To Phil Goldberg and his buddies at the National Association of Manufacturers: welcome to the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, you’re 30 years late.
Reading Special Counsel Goldberg’s Feb. 6 commentary in the News Tribune (“Innovation, not baseless litigation, the right path to climate solutions”) reminded me of hockey players at an outdoor rink. Most arrive on time, bringing shovels to do the hard work of scraping snow and shavings off the ice. But always, one or two guys make sure to arrive just as the work ends while bellowing, “Let’s play hockey!”
It also seems Goldberg’s association has just discovered innovation and Yankee ingenuity. The commentary noted that the cost of wind and solar farms has fallen dramatically the past decade. It has, but no thanks to the manufacturers association and Big Oil. They have fought against innovations and demanded that Congress and legislatures support gas-guzzling vehicles, coal-fired power plants, and old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.
Know who actually believes in innovation and free enterprise? Environmentalists. It was Minnesota heroes like John Dunlop, George Crocker, and Leah Foushee who pushed the Minnesota Legislature to get behind energy-efficient light bulbs and to force Xcel Energy to finance the first wind farms in Minnesota. Because of them and others, clean alternative energy is replacing coal in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, for the past 50 years, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute have been obstructing innovation and a path to clean energy. So, in June, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute. He charged all with fraud and misrepresentation, deceptive trade practices, violating the false-statements-in-advertising act, and violating the prevention-of-consumer-fraud act. The suit states ExxonMobil and Koch intentionally failed to warn consumers of a dangerous product.
Goldberg’s commentary would have you believe it is a waste of time, nay, a fatal blow, in our effort to reverse climate change, if Ellison continues his lawsuit. No one was saying the government shouldn’t go after Bernie Madoff and Tom Petters for their Ponzi schemes and retrieve the people’s stolen money.
The state’s lawyers are using the oil companies’ own research and documents against them. Here are two examples. By 1965, the petroleum institute knew of the science and was discussing the implications of the carbon-dioxide buildup in the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels. ExxonMobil and Koch were institute members.
Beginning in the late 1980s, when the public was becoming aware of global warming, the three organizations launched a disinformation campaign. They funded front groups and dishonest university scientists to make it look like there was a dispute where none existed. They ran advertisements in major publications. The Heartland Institute, funded by the defendants, sent free books to Minnesota teachers so they could teach a counter theory to the hard science behind climate change.
Minnesotans should be rooting for a verdict in the state’s favor. Because like the successful state lawsuit against the tobacco companies, the millions of dollars from the oil companies would be put to productive use for Minnesotans.
Oh, and the fight against innovation continues. Enbridge is constructing a pipeline across northern Minnesota to bring the world’s dirtiest oil, tar-sands oil, from Canada. The pipeline company has claimed the oil is needed, even though demand for its product has plummeted. Auto dealers and friends of oil are fighting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s rule which would require an increase in the number of electric vehicles sold in Minnesota. That despite General Motors and Ford Motor Co. being all-in for producing mainly electric vehicles by the end of the decade.
I look forward to Goldberg and his National Association of Manufacturers joining us on the side of innovation on those two issues.
Chuck Laszewski of St. Paul reported on energy and environment issues for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for nine years before working for the nonprofit Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (mncenter.org). He volunteers now for the climate change-countering nonprofit MN350 (mn350.org). He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.