Dr. Evil and polluters exposed (again) in attacks on Clean Power Plan

Over and over again, we find that polluting industries are quietly lurking behind a variety of efforts to thwart action on climate change, from funding junk science to providing shoddy economic analyses to writing self-serving legislative text. Following a breaking New York Times story that a climate denier received $1.2 million in fossil industry funding for studies doubting climate change, the Guardian reported yesterday that Richard Berman (dubbed "Dr. Evil" by 60 Minutes) is behind a series of 16 state-based economic studies attacking the EPA's Clean Power Plan, intended as ammunition in state legislative debates. The Center for Media and Democracy partnered with the Energy and Policy Institute in a revealing memo on the Beacon Hill Institute, including its funding from Berman and the oil-baron Koch brothers.

Berman solicits money from oil and gas companies to fund public relation battles against clean energy and environmental action. Since Berman keeps to the shadows, the 16 state reports are being jointly released by the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) and state front groups affiliated with the polluter-funded State Policy Network (SPN). Koch-backed SPN members have charmingly authentic and innocuous-sounding names like "The Palmetto Institute" (South Carolina), "The Rio Grande Foundation" (New Mexico) or "The Pelican Institute" (Louisiana). The reports will target Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Virginia. My colleague, NRDC economist Laurie Johnson, highlights the long list of analytical flaws and biases in the Beacon Hill state reports here.

This discovery comes on the heels of another groundbreaking revelation in Sunday's New York Times, which exposed the undisclosed conflicts of interest of Dr. Willie Soon, the prominent climate-denial researcher. Dr. Soon accepted $1.2 million in funding from coal and oil companies without declaring his funding sources in his studies, all of which downplay or outright deny human-caused climate change and its harmful impacts. Dr. Soon is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian, which has launched an investigation into his failure to follow ethical guidelines and divulge his fossil funding.

Willie Soon's denial research and Berman's economic reports are pieces of a multipronged strategy, led by polluters, to block efforts like the EPA's Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan, which will establish the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, is one of the biggest actions ever taken by the United States to curb climate change. State legislatures are emerging as a key battleground in the climate fight, and the polluter-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is yet another piece of this multipronged attack, in which member industries like Peabody Coal write polluter-friendly legislation for conservative lawmakers to introduce, without disclosure of corporate involvement.

Predictably, these new Berman state economic studies coincide with the current wave of state legislative attempts, driven by the coal industry and ALEC, to hinder action on climate change. Thankfully, these state bills are largely failing, but that isn't stopping Berman and the Koch-funded think tanks from providing slanted economic studies for legislative debates and media stories.

Beacon Hill Institute, the group leading the analytics for the state reports, has been previously discredited for skewing results and using distorted modeling assumptions. In addition, Beacon Hill has been criticized by its own host university for proposing a politically-driven research grant in which "success" would be measured in terms of "legislative activity that will pare back or repeal RGGI," referring to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce carbon pollution in Northeastern states.

The take-away lesson is that deep-pocketed polluters like Peabody Coal and the Koch brothers have many ways to push their agenda, and even more ways to hide their connections. Since many states and utilities widely accept the Clean Power Plan as a flexible and workable proposal, most brazen attacks on limiting carbon pollution will have self-interested polluter fingerprints on them.