SCOTUS tells ExxonMobil to stop whining and deliver the documents
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey got some good news yesterday when the Supreme Court decided not to hear ExxonMobil ’s complaint about Healey’s request for documents regarding the company’s climate research and funding of climate denial organizations.
In a statement, Healey’s spokeswoman reiterated their position that “the public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and when.”
The SCOTUS decision not to intervene means that ExxonMobil will be forced to turn over internal documents, bringing that much more transparency to what it knew, when.
Sadly, it’s obvious Exxon wasn’t unique in its early understanding of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Shell has also gotten some attention for its acknowledgement of climate change risks decades ago, as has API. Now it’s time for utilities to reconcile the early warnings they received with the anti-climate campaigns they waged.
A new report from the Energy and Policy Institute shows that electric utilities and their trade organizations, including the Edison Electric Institute and Electric Power Research Institute, were warned about climate change as early as 1968, and within a few years began funding research into the effects of CO2 on the climate. That initial information-gathering stage lasted through the ‘70s and ‘80s, and in ‘88, EPRI acknowledged the “growing consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is real.”
However, just three years later, EEI and other utilities were creating climate denial front groups, like the Information Council on the Environment (ICE), which famously intended to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”
- Related: ExxonMobil says it supports the Paris Climate Change Agreement (but keeps funding climate deniers)
Through the ’70s, utilities produced reports that largely matched what others were saying: a doubling of CO2 concentrations would lead to rising temperatures, and likely around 2C of warming, which is well within the current bounds of what we can expect. One 1978 article ended with a warning that CO2 “may be moving rapidly toward a central role as a major threat to the present world order.”
That research approach continued in the ‘80s, with EPRI publishing an article in 1986 that reviewed its past research and concluded that “the sweeping consequences of accumulating greenhouse gases may turn out to be the greatest environmental problem of modern times.” In 1989, EEI’s president stood before Congress and claimed that “the electric utility industry does not intend to ignore the possibility that a warming trend may be occuring.”
And the industry certainly didn’t ignore it. Instead, it sought to downplay, distract and distort the public’s understanding that fossil fuels cause dangerous climate change.
Which is why EEI, Southern Company and others banded together for the aforementioned ICE campaign to cast doubt on the sort of science the utilities had, until then, been paying researchers to undertake and summarize. And they knew they were wrong.
For example: in 1995 another utility group, the Global Climate Coalition, was given a draft of a review of climate science by Lenny Bernstein of Mobil Oil. The initial draft stated that the greenhouse effect and CO2’s impact on the climate “is well established and cannot be denied.” But deny they did, as a steering committee consisting of executives from EEI, Southern, Duke, and other utilities struck that language from the report’s final draft. The final version claimed that “there is no convincing evidence” that greenhouse gases change the climate.
Even today, these groups continue to push this view, despite decades of evidence to the contrary. In 2017, Southern Company’s CEO Thomas Fanning, while also serving as chairman of EEI, went on CNBC to cast doubt on climate change. His position is hardly a surprise, given Southern’s covert funding of deniers like Willie Soon, but pretty unforgivable considering that EEI was warned in 1968 that burning fossil fuels released carbon dioxide.
However, though this has been the duplicitous, deceptive and knowingly false approach for decades, energy providers are increasingly turning to clean energy over dirty fossil fuels, as now even utilities recognize denial’s futility.
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(Crossposted from DailyKos.)