There’s no doubt that it’s new day for climate policy in the United States with Representative Henry Waxman, a leading champion in Congress of laws to protect the environment and fight global warming, beating out Dingell who spent the last two years more interested in boosting the Big Auto lobby and fighting against higher fuel economy standards for cars.
The question for me is whether we will now see a sequel to the “Waxman Hearings” on Big Oil, like the ones he held on Big Tobacco.
In 1994 Waxman, who was Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment at the time, held a series of hearings that exposed a secret public relations campaign conducted by the tobacco companies to confuse and cast doubt on the scientific findings that linked tobacco to increased risks of cancer.
It was the work of the tobacco industries and their PR flaks that birthed the entire “junk science” and “sound science” movement, where fake grassroots organizations effectively convinced millions of Americans that science was merely one of many opinions in the public discourse.
The “junk science” movement made it possible for the work of industry-funded think tanks to be held up as a reasonable counter-argument to the conclusions of conventional peer-reviewed science. Unfortunately, when it was clear that tobacco had lost the PR war, the army didn’t go away, but instead began applying their “junk science” judo to another topic that was threatening industry profits – global warming.
Since the early 1990s think tanks with big funding from energy giants like ExxonMobil have been spinning the science of global warming, creating doubt and confusing the public with the same techniques they learned in the tobacco war. The Greenpeace US project, ExxonSecrets has documented millions of dollars going to hundreds of organizations that in turn pumped out reports and hit the media circuit with their global warming junk science message.
ExxonMobil wasn’t alone, other companies who also stood to lose big bucks from climate legislation joined the attack.
The apex of the Waxman Hearings was when the CEOs of the big 7 tobacco companies were dragged in front of Waxman’s committee and were absolutely pummeled for their deliberate attempts to confuse the public on the risks of tobacco smoke.
Waxman is now in a position to haul the energy executives onto to the floor and demand they release their strategy documents to confuse the science of global warming and expose this campaign just like he did with Big Tobacco. He now has the power to expose this campaign of confusion that has effectively delayed action on the most important issue we face today.