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Swift condemnation for Boulder climate lawsuit and DC think tank

Swift condemnation for Boulder climate lawsuit and DC think tank

“That was fast,” writes Energy in Depth’s Rebecca Simon regarding how quickly leading Coloradans and others denounced the city of Boulder and its “especially unfortunate” climate change lawsuit against the oil and gas industry.

Her excellent summary includes commentary from the Denver Post, former Attorney General and Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Greg Walcher, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and former Environmental Protection Agency transition team leader, and author Paul Driessen.

The Denver Post was utterly scathing:

Without fossil fuels, transportation would stagger to a halt, agricultural productivity would plummet, millions would suffer from cold, heat and hunger, and untold legions would suffer premature death.

Including this criticism of Boulder’s ridiculous tobacco industry analogy:

That’s why any comparison between fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry, whose product is a health disaster with no redeeming economic value, is so wide of the mark. And yet officials from the city of Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County who are seeking damages in a recently filed climate lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor had no trouble invoking this false equivalence in defending the litigation.

In a column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Walcher calls out Boulder’s hypocrisy of minimizing climate change risk to attract investment, while claiming climate catastrophe in order to make their case for suing oil and gas:

Most [local governments], including Boulder, depend on municipal bonds to fund infrastructure, including highways, bridges, and schools. Municipal bonds attract investors because they are tax-exempt, and fairly safe. Investors consider risks like fluctuating prices, reliability of city revenue, or inflation eroding the value. But what about the risk that a city might not even exist in a few years, the victim of catastrophic rises in sea level due to global warming? Many cities claim to face such an ominous future, yet no city warns bond investors about it.

Boulder has several other partners in crime including the counties of Boulder and San Miguel, Earth Rights International, and the Niskanen Center, a Washington D.C. based think tank.

Some conservatives and libertarians may recognize the name Niskanen. William (Bill) Niskanen, for whom the center is named, died in 2011. He served as chairman of the Cato Institute from 1985 to 2008.

But under the leadership of President Jerry Taylor (former Cato staffer), the Niskanen Center, which opened its doors in 2015, has partnered with the environmental left on climate alarmism and advocating in favor of a carbon tax.

Following the November 2016 elections Taylor wrote, “If climate change is truly the greatest threat facing humanity (and I think it is), then we need to start acting like it.”

Is this a position that Bill Niskanen would have favored?

According to environmental economics expert Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow with Cato and director of transportation policy for the Independence Institute, the answer is no.  He explains:

Bill Niskanen was an economist whose research and writings were based on his years of observations of government follies. Among other things, he realized that bureaucrats were strongly motivated by their budgets, such that the missions of major government agencies could get turned 180 degrees if their budgets gave them incentives to do so. 

The Niskanen Center, which is named for him, provides a perfect example. According to Robert Bradley Jr., who worked for the Cato Institute on energy issues in the 1980s, Niskanen “never bought into climate alarmism.” Yet today the center created in his name has joined with other climate alarmists to demand that oil companies “be held accountable for climate change.” 

“As Cato Institute chairman William Niskanen has noted,” observed Cato Institute senior fellow Jerry Taylor in 1998, when the Kyoto Treaty was being debated, “the case for a global warming treaty is shockingly weak.” Yet that same Jerry Taylor today is the one who, in Niskanen’s name, is leading the charge against the oil companies.

If you believe that anthropogenic climate change is a serious crisis, then a carbon tax such as that advocated by the Niskanen Center may be the best solution. But the chain of reasoning leading to that conclusion is at least as weak today as it was in 1998. 

And if that case is weak, the case for placing the blame on the oil companies is even weaker, especially since the benefits of mobility and other petroleum uses were enjoyed by everyone in the developed world. It appears that, for whatever reason, Taylor has gone from promoting a questionable policy of carbon taxes to one that is unquestionably foolish, which is to blame oil companies for the alleged consequences of oil we all used.

 Also telling is the financial company that the Niskanen Center keeps. Climate alarmists like the Energy Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation together have provided $650,0000 in funding to the three-year-old Niskanen Center. Western Wire reports the Center also received $200,000 from  Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), “a wealthy foundation at the heart of the activist campaigns against the industry [oil and gas]” just ahead of the Boulder lawsuit.

Tom Pyle, President of the American Energy Alliance, provided Western Wire with his take on the Center’s funding, “It is no surprise that the Niskanen Center joined this frivolous Boulder lawsuit. At least on the issue of climate change, [Niskanen President] Jerry Taylor lost his libertarian calling card a long time ago.”

Pyle may be correct. In a blog post Taylor and Niskanen Center Chief Counsel David Bookbinder sound more like Ralph Nader than limited government conservatives/libertarians as they conclude:

In an ideal world, we’d put an economy-wide market price on carbon energy to create funding  to pay for the necessary costs of adapting to climate change. But until that day comes, holding manufacturers responsible for the damages they impose on others is the next best thing. To do otherwise is to green-light violence to property rights and individual liberty in the name of corporate profit, and that is something that conservatives and libertarians should never do.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to hold accountable climate alarmists who hurt the least among us by driving up the cost of energy with legal stunts like the “especially unfortunate” Boulder lawsuit. But until that day comes, I’ll have to settle with pointing out the damage they do to all Americans who rely every day on products derived from hydrocarbons and the tens of thousands of Coloradans – including friends and neighbors – who work in the industry and don’t deserve to be so maligned. To do otherwise is to green-light violence on our economy, prosperity, and individual freedom in the name of fossil fuel fearmongering. I’m surprised anyone concerned with individual liberty and opportunity for all would engage in that type of behavior.