abundantly clear that the transition away from coal is continuing and it’s long past time for Congress and the administration to drop the false premise that killing environmental safeguards will bring back coal jobs,” said Richardson. “Cities and states need to prepare for this next wave of coal plant retirements and work with local communities to figure out how to avoid an overdependence on natural gas and ensure that the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy flow to communities equitably.”

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Anti-Science Climate Deniers Taking Over EPA Science Advisory Board

A third of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, an influential panel that reviews the science the agency uses in formulating safeguards, could be succeeded by climate science-denying, polluter-friendly replacements when their terms expire at the end of this month.

The board, which has been in existence for nearly 40 years, is traditionally populated by bona fide scientists from academia, government and industry who volunteer to serve three-year terms. This time around, as first reported by E&E News, at least a dozen of the 132 candidates vying for one of the 15 open seats reject mainstream climate science. But that’s not all. There are at least 10 other equally inappropriate candidates on the list, and not all of them are scientists, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a panel of scienceadvisers.

Among the 12 climate science deniers are Weather Channel co-founder Joseph D’Aleo, who wrongly claims global warming is due to natural oceanic, solar and volcanic cycles; and former Peabody Energy science director Craig Idso, now chairman of his family’s Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, who insists “there is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in [average earth] temperature was caused by the rise in carbon dioxide.” D’Aleo, Idso and six of the other climate-fact-challenged candidates are affiliated with the fossil fuel industry-funded Heartland Institute, which has a long history of misrepresenting science.

The other 10 unsuitable candidates consistently side with industry when it comes to protecting the public from toxic hazards, regardless of the scientific evidence, and falsely accuse the EPA of being unscientific to try to undermine its credibility.

Soot Makes You Live Longer

One of the 10, toxicologist Michael Honeycutt, failed to secure a seat on the EPA’s seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee when he was nominated for one last fall — with good reason. Over the last decade, Honeycutt, who heads the toxicology division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, rolled back the state’s relatively weak protections for 45 toxic chemicals, including arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde and hexavalent chromium, the carcinogen that made Erin Brockovich a household name.

Honeycutt also has attacked EPA rules for ground-level ozone (smog), which aggravates lung diseases, and particulate matter (PM) (soot), which has been linked to lung cancer, cardiovascular damage, reproductive problems and premature death. In October 2014, Honeycutt argued that there would be “little to no public health benefit from lowering the current [ozone] standard” because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors” and “systems such as air conditioning remove it from indoor air.” And despite the overwhelming scientific evidence directly linking fine soot particles to premature death, Honeycutt testified before Congress in June 2012 that “some studies even suggest PM makes you live longer.”

Better Living Through Chemistry

Another industry-friendly nominee, Kimberly White, is senior director of chemical products at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the country’s largest chemical manufacturing trade association. Representing the interests of 155 corporate members, including chemical companies Dow, DuPont and Olin; pharmaceutical firms Bayer, Eli Lilly and Merck; and petrochemical conglomerates BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, the ACC has delayed, weakened and blocked science-based health, environmental and workplace protections at the state, national and even international levels.

For example, the ACC has lobbied against establishing federal rules on silica dust exposure and disclosing the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It has been instrumental in limiting community access to information about local chemical plants. And it has played a key role in quashing government efforts to regulate bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine-disrupting chemical used in plastics and can linings; flame retardants, which have been linked to birth defects and cancer; and formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. White downplayed formaldehyde’s risks in a September 2016 blog on the ACC website.

The ACC also lobbies to weaken existing environmental safeguards. In written testimony for a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing last February, for example, White charged that the EPA uses irrelevant or outdated data and procedures when drafting new regulations.

Who Needs a Cleaner Environment?

Finally, three of the pro-polluter candidates are economists with a distinct corporate tilt: Richard Belzer, whose clients include the American Chemistry Council and ExxonMobil Biomedical Sciences; Tony Cox, whose clients include the America Petroleum Institute, Chemical Manufacturers Association and Monsanto; and John D. Graham, dean of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, who is currently doing contract work for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on fuel economy standards and the libertarian Searle Freedom Trust on regulatory “reform.” All three emphasize the cost to industry to reduce pollution, discount scientific evidence of the risk of exposure, and ignore the benefits of a cleaner environment.

Perhaps the best known is Graham, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for five years during the George W. Bush administration. His appointment to that position was hotly contested because in his previous job, directing the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, he routinely understated the dangers of products manufactured by the center’s corporate sponsors by using questionable cost-benefit analyses.

As predicted, Graham applied that same simplistic, industry-friendly calculus at OIRA, which oversees all government rulemaking, and at the tail end of his tenure in 2006, he unsuccessfully attempted to standardize risk assessments across all federal agencies. Public interest groups and the scientific community, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, came out in full force against the idea, and a National Research Council (NRC) committee unanimously rejected it as “fundamentally flawed.”

“Economists like Graham are frustrated because the EPA has been conservative about risk,” said Center for Progressive Reform co-founder Rena Steinzor, who wrote a stinging indictment of Graham’s government-wide proposal in a May 2006 issue of Inside EPA’s Risk Policy Report. “The EPA gives more margin to safety. That drives economists crazy. They think it leads to over-protection. But there are not many examples of chemicals that turn out to be less harmful than we thought.”

Foxes Advising the Foxes in the Henhouse?

Putting climate science deniers and industry apologists on the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) would not only undercut the panel’s legitimacy, it also would provide cover for the corporate shills now in key positions at the agency, starting with Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has the final say on who is selected, and Nancy Beck, a deputy assistant administrator who most recently worked for the American Chemistry Council, and before that, for Graham at OMB.

“The Science Advisory Board has been providing independent advice to the EPA for decades, ensuring that the agency uses the best science to protect public health and the environment,” said Genna Reed, a policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “SAB members have always been eminent scientists who are committed to the often-challenging public service of working through complex scientific topics to help guide EPA decision-making. They are the EPA’s scientific compass. The agency’s mission to safeguard our air and water will be further compromised if Administrator Pruitt winds up selecting these unacceptable candidates.”

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Will New Scientific Breakthroughs Pave the Way for More Climate-Related Lawsuits?

What can you do when the president of the United States says climate change is a hoax and Congress is gridlocked by fossil fuel industry-funded climate science deniers?

Look to the courts for redress—with a major assist from science.

Using sophisticated computer analyses, scientists can now determine what percentage of an extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change. This emerging field of "climate attribution" science offers courts a powerful new tool for apportioning responsibility in cases brought by victims of extreme weather events—Hurricane Harvey comes to mind—or other climate-induced damages, such as sea level rise, against municipalities and private real estate developers for failing to protect them from foreseeable damages.

Likewise, companies responsible for producing and marketing fossil fuels—BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and the like—may find themselves in legal crosshairs thanks to a first-of-its-kind study definitively linking global climate changes to carbon emissions directly associated with them.

Published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change, the study calculated the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase resulting from carbon dioxide and methane emissions from products marketed by the largest coal, gas and oil producers and cement manufacturers as well as their extraction and production processes.

"We've known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change," said Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and climate science director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the Earth to warm and the seas to rise."

Ekwurzel’s study builds on a groundbreaking study one of her co-authors, geographer Richard Heede, published in Climatic Change in 2014. Closely tracking the oil, gas and coal extracted since the Industrial Revolution, Heede found that just 90 private and state-owned companies are responsible for two-thirds of human-caused carbon emissions since then.

What’s more, Heede's research showed that more than half of these carbon emissions occurred since 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen sounded the alarm about climate change in well-publicized congressional testimony.

According to the new study, emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers contributed approximately 57 percent of the upsurge in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of the increase in global average temperatures, and about 30 percent of global sea level rise since 1880. Meanwhile, emissions attributed to just the 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody and Shell, were responsible for roughly 16 percent of the global average temperature increase and around 11 percent of the global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010.

Between 1980 and 2010, the same 50 companies contributed approximately 10 percent of the global average temperature increase and about 4 percent of the sea level rise.

State-owned companies also have played a significant role. Emissions linked to 31 majority state-owned companies, including Coal India, Russia’s Gazprom, Kuwait Petroleum, Mexico’s Pemex, Petroleos de Venezuela, National Iranian Oil Company and Saudi Aramco, were responsible for about 15 percent of the global temperature increase and approximately 7 percent of sea level rise from 1880 to 2010.

"Until a decade or two ago, no corporation could be held accountable for the consequences of their products' emissions because we simply didn’t know enough about what their impacts were,” explained Myles Allen, a study co-author and professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford in England.

"Our study provides a framework for linking fossil fuel companies' product-related emissions to a range of impacts, including increases in ocean acidification and deaths caused by heat waves, wildfires, and other extreme weather-related events. We hope the results of this study will inform the debate over how best to hold major carbon producers accountable for their contributions to the problem."

As climate change impacts worsen and become more expensive to address, the question of financial responsibility will become more urgent. In New York City alone, local officials estimate that it will cost more than $19 billion to adapt to climate change. Globally, adaptation cost projections are equally astronomical. The U.N. Environment Program calculates that developing countries will require $140 billion to $300 billion per year in 2030 and a whopping $280 billion to $500 billion per year by 2050.

"Fossil fuel companies could have taken any number of steps to address climate change, such as investing in clean energy or carbon capture and storage," said Peter Frumhoff, a study co-author and director of science and policy at UCS. "Instead, many of them spent millions of dollars to try to deceive the public about climate science and block sensible limits on carbon emissions. Taxpayers alone, especially those living in vulnerable coastal communities, shouldn’t have to bear all the costs of these companies' irresponsible decisions."

Pending lawsuits by three California coastal communities could benefit immediately from Ekwurzel et al.'s findings. San Mateo and Marin counties and Imperial Beach, a city in San Diego County, filed complaints in July against 37 major coal, oil and gas companies, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, claiming higher sea levels triggered by their products is putting billions of dollars of property at risk.

The study also may embolden other municipalities and states to take similar legal action in the absence of leadership from the Trump administration and Congress. It then will be up to the courts to do what too many of our elected officials have so far failed to do: acknowledge scientific reality.

Ekwurzel et al.’s study quantified climate change impacts of each company’s carbon and methane emissions during two time periods: from 1880 to 2010 and from 1980 to 2010, because internal industry documents show fossil fuel companies were well aware of the threat posed by global warming at least 25 years ago.

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Energy Department Scientists Barred From Attending Nuclear Power Conference

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was one of 30 U.S.-based scientists scheduled to speak at the quadrennial International Atomic Energy Agency conference on fast breeder nuclear reactors in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in late June. Lyman did not attend the previous two conferences, Kyoto in 2009 and Paris in 2013, and was looking forward to rubbing shoulders with hundreds of scientists from around the world, including more than two-dozen from U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories.

Shortly after he arrived, however, Lyman learned that the 27 DOE lab scientists listed in the conference program were no-shows. One session featuring a panel of four DOE lab scientists talking about code development was canceled outright, Lyman said, while a handful of other panel discussions, originally comprised of five to six speakers, soldiered on without U.S. participation. “On the first day, the DOE attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow gave a 20-minute talk about the U.S. fast reactor program and refused to take questions,” he said. “That was it for the Energy Department.” Three DOE scientists did attend the conference, according to the DOE, but none of them were part of the official program.

Sandra Bogetic, a UC Berkeley doctoral student who presented a research poster at the conference, couldn’t help but notice that the DOE scientists were missing. Bogetic’s poster session was slated to include presentations by 122 scientists from 17 countries, including a dozen scientists from DOE labs. The DOE scientists were nowhere to be found, and another five DOE scientists missed a second poster session the following day.

“Everyone was in shock that they didn’t show up,” Bogetic said. “It’s the most important conference for fast reactors, and it was a lost opportunity for U.S. scientists to share their work at a conference that takes place only every four years.”

Mum’s the Word

Scientists planning to speak or present posters at the IAEA conference were asked to hand in their papers to conference organizers last December, five months before the event. The deadline was then extended into January, and at that point, the 27 DOE lab scientists were all on board to participate.

In early April, however, the DOE scientists received an email from Sal Golub, associate deputy assistant secretary for nuclear technology research and development at the DOE, indirectly telling them that the agency was not going to let them go.

“Yesterday,” Golub wrote, “we informally notified the IAEA conference organizers of the following: Representatives from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and DOE/NE contractors at the National Labs are currently unable to travel to Russia, which means they will not be able to attend the IAEA’s Fast Reactor conference in June.” He also assured the scientists that the DOE was “working with the organizers to adjust the program to reflect our absence,” which obviously didn’t happen.

Golub gave no reason why DOE scientists were “unable” to travel to Russia, and when I asked him for an explanation, he referred me to the DOE public relations office. Spokespeople at department headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, where 15 of the 27 missing DOE scientists are based, were equally unhelpful.

A DOE spokesperson in Washington, who declined to be identified, responded in an email: “We greatly value cooperation with the IAEA and plan to continue to do so whenever we can. The Department of Energy and the [U.S.] Embassy were represented at the event.”

Christopher Kramer, Argonne’s media relations manager, also avoided answering my question. “I can tell you that Argonne greatly values its relationship with the IAEA and plans to continue cooperation whenever we can,” he said in an email. “... From what I understand, Argonne did have two people in attendance at the conference in question.”

I emailed both PR officers back and again asked why the scientists weren’t at the conference. No response. Finally, I called a random sample of the grounded scientists. It was another dead-end.

“I wasn’t able to attend,” one said tersely. “I won’t talk about it.” Click. “We were told not to deal with outside media or organizations,” said another. Click. Two others were slightly more talkative, but neither could clear up the mystery. “I know very little about the decision” to cancel the trip, said one of the scheduled panelists. “It was above my pay grade. I basically followed orders from management.” The other scientist, a would-be poster session participant, was clearly perturbed. “The only reason I know is the [DOE] Office of Nuclear Energy wouldn’t let people go,” he said. “They didn’t give us a reason. I don’t know what their rationale is. Other U.S. government agencies are sending their people to Russia.”

Trump’s War on Science or a New Cold War?

So what’s the story behind the case of the missing DOE scientists?

It could come down to money. It’s certainly no secret that the Trump administration wants to slash DOE science spending. Just last month, for instance, the department closed its Office of International Climate and Technology, eliminating 11 staff positions. The office, which was established in 2010, provided technical advice to other countries on ways to reduce carbon emissions. The administration’s proposed federal budget, meanwhile, would cut the annual budget of the DOE Office of Science — the nation’s largest funder of the physical sciences — by 17 percent to $4.47 billion, its lowest level since 2008, not adjusting for inflation. Outlays for nuclear energy research would drop 28 percent. Even more drastic, the budget for the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would plunge nearly 70 percent.

DOE spokespeople, however, didn’t cite financial constraints as a reason, and the cost of sending the scientists to Russia was presumably built into the fiscal year 2017 budget, which predated the Trump administration. In any case, Bogetic, the Berkeley grad student, told me that one of the scientists who wasn’t allowed to attend the conference asked the DOE if he could pay his own way. The answer was no.

It’s also tempting to chalk it up to the Trump administration’s war on science. Besides barring federal scientists from attending conferences, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the administration also has been preventing scientists from speaking publicly, dismissing key scientific advisors, denying public access to taxpayer-funded information, and ignoring scientific evidence to justify rolling back public health, environmental and workplace safeguards. No doubt, the administration’s hostility toward federal scientists may have been a factor.

The most likely explanation, however, is where the conference took place — Russia — and what it was about — nuclear energy.

U.S.-Russian relations, notwithstanding President Trump’s bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been deteriorating for quite some time. The White House is under investigation for possibly colluding with Moscow to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Congress just passed tougher sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, annexing Crimea, and supporting eastern Ukraine separatists.

Nuclear-related relations between the United States and Russia are also frayed. Last October, in response to U.S. sanctions, Putin suspended a U.S.-Russian agreement to dispose of excess weapons grade plutonium; an agreement to cooperate with the United States on nuclear energy-related research; and a pact between the DOE and Rosatom — the Russian state atomic energy corporation — to conduct feasibility studies on converting six Russian research reactors to safer, low-enriched uranium.

Putin’s actions didn’t get much media attention, but they should have. Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists last December, Siegfried Hecker, former director of the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, warned that "the Kremlin’s systematic termination of nuclear cooperation with the United States … sets the clock back, putting both countries at enormous risk and endangering global stability.”

Rosatom was the co-host of the June IAEA conference, which was held in Yekaterinburg mainly because the world’s largest operating fast reactor is only 35 miles away, at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant. Conference participants were treated to a tour of the 880-megawatt BN-800 reactor, which began generating power last year, as well as its smaller predecessor, the BN-600, which has been running since 1980. There are only four other fast reactors currently in operation worldwide: one in China, two in India, and another one in Russia.

The IAEA conference, however, was not Russo-centric. Scientists from more than two dozen countries, including China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, participated. And despite Russia’s suspension of nuclear cooperation with the United States, U.S. scientists were welcome.

“Scientists shouldn’t be limited by political problems,” said Bogetic. “We are scientists. We need to communicate.”

Lyman, the UCS physicist who participated in a panel discussion at the conference, agrees. “With so many communication channels between the U.S. and Russia now cut off, it’s essential to preserve scientific cooperation in areas where there is common ground between the two countries,” he said. “Preventing DOE scientists from attending the IAEA conference — for whatever reason — was shortsighted and ultimately self-defeating.”

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Yes, Trump Should Definitely Build a Wall - but Not on the Mexican Border

After President Trump met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto last Friday at the G20 summit in Germany, a reporter asked him if he still wants Mexico to pay for a wall along the U.S. southern border. “Absolutely,” Trump replied.

Regardless of who foots the bill, the border wall, which could cost as much as $21 billion, would be a colossal waste of money, with or without the solar panels Trump now says he wants to add. The border is already well-defended, undocumented migration from Mexico has dropped dramatically since 2008, and undocumented immigrants don’t take jobs away from Americans.

That said, building a wall is actually a good idea. Several walls, in fact. But not to keep out undocumented immigrants—to keep out the sea.

Flooded coastal communities

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report describing how rising sea levels brought on by climate change could affect U.S. coastal communities, home to 40 percent of our population. In a worst-case scenario, the agency estimates that seas along the coasts in some places could rise nearly 2.5 meters—about 8 feet—by the year 2100. That’s 2 feet higher than what NOAA estimated just five years ago.

The year 2100, however, is a long way off, and sea level rise is a serious problem right now. More than 90 U.S. coastal communities are already experiencing chronic flooding, according to a new study by researchers at the Union of Concerned Scientists published Wednesday in the journal Elementa. These high-tide floods, which are often only a foot or two deep, can cover coastal roads for hours, trap residents in their homes, disrupt businesses, and cause structural damage.

The incidence of chronic flooding—which UCS defines as occurring at least 26 times a year and affecting 10 percent or more of a municipality’s usable land—will increase as time goes on due to climate change. The only question is how much. UCS researchers project that the number of chronically inundated cities and towns will double by 2035. By mid-century, the number of localities likely will jump to somewhere between 270 and 360, depending on whether carbon emissions continue to rise or decline.

A 2014 UCS sea level rise study, meanwhile, estimated that the number of high-tide floods in two-thirds of 52 cities along the Eastern and Gulf coasts, including Boston, Miami, Philadelphia and Savannah, could triple by 2030. Several New Jersey shore towns could see at least 80 tidal floods a year, while Annapolis, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., could average more than 150 tidal floods annually. Throw in some hurricanes and other storms, and this increased flooding along the two coasts will likely devastate local economies.

Let’s translate that into language our real-estate-developer-in-chief would understand.

If we continue to burn fossil fuels at present rates, “by 2050 between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of existing coastal property will likely be below sea level nationwide, with $238 billion to $507 billion worth of property below sea level by 2100,” according to a 2014 report commissioned by the Risky Business Project headed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer.

That bill will come due well before 2050, however. “Within the next 15 years,” the Risky Business report projected, “higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion. Adding in the potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion.”

So, if President Trump is keen on building a wall, his administration should provide federal support to coastal states, counties and cities that are already grappling with rising ocean levels. They will need not only walls, but also bulkheads, jetties and other hardened structures, as well as vegetated dunes, salt marshes and other natural “soft” shoreline defenses to hold back the sea. And all of that infrastructure may still not be enough. A good number of coastal residents will have to abandon their homes and businesses and move inland to higher ground.

Trump properties at risk

Several coastal cities are now considering sea walls and other barriers. City officials in Boston are exploring the possibility of building a 4-mile-long sea wall in an arc around Boston Harbor that would stand at least 20 feet above the water at low tide. They also are investigating other ways to protect city residents and $80 billion worth of real estate, including constructing berms around neighborhoods, redirecting flood waters into canals and flood-proofing buildings.

Meanwhile, more than 60 elected officials and business leaders in Texas sent a letter to President Trump in April requesting $15 billion in federal funds for a coastal barrier system to defend the Houston and Galveston bay areas from hurricane storm surges. The signatories, who include 20 mayors and eight state legislators, stressed the area’s economic importance and its vulnerability. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused more than $29 billion in damages on the state’s upper coast. If Ike had hit the port of Houston, the letter pointed out, it would have resulted in more than $100 billion in damages.

Given there are no Trump hotels or golf courses in Texas or Massachusetts, President Trump may not care much about Houston or Boston. But he—or at least someone in his far-flung empire—apparently does worry about the threat rising seas pose to Trump properties. His Irish firm has been trying to get a permit to build a nearly 2-mile long, 13-foot-high wall to protect a Trump luxury golf resort in the village of Doonbeg from rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms.

As it turns out, a number of Trump properties here in the United States are also in harm’s way.

New York City: Let’s start with Trump’s hometown, New York, where his family owns 13 buildings in Manhattan. Five years ago, Hurricane Sandy, which cost the region $60 billion, prompted local officials to look into ways to defend the city from floods and storm surge.

As writer Jeff Goodell pointed out in a July 2016 feature in Rolling Stone, a lot is at stake. Home to 8.5 million people, the city generates nearly 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Then there’s its vast network of subways, tunnels and other underground infrastructure, and—of course—row upon row of skyscrapers.

By Goodell’s count, “71,500 buildings worth more than $100 billion stand in high-risk flood zones today, with thousands more buildings at risk with each foot of sea level rise.” The eight Trump buildings clustered around Central Park’s south end and the Upper East Side are relatively safe, but two of his properties—the 46-story Trump Soho Hotel Condominium and the 70-story Trump Building on Wall Street—are on the island’s southern tip, one of the most vulnerable areas in the city.

New York is currently planning to construct a massive barrier system, dubbed “the Big U,” that may eventually loop around the bottom of Manhattan, from 42nd Street on the East Side to 57th Street on the West Side. The barrier, more of a berm than a wall, will be covered by grass and trees, as well as benches and bike paths, and is expected to cost more than $3 billion. Will the Trump administration include it in its infrastructure plans—and will those plans ever get off the ground?

Florida: South Florida also is worthy of the president’s attention. After all, it’s home to his “Winter White House,” the $200-million, 123-room Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, as well as the Trump Towers and Trump Grande complex in Sunny Isles Beach, and Trump Hollywood in Hollywood, all which sit on narrow barrier islands between Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. There are also three Trump golf courses in the state, in Jupiter, Miami and West Palm Beach. All of the properties, except the Jupiter golf course, are at risk.

Mar-a-Lago’s 20 acres stretch the width of a barrier island off the coast of Palm Beach, an area already plagued by chronic tidal flooding. A 3-foot sea level rise—expected by 2060 or 2080 depending on how fast the ocean rises—would inundate the resort’s western lawn and nearby roads that lead to the property. Likewise, a 3-foot sea level rise would flood much of the west side of the barrier island where the Trump Towers and Trump Grande complex are located, just east of North Miami Beach. Both properties would be spared in that scenario, but add another foot and major sections of the main road running south to Miami Beach would be permanently under water.

Before that happens, though, chronic flooding along the coast is expected to worsen significantly. Based on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates and tide gauge data, a 2016 UCS report projected that tidal floods in Coral Gables, Miami, Miami Beach and other South Florida municipalities will jump from today’s six times per year to as many as 80 times per year by 2030 and more than 380 times per year by 2045—more than one a day. But given that saltwater is already tainting regional drinking water supplies and tidal flooding is commonplace even when the sun is shining, government agencies are now beginning to respond to the threat.

Three years ago, Miami Beach initiated a $500-million pump project to keep water off the streets. Last year, Fort Lauderdale raised the required height for sea walls, but only for rehab projects and new construction. Delray Beach has installed valves in some sea walls that prevent saltwater from spilling into the city’s drainage system. And later this year, Miami will kick off a $100-million flood prevention program to raise roads, install pumps and water mains, and redo sewer connections in two neighborhoods, part of a citywide effort that is expected to cost as much as $500 million. But much more needs to be done to protect the 3.5 million state residents at risk of coastal flooding, and that will take millions, if not billions of dollars.

Hawaii: Finally, the Trump family owns a hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Like South Florida, tidal flooding is already wreaking havoc in the city, and rising sea levels will make things much worse. According to a March University of Hawaii study, if the sea level increases 3 feet, flooding that occurs when groundwater seeps above ground level would inundate much of Honolulu.

“The flooding will threaten $5 billion of taxable real estate; flood nearly 30 miles of roadway; and impact pedestrians, commercial and recreation activities, tourism, transportation and infrastructure,” said Shellie Habel, lead author of the study. “The flooding will occur regardless of seawall construction, and thus will require innovative planning and intensive engineering efforts to accommodate standing water in the streets.”

An ounce of prevention

Boston, Honolulu, Houston, Miami and New York are just a small sample of the cities and towns that will need federal assistance to protect their residents and real estate from rising seas. The cost of adaptation, including sea barriers, pump stations, and better road and bridge design, will not come cheap, but compared to the cost of everyday flooding, let alone hurricanes and storm surges, it’s a bargain.

Beyond adaptation, however, there’s an obvious, common-sense solution: prevention. How can the world avoid a 3-foot sea level rise by 2060, let alone an 8-foot rise by 2100? By dramatically reducing carbon emissions. A certain amount of sea level rise is already locked in, but slashing emissions would slow the rising sea rate and reduce the frequency and intensity of the resulting floods. Would it save Mar-a-Lago and other Trump coastal properties? Yes, it most certainly would. Will that stark reality stop Trump from trying to sabotage worldwide efforts to curb carbon emissions? One could only hope so.

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ExxonMobil Talks a Good Game, but It’s Still Funding Climate Science Deniers

ExxonMobil executives repeatedly claim their company supports a federal carbon tax and the Paris climate agreement. The company’s checkbook ledger, however, tells a far different story.

Yesterday, the company released its annual list of its “public information and policy research” grantees, which shows that it spent $1.65 million in 2016 on a dozen think tanks, advocacy groups and associations that contest climate science and oppose both the Paris accord and a carbon tax—the very policies the company professes to endorse. Last year’s outlay boosted the total of the company’s expenditures on climate disinformation over the last two decades to $34.6 million.

Chamber of horrors

Most of ExxonMobil’s spending on denier groups last year—87 percent—went to four organizations: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council.

ExxonMobil gave more than half of last year’s kitty, a cool $1 million, to the Chamber, which provided President Trump with a key, but fraudulent, rationale for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Parroting a recent report funded by the Chamber and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF)―which received $1.78 million from ExxonMobil between 2000 and 2015―Trump claimed that over the next several decades the accord would cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion and, by 2040, eliminate 6.5 million industrial sector jobs.

The Associated Press, Politifact and the Washington Post fact-checked the speech and arrived at similar conclusions: The Chamber and ACCF cooked the books.

“The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting U.S. targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to U.S. businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects,” AP reporters Michael Biescker and Paul Wiseman pointed out. “Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation doesn’t actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology.”

The Chamber, which has a long history of denying climate science, made similar dire warnings about job losses in a 2014 report analyzing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That report used flawed assumptions to magnify the carbon rule’s cost and exaggerate job losses and, like its recent report on the Paris agreement, didn’t factor in the carbon rule’s considerable benefits.

The market will take care of it

The next biggest ExxonMobil grant last year, $235,000, went to the American Enterprise Institute, which had already received $4.1 million from the company between 1998 and 2015. AEI economist Benjamin Zycher addresses climate issues more than anyone else these days at the free-market think tank, and his views are diametrically opposed to ExxonMobil’s professed positions. He disputes the conclusions of mainstream climate science, insists a carbon tax would be “ineffective,” and calls the Paris agreement an “absurdity.”

Zycher’s colleague Mark Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is also no fan of the international accord. In a June 2 essay, he cited numbers from the Chamber’s discredited report and maintained that “our emissions will arguably decline faster because of Trump’s withdrawal—because our free market economy will be stronger and more innovative without it.”

Wind energy blows

The Manhattan Institute, which received $705,000 from ExxonMobil between 2006 and 2015, pulled in another $135,000 from the company last year. Staffers there aren’t too keen on the carbon tax or the Paris agreement, either. Senior Fellow Oren Cass, who previously worked at Mitt Romney’s old firm Bain & Company, calls the accord a “fraud” and argues that a carbon tax would be “bad for the country” and “bad for the economy.”

Another senior fellow at the libertarian think tank, Robert Bryce, previously worked as a newspaper reporter and for the Institute for Energy Research, a former ExxonMobil grantee that is largely underwritten by the Koch brothers. A self-styled agnostic about climate change, Bryce regularly attacks renewable energy. He especially loves to bash wind, carping about the industry’s temporary federal tax breaks over the last 20 years and its threat to birds. Never mind that the oil and gas industry received an average of $4.86 billion a year (in 2010 dollars) in permanent federal subsidies between 1918 and 2009 (that continue to today), or that oil and gas industry fluid waste pits kill roughly three times more birds a year than wind turbines. Bryce never mentions either of those salient facts.

Not-so-smart ALEC

Between 2006 and 2015, ExxonMobil gave $600,000 to the American Legislative Council, a secretive lobby group that drafts sample corporate-friendly legislation for state lawmakers. Last year, the oil company gave ALEC another $76,500.

Does ALEC also oppose a carbon tax and the Paris accord? You bet.

In 2013, ALEC drafted a sample resolution for state legislators to reject “all federal and state efforts to establish a carbon tax on fuels for electricity and transportation.” More recently, the director of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force slammed the Paris agreement as a “bad deal” for America. “The Paris agreement is little more than an effort by the previous president to lend some international legitimacy to his destructive regulatory campaign against affordable domestic energy,” Kenneth Stein, a former legislative aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, wrote in May 25 essay on ALEC’s website. “As has been seen in any number of U.S. industries, regulation and rulemaking stifle progress and innovation—much more so when the regulations become part of an international treaty regime.”

Why bother with a carbon tax or an international carbon-reduction agreement if, as ALEC erroneously maintains, scientists haven’t determined the role human activity plays in global warming? “Climate change is a historical phenomenon,” its website states, “and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”

More than 100 corporations have quit ALEC for a number of reasons, notably its scientifically indefensible position on climate change. Those companies include a number of energy sector heavyweights, including American Electric Power, BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell. But not ExxonMobil.

Meet the new boss...

The fact that ExxonMobil’s grantees contradict the company’s avowed positions on climate science and policy should come as no surprise. Its funding pattern in Congress is analogous. Over the years, the company has consistently rewarded legislators who reject mainstream climate science and vote against carbon tax resolutions by funding their reelection campaigns. Half of the nearly $1.45 million it spent on candidates in the 2016 election cycle, for example, went to 81 climate science deniers in the House and 24 in the Senate. And 18 of the 22 senators who sent a letter to President Trump urging him to abandon the Paris agreement collectively received $371,000 in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil between 2011 and 2016.

Rex Tillerson began playing this game soon after he became the company’s CEO in 2006. In January 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report documenting that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil had spent at least $16 million on a network of more than 40 anti-regulation groups to manufacture doubt about climate science. A week after its release, Tillerson acknowledged that his company had a PR problem. “We recognize that we need to soften our public image,” he said, according to a January 10 story in Greenwire, a trade publication. “It is something we are working on.”

Ten years later, ExxonMobil’s PR offensive continues. Publicly, company officials repeatedly assure the news media and the general public they have seen the light. Climate change is indeed real and we need to address it. At the same time, however, ExxonMobil is still bankrolling climate disinformation groups and deniers in Congress to stymie government action.

In January, Darren Woods, who has been working for ExxonMobil since 1992, replaced Tillerson as CEO. So far, he’s the same as the old boss. His inaugural blog post, which champions natural gas as “powerful tool” to reduce carbon emissions and stresses the challenge of “managing the risks of climate change” while meeting growing worldwide energy demand, could have easily been written by Tillerson. And, like his predecessor, Woods dutifully reiterated ExxonMobil’s nominal support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax and the Paris agreement. But until the company stops funding climate science denier groups and the members of Congress standing in the way, it will remain a major obstacle to saving the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.

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Can Trump’s Koch-Funded Appointees Stall America's Clean Energy Momentum?

When The Washington Post reported earlier this month that President Trump appointed Daniel Simmons to run the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the paper called him a “conservative scholar.”

Conservative scholar? “Fossil fuel industry propagandist” would have been more accurate.

A veteran of Charles and David Koch’s climate science denier network, Simmons has spent much of his career disparaging clean energy. His most recent job was at the Institute for Energy Research (IER), where he served as the think tank’s vice president for policy. Prior to joining IER, he was the Natural Resources Task Force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporation-funded lobby group that, like IER, has been trying to repeal state standards that require electric utilities to use more renewable energy. And before that, he was a research fellow at the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University. All three organizations have received substantial funding from the Koch brothers, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries, who have spent more than $100 million over the last two decades on dozens of think tanks and advocacy groups to spread climate disinformation.

IER and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), are particularly indebted to the Kochs for both funding and staffing. Between 2010 and 2014, they received more than $5 million from Koch-controlled funds. And, like Simmons, top IER-AEA officials are well-entrenched members of the Koch network. IER founder and CEO Robert L. Bradley, Jr., for example, is an adjunct scholar at the Koch-founded and -funded Cato Institute and the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also has been a featured speaker at the Koch-funded Heartland Institute’s annual climate science-bashing conference. IER-AEA President Thomas Pyle, meanwhile, is a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Pyle oversaw the Trump Energy Department transition team, which included Simmons and Travis Fisher, an IER economist who also is now on the DOE staff.

Given Simmons’ résumé, it’s no surprise that he belittles efforts to address global warming, disingenuously asserting that the “economic damages” of curbing carbon emissions “would be greater than the damage caused by a warming world.” Never mind that if we continue to burn carbon at the same rate, U.S. property losses by 2050 from sea level rise alone would be astronomical, ranging from $66 billion to $106 billion.

Predictably, Simmons also is a staunch opponent of federal support for wind and solar power. He argues that the “government should get out of the business of betting taxpayer dollars on energy projects,” conveniently ignoring the fact that fossil fuels themselves are heavily subsidized. According to a new analysis by Management Information Services for the Nuclear Energy Institute, fossil fuels have received $666 billion (in 2015 dollars) in federal incentives since 1950, four times what renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, biofuels and biomass, have received. More than 80 percent of that fossil fuel support went to the oil and gas industry, which, according to a 2011 study by DBL Investors, has been receiving an average of $4.86 billion (in 2010 dollars) in federal subsidies every year since 1918.

Perry’s Anti-Renewables Study

Simmons will serve as acting assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy until the Senate confirms someone for the post. He will then settle in as the office’s principal deputy assistant secretary. While it’s too early to find his fingerprints on anything, his former IER colleague, Travis Fisher, has already raised some concerns. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who also has received generous contributions from the Kochs over the years, tapped Fisher to conduct a study to assess if federal support for renewable energy threatens baseload power generators — nuclear and coal plants — and undermines electricity grid reliability.

Seven members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have questioned the rationale for the study. In a letter to Perry, they complained that the “study, as you have framed it, appears to be intended to blame wind and solar power for the financial difficulties facing coal and nuclear electric generators” and criticized the fact that Fisher, who is clearly biased against renewables, was tasked with leading the study. Historically low natural gas prices are largely responsible for recent nuclear and coal plant closures, the senators pointed out, and several recent studies have found that wind and solar power facilities strengthen grid reliability.

The irony here, of course, is Texas — where Perry served as governor from 2000 until 2015 — is the nation’s leading state for wind energy. Lone Star wind turbines generate enough electricity to power 7 million average U.S. households and provide more than 24,000 jobs. On top of that, 10,000 Texans work in the solar industry and another 70,000 work in the energy efficiency field. By comparison, the coal industry employs only 50,000 workers nationwide.

Regardless, Perry likely plans to use Fisher’s grid reliability study as a pretext for rolling back incentives for wind and solar and boosting coal, one of President Trump’s campaign promises. Likewise, the study could give the Trump administration ammunition to attack state standards requiring utilities to increase their use of renewables.

Clean Energy Progress at the State Level

States are where the action is — and likely will continue to be — given the Trump administration’s aversion to renewable energy and years of gridlock on Capitol Hill.

“There’s a lot of clean energy momentum across the country, including in states where you might not expect it,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and lead author of a recent report rating state-by-state progress. “The federal government has been playing an important role in encouraging renewable energy, efficiency and vehicle electrification—at least until recently—but we found that the states that have shown leadership are already reaping economic and environmental benefits, including new jobs, cleaner air and lower public health risks.”

Indeed, the growth of clean energy across the country has been nothing short of stupendous. Wind power generation, for example, increased more than tenfold over the past decade, according to the UCS report, while its cost dropped by two-thirds over the last six years. Wind farms in 41 states now provide enough electricity to power more than 20 million average U.S. households. Solar power capacity, meanwhile, has jumped more than 900 percent since 2011, while the cost of residential solar electric power fell by more than 50 percent since 2009 and large-scale solar costs declined even more.

The public is, by and large, on board. A new Pew Research Center poll found that 83 percent of Americans say expanding the use of renewable energy is a “top” or “important” national priority. Further, 54 percent of the survey respondents agree that “government regulations are necessary to encourage businesses and consumers to rely more on renewable energy sources.”

Renewable energy’s remarkable track record has encouraged a number of states to up the ante. Just a few years ago, ambitious states set a goal of generating 25 percent to 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy. Today, six of the 29 states with renewable energy standards are aiming to generate 50 percent or more of their electricity from wind, solar and other clean sources.

That’s the good news. The bad news is Koch surrogates have been targeting these state standards for years, and now two former IER staff members — not to mention their new boss — are in a position to do something about them. Certainly it would be the height of hypocrisy for an administration that extols states’ rights to try to scuttle state renewable energy standards, but for the Trump administration, hypocrisy is the norm. With so much clean energy momentum in blue and red states alike, the open question is just how much damage Trump’s DOE appointees will be able to do.

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Trump's War on Federal Science Will Stifle Innovation and Hurt the Economy

Just after President Trump was elected last November, thousands of American scientists did something unprecedented. Alarmed by the incoming president’s blatant disregard for the facts, they sent an open letter calling on the new administration and Congress to respect “scientific integrity and independence.” Signed by more than 5,500 scientists, the letter ends with a warning: “We will continue to champion efforts that strengthen the role of science in policymaking, and stand ready to hold accountable any who might seek to undermine it.”

If Trump’s scientifically indefensible statements on the campaign trail weren’t disturbing enough, his cabinet appointees, his executive actions rescinding environmental safeguards and his preliminary “skinny” budget proposing to gut federal science programs have all set off alarm bells.

In response, the scientific community is preparing for another unprecedented action. On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day, scientists and their supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., and more than 400 cities around the world for the first-ever March for Science, kicking off a week of activism that will be capped by the People’s Climate March on April 29.

Never before have scientists seemed this motivated and engaged, and with good reason. Trump’s actions and his proposed budget would not only threaten public health and the environment, they also would stifle American innovation and slow economic growth.

That’s right. Most Americans — including the businessman in the White House, apparently — do not fully appreciate how much our economy relies on federal science. The truth is, U.S. corporations, their employees, and the public at large are all heavily indebted to taxpayer-funded research for a wide array of consumer products, pharmaceuticals and technologies. Regardless, Trump’s proposed cuts would hamstring research at federal agencies that have a long history of doing the heavy lifting.

Nipping the Nifty 50

Let’s start with the fact that you’re reading this on a computer or another electronic device. In 1973, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a research program called the Internetting project, which developed procedures that allowed computers to communicate across multiple, linked networks. In the mid-1980s, the National Science Foundation underwrote the development of DARPA’s system to provide the backbone of what we now call the internet.

The National Science Foundation’s website includes the internet in its “Nifty 50” government-funded inventions, innovations and discoveries that we all now take for granted. The list, which includes everything from barcodes and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to speech recognition and web browsers, amounts to just a small sampling of products and technologies government funding helped spawn.

Although Trump’s proposed budget does not specifically mention the National Science Foundation, which currently provides more than $7 billion annually in research grants, it likely will be included in the category of “other agencies” that Trump wants to cut by nearly 10 percent.

Defunding Life-Saving Drug Research

Trump’s proposal does explicitly call for slashing the National Institutes of Health’s annual budget by 18 percent, from its current $31.7 billion to $25.9 billion, which would bring its funding to the lowest level in at least 15 years (in constant dollars). According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, such a drastic cut “would irreparably harm the ability of the nation’s scientists to develop cures and treatments” and would “have a devastating effect on America’s health security.”

An analysis published earlier this month in the journal Science found that more than 30 percent of NIH-funded biomedical studies between 1980 and 2007 were later cited in a patent for a drug, device or medical technology. Nearly a tenth of all NIH grants over the same time period, meanwhile, led directly to a patent.

NIH’s commercialization track record has had a significant economic impact. According to a 2013 report by United for Medical Research — a coalition of leading research institutions, patient and health advocates, and private industry — NIH-funded research added $69 billion to U.S. gross domestic product in 2011 alone. If anything, “we’re underinvesting” in biomedical research, says economist Pierre Azoulay, co-author of the recent Science study. “The idea that we’re going to get to a better place by cutting [the NIH budget] is ridiculous.”

Running Out of Energy

The Trump blueprint proposes to cut the Department of Energy budget by less than 6 percent, to $28 billion, but would spend more on the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration — which runs the nuclear weapons complex — and chop energy-related programs by nearly 18 percent. The Office of Science, which supports research at more than 300 universities and oversees 10 national laboratories, would suffer a 16 percent cut. Many of those labs, including Lawrence Berkeley and Pacific Northwest, conduct studies on bioenergy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, hydropower and solar energy.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, both which invest in cutting-edge energy technologies private investors won’t fund, would be eliminated altogether, as would the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which provides loans to automakers to produce a new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Federal Science Trumps Corporate R&D

The Trump administration’s rationale for eliminating these DOE research programs? According to the president’s budget report, the “private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

In fact, government-funded R&D — not the private sector — is responsible for much of the innovation that drives economic growth. As economist Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, explained in a September 2013 article, “businesses are typically timid — waiting to invest until they can clearly see new technological and market opportunities. And evidence shows that such opportunities come when large sums of public money are spent directly on high risk (and high cost)” research. The private sector’s “fear explains why we have seen venture capital entering, in industry after industry, only decades after the initial high risk has been absorbed by the government.”

Rush Holt, CEO at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, agrees that “corporate research, as beneficial as it may be, is no substitute for federal investment in research.”

“We need both,” he wrote in a September 2016 column. “But we should recognize that the private sector, with its natural focus on commercial results and return on investment, will not do much of the fundamental research that is necessary for the long-term progress of society.”

Holt, who served in Congress from 1999 to 2015 and holds a doctorate in physics, called on the federal government to “fund more vital research for public health, safety, security, economics and quality of life.” The Trump administration’s preliminary budget blueprint, however, indicates that it plans to do the exact opposite, one of the many reasons scientists will be marching this weekend.

Some experts point out that gutting federal scientific research would have dire international consequences as well.

“If they were enacted, these cuts signal the end of the American century as a global innovation leader,” Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, recently told the Los Angeles Times. “America’s lead in science and technology was built on the fact that in the 1960s, the U.S. government alone invested more in R&D than the rest of the world combined, business and government. The Trump budget throws this great legacy away."

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Trump Doesn't Realize That Environmental Protections Save Lives, Create Jobs and Strengthen the Economy

The executive order President Trump signed earlier this week to nullify Obama administration climate change initiatives was just his most recent directive to eliminate what he insists are “job-killing” regulations. “Every regulation should have to pass a simple test,” Trump declared in late February during another signing ceremony. “Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers?”

If that’s really the metric Trump is using, he shouldn’t target environmental regulations. Without a doubt, they make life better and safer. Not only do they protect public health and save lives, they also boost productivity and encourage investments that spur innovation and create new jobs, all at a relatively small cost to industry.

But don’t take my word for it. The facts speak for themselves.

Benefits Far Outweigh Costs

Consider how the Clean Air Act, originally passed in 1970 and amended 20 years later, stands up to President Trump’s test. Does it make life better or safer?

Thanks to the law, emissions of six common pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particles (soot) and sulfur dioxide — plunged 70 percent on average between 1970 and 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. During the same time period, the U.S. population grew 57 percent and gross domestic product jumped 246 percent.

Cutting that pollution saved lives and boosted productivity. In 2010 alone, according to a peer-reviewed 2011 EPA study, Clean Air Act programs aimed at reducing fine particles and ground-level ozone levels prevented an estimated 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, 1.7 million asthma attacks, and 13 million lost work days from illness.

Last December, the Office of Management and Budget reported to Congress that the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments have far outweighed their cost. OMB estimates the strengthened law cost industry between $41 billion and $48 billion (in 2014 dollars) from 2005 to 2015 but saved Americans $172 billion to $668 billion — 3.5 to 16 times as much.

Net Gain in Jobs

The benefits of clean air and clean water may be self-evident, but what about President Trump’s claim that environmental safeguards “kill” jobs?

As it turns out, there is little evidence that regulations — environmental or otherwise — result in significant job losses. Other factors play a much bigger role.

Before sequestration spending cuts discontinued the program in 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly asked business owners their main reasons for laying off workers. Rarely did they cite regulations. The program’s last annual report, which documented 6,500 extended mass layoffs affecting more than 1.25 million workers in 2012, found that a drop in demand for products or services triggered 37 percent of the layoffs and the completion of seasonal work accounted for another 32 percent. Regulations, meanwhile, accounted for fewer than 0.3 percent of the workers who were let go, which was consistent with the BLS’s annual findings for the previous decade.

The BLS findings debunk the charge that environmental protections directly put a substantial number people out of work. In fact, a wealth of data accumulated over the last 40 years shows that eco-friendly standards often generate a net gain in employment, albeit a modest one.

For example, a 1994 meta study by economist Eban Goodstein of the Economic Policy Institute reviewed nine economy-wide studies on jobs and regulations published during the previous two decades. Seven of the studies concluded that environmental safeguards slightly increased aggregate employment. More jobs were created than lost, Goodstein found, in part because more workers were needed to implement pollution controls.

Economist Richard Morgenstern, a former EPA deputy administrator now at the nonprofit think tank Resources for the Future, corroborated those findings. His landmark 2002 paper in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management analyzed the effect of environmental policies on four heavily polluting industries between 1979 and 1991 and found an overall “small but significantly positive” net employment impact of environmental standards on plastics manufacturers and oil refiners. Revisiting the issue in 2013, Morgenstern and economist Anna Belova examined more than 30 years of data for 10 industries and found no significant job losses due to regulation. On the contrary, the data showed that pollution control expenditures in many cases produced more jobs than anticipated.

Finally, Roger Bezdek reviewed more than two-dozen studies for a paper in the Journal of Environmental Management in 2008 and provided his own analysis. “Investments in environmental protection create jobs and displace jobs,” he concluded, “but the net effect on employment is positive” at both the national and state level. He also cited a key fact that the Trump administration ignores: The environmental protection sector is “a major sales-generating, job-creating industry.” Indeed, the same year Bezdek published his study, the EPA found that the U.S. environmental industry supported 1.7 million jobs, generated some $300 billion in revenue, and exported $44 billion in goods and services.

Cost to Industry Relatively Small

Economists explain that environmental safeguards rarely lead to job losses in large part because they are relatively cheap to implement. As Morgenstern and Belova have pointed out, “Even for the most heavily regulated manufacturers, such as petroleum refining, the share of revenue devoted to pollution abatement costs has not exceeded 2 percent over the last 30 years.”

Major U.S. oil and gas companies concur with that assessment. “In annual reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” Reuters recently reported, “13 of the 15 biggest U.S. oil and gas producers said that compliance with current regulations is not impacting their operations or their financial condition.” ExxonMobil spent only 2.24 percent of its gross revenue in 2016 to comply with environmental standards, which covered new equipment, new facilities, fines and staffing. ConocoPhillips spent 2.57 percent, while Chevron spent only 1.91 percent.

Automation and Competition Killed Coal Jobs

So, is there any truth to President Trump’s claim that cutting environmental safeguards will help coal miners? Here again, the numbers belie the rhetoric.

Yes, the number of people working in the coal industry has declined dramatically over the last three decades, but not because of stricter pollution controls. The main culprits have been automation, higher productivity, and a shift from underground mining to surface mining and mountaintop removal, which require significantly fewer workers. Consider that, in 1985, it took 169,000 workers to mine some 884 million tons of coal. In 2015, it took only 66,000 workers — 60 percent fewer — to produce 897 million tons. Combine that increased productivity with cheap natural gas, aging coal plant closures, lackluster electricity demand, and the explosive growth of renewables, and it’s clear that coal — once king — has been deposed by market forces. As recently as 2008, coal generated about 50 percent of U.S. electricity. Its share today is just 30 percent.

Regardless, Trump has repeatedly vowed to save the coal industry. Supposedly toward that end, he signed a bill in mid-February repealing the Stream Protection Rule designed to protect waterways from toxic mine waste, and earlier this week he issued an executive order rescinding the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut coal-fired power plants’ carbon emissions. In both cases, his purported rationale is to retain — and bring back — coal industry jobs. And in both cases, coal industry apologists have been peddling alternative facts.

During a February 19 interview on ABC’s This Week, for instance, Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, a major coal-producing state, claimed the Stream Protection Rule “would have cost 77,000 jobs in the coal industry.” Paul based his projection on an October 2015 study prepared for the National Mining Association, an industry trade group.

The American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group, predicted even bigger job losses from the Clean Power Plan. A paper it issued in August 2015 claimed the rule would eliminate 125,800 coal industry jobs. In May 2014, just before the EPA announced the proposal to cut power plant carbon emissions, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the top U.S. coal producer, was more apocalyptic. He accused the Obama administration of trying “to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs.”

These layoff projections bear no relationship to reality. How could the coal industry lose 77,000, 125,800 or even 800,000 jobs when the BLS calculates that it directly employs just 50,000 people? You could fit them all into Yankee Stadium. Even when you include industry contractors, which the Mine Safety and Health Administration currently estimates at 27,700, the numbers the coal industry and its friends in Congress toss around are simply ludicrous.

Government and independent analyses tell a very different story, one that is consistent with previous studies. When the U.S. Department of the Interior wrote the Stream Protection Rule, the agency commissioned a report on its impact. Published last November, the report concluded the rule would result in a small net increase in employment. It found that an average of 124 direct jobs per year would be lost, but that coal companies would have to hire an average of 280 employees annually to comply with the rule’s requirements.

The Clean Power Plan, meanwhile, was projected to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors. An April 2015 study by economists at the University of Maryland and the Industrial Economics consulting firm — one of several studies arriving at similar conclusions — estimated that the Clean Power Plan was likely to increase overall U.S. employment by 273,000 jobs by 2040.

Coal Jobs Aren’t Coming Back

Given the preponderance of the evidence, it’s long past time to retire the stale argument that environmental protections hurt the economy, and getting rid of them at this point would have little chance of stopping the coal industry’s downward spiral. President Trump can boast all he wants that he can bring back coal jobs by scrapping the Stream Protection Rule, the Clean Power Plan and other environmental rules, but even CEO Robert Murray of Murray Energy, the nation’s largest privately held underground coal mining company, acknowledges that it’s a fool’s errand.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Murray conceded that many coal jobs were lost to automation and competition from natural gas and renewable energy, not environmental regulations, making it unlikely that Trump can do much to restore a significant number of them. Murray said that when he was at the White House last month for the signing of the bill repealing the stream rule, he suggested that President Trump “temper his expectations” about reviving coal jobs. “Those are my exact words,” he told the Guardian. “He can’t bring them back."

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