For a group apparently hooked on transparency, the latest organization to spring from the loins of the fossil fuel–funded climate science denial industry certainly manages to obscure one or two pertinent facts.
Government Accountability and Oversight (GAO) — the name of the group given public charity status on March 20, 2018 by the Internal Revenue Service — is promising to publish documents about the people and groups behind ongoing court cases against the energy industry and its impact on the global climate.
“We’re not going to get into the science debate and other arguments. We’ll just show the public the documents, so you can decide,” lawyer Chris Horner told a sympathetic Daily Caller about GAO’s Climate Litigation Watch (CLW) project.
Behind the group are three lawyers — one a Republican-elected district attorney, another a former radio host and “longtime friend” of Vice President Mike Pence, and Horner, who has been paid by coal companies and works at the fossil fuel–funded Competitive Enterprise Institute.
While apparently not wanting to “get into the science debate,” Climate Litigation Watch says the science linking fossil fuel producers to climate change is “dubious” — a position at odds with every major scientific academy on the planet.
So, who are these characters behind the GAO and its sole project, Climate Litigation Watch?
Christopher Horner's Coal Cash
According to Horner’s profile on the GAO and Climate Litigation Watch sites, he has been a lawyer for 25 years and his clients “have included policy groups, scientists, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on matters of environmental policy, in addition to providing regulatory counsel to effected parties.”
Let’s fill in some gaps there, becuase there are some very large ones.
In the mid-1990s, Horner’s clients included cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds, which he suggested should back his idea to “construct explicit procedural hurdles” within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would make it harder for the agency to use scientific findings as justification for new rules that would inconvenience certain industries.
According to official lobbying disclosures, in the late 1990s and early 2000s Horner also lobbied for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, paint company Dunn Edwards, infamous energy company Enron, and others.
Horner is a long-standing climate science denier, who has regularly appeared on conservative media including Fox News to talk about climate change policy and energy. He is known for his pursuit of climate scientists and their emails.
In 2015, it was revealed that Horner had been paid $18,600 that year by coal company Alpha Natural Resources. Months later, it emerged that Horner’s Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) also had a financial relationship with Arch Coal. When coal giant Peabody filed for bankruptcy in 2016, E&E Legal and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (FMELC), where Horner has also worked, appeared on the list of creditors. E&E Legal has received funding from FMELC.
Horner evaded questions about his coal funding during the premiere of a climate science denial film in Paris in 2015.
Horner, who was part of President Donald Trump’s EPA transition team, established FMELC with lawyer David Schnare. Schnare, an EPA veteran and transition team member, and Horner are currently at each other’s throats over accusations of financial malpractice at FMELC.
Horner’s new GAO venture includes on its board of directors lawyer and Republican Matthew Hardin, the elected district attorney for Greene County, Virginia, a role known in Virginia as the Commonwealth Attorney.
The GAO (which perhaps intentionally has the same initials as the Government Accountability Office, which is a federal oversight agency) is registered to a residential address in Stanardsville, Greene County, Virginia, which public records show is owned by Hardin.
In 2015, Hardin represented FMELC and E&E Legal in a joint court filing as it tried to pursue the EPA for emails between staff and several environment groups in relation to discussions about the upcoming Paris climate change talks.
Mike Pence's Longtime Friend
A third director listed at GAO is Greg Garrison, a lawyer and recently retired radio host. Garrison is best known as the prosecutor who in 1992 successfully gained the conviction of boxer Mike Tyson for rape charges.
Garrison says he is a “longtime friend” of Vice President Mike Pence. In 2000, Garrison took over WIBC radio hosting duties from Pence, who was elected to Congress that year. Pence regularly appeared on Garrison's show.
In March 2018, Garrison described the science of human-caused climate change. He said: “The whole thing has been a hoax, a snare, and a delusion always.”
Main image: Christopher Horner outside the premiere of climate science denial film Climate Hustle in Paris in 2015. Credit: DeSmog