Thanks to documents recently uncovered by a lawsuit, we now know that a major industry trade group was told by its science advisers in 1995 that it was spreading false information about climate change.
But that didn't matter to the Global Climate Coalition, which included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and a number of oil and auto companies. The coalition, which disbanded in 2002, simply continued to deny the consensus of the world's climate scientists.
Since then, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the Chamber and many of their allies have largely dropped their anti-science stance. Instead, they now deny the emerging consensus among economists that we need policies aimed at reducing heat-trapping emissions. It's a new campaign with a new emphasis, but their tactics still rely on an old formulation: If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.
Last year, NAM and the American Council for Capital Formation, an industry think tank, released a study examining the cost of implementing a cap on heat-trapping emissions, and the Chamber hosted forums across the country to promote it. The study concluded that the U.S. economy would grow significantly with or without a cap by 2030, but that under a cap, the growth rate would be slightly lower. The Chamber misrepresented those findings and talked about the study as if it concluded a cap would reduce economic growth from today's levels.
Recently, the Chamber released another study, this time by a consulting firm called CRA International, and is pulling the same bogus hide-the-numbers trick.
Meanwhile, the American Energy Alliance, another industry front group, is currently running misleading radio ads targeting members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considering climate and energy legislation introduced by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass. The ads are based on a deliberate misinterpretation of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and other members of Congress have been repeating ad nauseum for weeks.
The MIT study estimates how much revenue the government could raise from polluting industries by auctioning off emissions permits under a cap-and-trade system. Climate and energy legislation opponents twist that estimate by calling it a tax on individuals. And they ignore the government's ability to use that revenue to benefit consumers, for example, by giving them rebates and funding energy efficiency improvements.
An MIT professor who co-authored the study, John Reilly, asked Rep. Boehner to stop misquoting it. Rep. Boehner ignored his request, and the made-up number has become the mantra of climate and energy legislation opponents.
A more realistic look at climate and energy policy tells a different story. Last month, my organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists, released the findings of a two-year study that examines a comprehensive approach to climate and energy policy similar to the one proposed by the Waxman-Markey legislation.
Our analysis, based on a modified version of the Department of Energy's National Energy Modeling System, concluded that an emissions cap combined with effective electricity and transportation policies, would save the average U.S. household $300 per year on electricity and gasoline bills in 2020 and $900 per household in 2030. That's thanks to more efficient use of electricity and gasoline, which more than compensates for a marginal increase in the price of fossil fuels.
It is important to remember that none of these analyses—not even the one we did—account for the large costs of unchecked climate change, which would include major disruptions to agriculture, coastal flooding and compromised public health. Given the incontrovertible evidence of climate change and the need to address it, there are a number of NAM and Chamber members that now favor congressional action, this year, to reduce global warming emissions.
They include Alcoa, American Electric Power, Dow Chemical, Dupont, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Nike, Shell Oil and Xerox. Duke Energy recently announced it will not renew its membership with NAM, in part because of disagreements over climate change policy. Those high-profile defectors have not blunted the NAM-Chamber campaign to scare the public and block Congress from embracing climate policies.
But it is increasingly apparent that NAM, the Chamber and their fellow travelers have squandered whatever scientific and economic credibility they may have had on this issue. We cannot afford to let them stand in the way of the opportunity to make America a stronger, safer and more resilient nation.