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Greenpeace obtains smoking-gun memo: White House/Exxon link

Conservative front group may have thanked White House for help in suing EPA

Feature story - 9 September, 2003
Did conservative elements in the White House provoke an Exxon front group to sue EPA to suppress a report on climate change? That's the question that two State Attorney Generals have asked US Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate, after Greenpeace uncovered a routine email in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Absolute oil corrupts absolutely.

In the email, Myron Ebell of the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute writes to Phil Cooney, a senior official at the White House Council for Environmental Quality. He describes his plans to discredit an EPA study on climate change through a lawsuit. He states the need to "drive a wedge between the President and those in the Administration who think that they are serving the president's interests by publishing this rubbish." He notes his group is considering a call for the then-head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman, to resign, and openly suggests that she'd make an appropriate "fall gal" if the administration is serious about getting back into bed with conservatives opposing action on climate change.

His memo to the US government official begins "Thanks for calling and asking for our help." (You can view the entire memo here.)

That statement, and the cosy, conspiratorial tone of the document was enough to make Richard Blumenthal, State Attorney General of Connecticut, and G. Steven Rowe, State Attorney General of Maine, demand an investigation by US Attorney General John Ashcroft into whether Cooney or other officials in the Bush administration solicited the Competitive Enterprise Institute's filing of the new lawsuit, as the memo certainly makes it appear.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute received nearly a half million dollars in funding last year from Exxon/Mobil, the world's largest oil company.

According to the two State Attorney Generals, the email obtained by Greenpeace

"reveals great intimacy between CEI and [Bush Administration official Cooney] in their strategizing about ways to minimize the problem of global warming. It also suggests that CEQ [the Council of Environmental Quality] may have been directly involved in efforts to undermine the United States' official reports, as well as the authority of the EPA Administrator.

We are concerned that the new litigation is an improper product of that close relationship, and we therefore ask that you investigate this."

Bush administration admits climate change real

At the end of May 2002, the United States submitted a report to the United Nations on Global warming. The report, the Climate Action Report 2002, was written by scientists from government, industry, universities and non-governmental organisations. While supporting President Bush's position of inaction against Carbon Dioxide emissions, it marked a stark departure in its description of the problem. The report forecast major impacts on the continental United States as well as the submersion of barrier islands, and called for action to minimise the economic consequences of these events, while saying it was simply too late to stop them through a program of rigorous emission reductions.

But in the view of Exxon and its pals, the report's conclusion, that climate change posed a significant risk and was caused by man-made emissions, was at odds with their agenda to sell more oil, and the agenda that Bush has been pursuing on their behalf to question the reality of climate change and attempt to scupper the Kyoto protocol. The government report caused a media storm with headlines across the world like "Climate Changing, US says in report" from the New York Times. The widespread mis-messaging of the Exxon agenda almost certainly caused the call for help from the White House to the CEI.

When Exxon talks, Bush listens

Two days after the memo from Ebell was received, Bush repudiated the report as having come from "the bureaucracy." This was a further blow to embattled EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman, who announced her resignation in May of this year.

The same administration that told us that "Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and VX agent" is still trying to say that "the science on climate change is inconclusive."

It certainly isn't inconclusive to climate scientists. The National Academy of Sciences said in 2001 that "There is general agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the past twenty years."

No credible scientist today questions that climate change is happening or that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the major contributor.

What's surprising is that despite Bush's refusal to submit the Kyoto treaty for ratification, his efforts to undermine other countries' support for the treaty, and his failure to take any meaningful action whatsoever on climate change, he still hasn't done enough for the CEI/Exxon agenda. CEI complains that:

"[The Bush Administration] has managed, whether through incompetence or intention, to create one disaster after another and then to expect its allies to clean up the mess."

We'd actually concur with the first part of that statement. Unfortunately, by failing to act on climate change, the administration is leaving it to future generations to clean up a much bigger mess than a few disgruntled oil companies.