Washington Post: Exxon, Koch, and Big Coal Cash Begat Trump Climate Denial

By Kert Davies, crossposted from Climate Investigations Center

Q: What does spending tens of millions of dollars supporting climate denial organizations over a twenty year period buy you?

A: Donald Trump, abdication of U.S. leadership on climate and increased risk of damage from climate change.

The Washington Post’s Bob O’Harrow just penned the most complete treatment to date on what has happened over the past year and the past twenty years starting in 1997, resulting in the June 2017 Rose Garden party to ditch the Paris Climate Agreement. This story contains a sequence of key events and history, ending in the Trump White House.

This story boils down to the legacy of climate denial funding by ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, coal companies and conservative foundations, which has supported and paid for the salaries, campaigns, programs and rent at dozens of non-profit organizations who have opposed sensible climate policy.

See ExxonSecrets for Exxon’s funders.  See DeSmog's Disinformation Database for more up to date funding data.

Brand new reporting in this piece:

  • The 1997 ExxonMobil Foundation report showing a grant for $95,000 for “Global Climate Change Program and other support”  This document was recovered by Climate Investigations Center from the University of Texas Exxon archives.  It is significant because the previous grants to CEI were only $5-10,000/year.  1997 was a crux year for climate policy with the Kyoto Protocol on the horizon. In subsequent years, 1997-2005, Exxon dropped $2.1million into CEI’s bank account.

1997 Exxon Education Foundation report identifying $95,000 climate change grant to Competitive Enterprise Institute, the year the Cooler Heads Coalition was formed.

  • New April 18 email from Myron Ebell reveals a White House briefing this spring that may have helped convince Trump to dismiss the advice of Secretary of State Tillerson, dozens of major corporations and his daughter Ivanka:

This spring, he leveraged those connections to arrange a White House briefing in opposition to the Paris agreement, according to an email from Ebell to participants that was obtained by The Post.

Thank you for agreeing to be part of the basket of deplorables,” he wrote in an April 18 email. “The purpose of the meeting is to present our views on why President Trump should keep his campaign commitment to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty.”

  • They knew exactly what they are doing:

One former Cooler Heads member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of a punitive backlash, said the coalition’s mission under Ebell was to be a “Johnny-on-the-spot for climate denialism” and to simulate a “cacophony of voices” against climate-change science.”

  • Newly revealed document from tobacco documents  shows Myron Ebell’s former employer and current ally, Frontiers of Freedom, in pay to play mode for Big Tobacco:

In a funding proposal to Philip Morris, Frontiers suggested a complex influence campaign in support of tobacco. The plan foreshadowed some of the tactics that Cooler Heads members would soon employ.

Frontiers could “play a substantial role” in a campaign aimed at making it politically easier for lawmakers to thwart new tobacco taxes, the proposal said. It would “educate and motivate grassroots activists” to change the “political dynamics,” making it “politically possible for key legislators to block any legislative initiative.”

The campaign proposed is, essentially, an issue-driven political campaign,” the document said.

  • Murray Coal admits paying CEI for services in defense of coal.  These grants to CEI are not meant to be public.  An rare complete CEI IRS Form 990 provided to the Washington Post resulted in this first ever acknowledgement by Murray Coal of its support for CEI:

Supporters included one of the Obama administration’s prime targets: big coal. A 2009 IRS filing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute — inadvertently made public without redactions — disclosed funding from two coal mining companies. Ohio-based Murray Energy donated $90,000, and Richmond-based Massey Energy gave $100,000.

In a statement to The Post, a Murray Energy spokesman said the company provided annual support to CEI “in order to advance their principles of ‘limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.’ ”

Indeed, for eight years the Obama Administration severely undermined these principles, in its effort to completely destroy the United States coal industry,” the statement said. “The Competitive Enterprise Institute was effective in advocating against this destruction, and in supporting preservation of coal jobs and family livelihoods, and low-cost, reliable electricity for all Americans.””

  • Ebell was “mystified” at being selected to run Trump’s transition team:

The call to Ebell from the Trump campaign came in late August 2016. Ron Nicol, a business consultant leading the team preparing for a possible transition, left a voice mail saying he wanted Ebell to consider serving as transition chief at the EPA.

Ebell told The Post he was mystified. He had never served in the federal bureaucracy and Trump was not his favored candidate. “Why do you want me?” he asked when he returned Nicol’s call.

Ebell said the answer was direct. Trump wanted to abolish the EPA, and so did Ebell.  Ebell’s singular focus on the agency and global warming also was in tight alignment with the views of Scott Pruitt, the man who would soon lead the EPA.

  • The signatories to a May letter to Trump demanding the President kill the Paris Agreement were the people who filled the Rose Garden event.  No corporate or trade association representatives made their presence known.  The crowd was largely composed of organizations currently supported by the Koch brothers, coal companies, the Mercer family (major Trump and Bannon/Brietbart supporters) and other conservative, “free market” and libertarian foundations.

On the morning of June 1, Ebell got an email from the White House. He was told that he and all those who signed the May 8 letter were invited to Trump’s Rose Garden announcement.

(Emphasis added to quotes from Washington Post)


Image credit: The Ring of Fire