Memo to Sen. Whitehouse: On Climate, Check Your Transcripts Before Attacking Very Same Groups You Praised in the Past

AEI Whitehouse

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s crusade against energy companies and conservative think tanks just took an absurd new twist.

In a press release today, the Rhode Island Democrat accuses a number of think tanks of engaging in “climate denial,” even though they happen to employ lots of high-profile supporters of a carbon tax. Even more embarrassing, one of the groups targeted by the senator actually helped Whitehouse promote his own carbon tax plan a little more than a year ago. In fact, the senator has cited experts from the same think tank – the American Enterprise Institute – when pushing a carbon tax on the Senate floor.

Whitehouse is a key figure in the #ExxonKnew crackdown on climate policy and free speech. In July, he led a series of speeches on the Senate floor accusing ExxonMobil and a number of conservative groups of promoting a “web of denial” on climate research. In a letter to Whitehouse, Exxon sought to correct the record, highlighting its $7 billion investment in low-emission energy sources since 2000 (exceeding that of the federal government), its support for a carbon tax, and other steps the company has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the letter, the company noted that “legitimate scientific inquiry and dialogue and differences on policy approaches” are not the same thing as “climate denial,” and told the senator it had stopped funding some non-profit groups several years ago “when we determined that our support for them was unfortunately becoming a distraction from the important public discussion over practical efforts to mitigate the risks of climate change.”

Today, Whitehouse released the company’s private letter and blasted out a press release which effectively accuses the company of not telling the truth. It claims Exxon is “peddling climate denial” by funding several groups, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Hoover Institution, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (of all entities), and the Hudson Institute.

But Senator Whitehouse must have a pretty short memory: it was only about a year ago when he took to the Senate Floor to praise these very institutions for supporting a carbon tax to combat global warming.

Here’s what he had to say in a June 2, 2015 speech about all these organizations:

Leading right-of-center economists, conservative think tanks, and former Republican officials, both legislative and executive, all say that putting a price on carbon pollution is the right way to deal with climate change. They know that climate denial cannot stand against the facts. As the Washington Post reported last month, prominent thinkers on the right are “increasingly pushing” for a climate policy based on conservative principles and on values such as property rights, market efficiency, and personal liberty. They recommend pricing carbon.

Focusing in on key figures at the American Enterprise Institute, Whitehouse said,

As American Enterprise Institute scholars Kevin Hassett, Steven Hayward, and Kenneth Greene put it, “Because a carbon tax would cause carbon emissions to be reduced efficiently across the entire market, other measures that are less efficient–and sometimes even perverse in their impacts–could be eliminated… As regulations impose significant costs and distort markets, the potential to displace a fairly broad swath of environmental regulations with a carbon tax offers benefits beyond greenhouse gas reductions” i.e., economic benefits.

Now, here’s what Whitehouse had to say about folks at the Hudson Institute:

It is a pretty simple idea. You can lessen the tax burden on things that you do want–employment, jobs, profits–and make up for the lost revenue by ending the subsidy of something you don’t want–pollution. What is not to love unless you are a big polluter? Dr. Irwin Stelzer, an editor at the Weekly Standard and director of economic policy studies at the conservative Hudson Institute, said that for a tax-swapping carbon fee, “conservative support would depend solely on a desire to get the economy growing faster by shifting the tax burden from good stuff like work to bad stuff like pollutants.”

Finally, Whitehouse goes on to praise George Schultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan who is now with the Hoover Institute:

That is how George Shultz sees it. George Shultz was President Nixon’s Treasury Secretary and President Reagan’s Secretary of State. He and Nobel laureate economist Gary S. Becker made the case for a carbon fee in the Wall Street Journal: “Americans like to compete on a level playing field. All the players should have an equal opportunity to win based on their competitive merits, not on some artificial imbalance that gives someone or some group a special advantage.” That is why Secretary Shultz supports a price on carbon.

Not only that, but Shultz actually partnered with billionaire activist Tom Steyer in 2010 on a bipartisan campaign to oppose Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would have suspended California’s climate change law.

Although Whitehouse didn’t mention ALEC directly in his June 2 speech, we know that Pete Trelenberg of ExxonMobil actually spoke to ALEC about a carbon tax as the best approach policy-makers could pursue at the organization’s annual meeting. To put it bluntly, none of these organizations are exactly in the climate “denial” camp.

Of course, flip-flopping is par for the course in politics but that’s the entire point, isn’t it? Just after new documents revealed today that the Democratic state attorneys general launching climate investigations were acting for political reasons (to push President Obama’s climate agenda), this is yet another example of how the entire #ExxonKnew campaign is based on politics, and has nothing to do with the exercise of the law or climate change at all.



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