Funding climate change denial is driving fossil fuel corporations to bankruptcy

From ToxicLeaks

Although fossil fuel won't do it openly any more, they are still throwing heaps of money into lobbies that fight the scientific consensus on climate change and seek to slow down the mitigation policies that would save us all but curb fossil fuel profits. This makes the topic of this articles quite ironic. Because it focuses on two coal companies that have gone bankrupt, which revealed the fact that they had funded climate deniers (and still owed them money!). So it would seem that these company made some bad choices. Instead of wasting money on these denier groups, they probably should have invested those sums in transitioning to renewable energy production and getting ready to say goodbye to a 19th century energy source. The worse part is that they not only committed economic suicide, they contributed to driving us to disaster in the process.

Bankruptcy reveals links between coal companies and climate deniers[edit | edit source]

Arch Coal was of the coal leaders in the US and it filed for bankruptcy on January 11, 2016. This mostly has to do with the fact that coal is an outdated energy and that there is no future for it in this country, thanks to the Clean Power Plan, and hopefully, in every country in the future. It may also have something to do with the gigantic raise its CEO, John Eaves, got during the last years of the company, when it was selling mines and cutting wages. Eaves was paid $3.9 million in 2013, $4.3 million in 2014 and $7.3 million in 2015. That’s good money for driving one's company into the wall. Anyway, as Arch Coal filed for bankruptcy the list of its creditors was revealed and, oh what a surprise, Arch Coal owed money to the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) and to another organization linked to it, the Free Market Law Clinic, two groups specialised in lawsuits against climate scientists and zealous enemies of the consensus on climate change. These links had been kept secret up to that point, clearly the sign that Arch Coal didn't want to world to figure out that it was using dirty tactics to stall the science and regulations that could curb its juicy profits. Another coal company to bite the dust was Alpha Natural Resources.

They filed for bankruptcy in August 2015, just before the Clean Power Plan was announced, and, lo and behold, Natural Alpha Resources was also funding E&E Legal and the Free Market Law Clinic. What a peculiar coincidence, right ? The funding of these climate change deniers actually comes from the whole coal industry. In 2015, James Horner, a fellow at E&E Legal, was invited to speak at a very private coal summit organised by some of the biggest coal companies, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources of course, but also Drummond Company, Alliance Resource Partners and United Coal Company. And James Horner's contribution clearly made an impression because the email every person attending received highlighted that these companies were very happy with the work he was doing for them : “As the ‘war on coal’ continues, I trust that the commitment we have made to support Chris Horner’s work will eventually create great awareness of the illegal tactics being employed to pass laws that are intended to destroy our industry.” And there it is. E&E Legal and the Free Market Law Clinic were working for Arch Coal and its little friends. But what exactly did they do ? Something even dirtier than the greenhouse gas that comes out of coal-fired power stations.

Despicable strategies used to deter climate scientists[edit | edit source]

E&E Legal has created a very specific and vicious strategy to hurt the research on climate change. It requires scientists and universities to hand over huge amounts of work documents, including unpublished work, using open records laws. And when the scientists and universities fail to send everything, they file suit. For instance, in 2015, the Arizonan courts judged a lawsuit between E&E Legal and the University of Arizona. The denier law firm had asked the university to hand over 13 years of emails from Dr. Malcolm Hughes and Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, two climate researchers. Of course, the judges ruled in favour of the scientists but E&E Legal's end game wasn't to win the lawsuit, it was to prevent the scientists from doing their jobs : finding the truth about climate change and how fast it is destroying our planet. Brendan DeMelle, from DeSmogBlog, explains that “the volume and frequency of the requests from EELI are designed to antagonize leading climate scientists, wasting their time in drawn out and frustrating lawsuits. They frankly have better things to do and that’s obviously the point of E&E Legal’s campaign”.

DeMelle adds that this clearly represents “attacks on climate science and harassment of scientists”. These are really some of the lowest methods one could imagine. Even worse than producing fake reports to undermine the strength of scientific conclusion, just harass the scientists so that they don't have time to do their research anymore. When you think that scientists dedicate their lives to making the world a better place by helping us understand our environment, these strategies look incredibly petty and selfish. However, and it's great news, these cheap tactics didn't save Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, and didn't prevent this administration from elaborating the Clean Power Plan. Actually, one of the most important effects of this funding was to contribute to driving these two companies to bankruptcy.

Funding these climate deniers caused these companies to close shop[edit | edit source]

Seeing two coal companies go bankrupt is of course a good omen for climate change mitigation. Realizing that they still owe money to climate change denier groups like E&E Legal is the icing on the cake. But actually what it their biggest mistake had been to fund these climate change deniers ? In the bankruptcy filings, the amount of money paid to E&E Legal and the Free Market Law Clinic doesn't appear. However, it's a fact that tremendous sums are invested every year by fossil fuel companies into climate change denial. Up to the end of the 20th century, it was quite straightforward, then it got a little more secretive. Oil, Gas and Coal companies stopped lobbying against climate change science directly and started using third-party groups, as a smoke screen to continue the fight but at a lesser cost for their image. A study by sociologist Robert Brulle, from Drexel University found that from 2003 to 2010, $558 million had been poured into climate change denial groups, through funding foundations.

This is a lot of money. And it would have been better spent on investments in renewable energies, to ease the transition to a new economy, in a changing climate framework. However, fossil fuel giants don't seem to care about the future but only about short-term profits. Even a firm like BP who had launched ambitious green energy research program in the 1980's and the 1990's shut it down at the turn of the millennium. This shift became even more dramatic when BP tried to sell its US windmills in 2013 to focus on fossil fuels. Which proves that fossil fuel companies are playing a truly destructive game. While they claim to act responsibly, every single bit of their corporate policy is turned toward fossil fuels and climate change denial. This is why the nefarious influence they hold on US politics must be brought to an end.