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Heartland Institute Attacks Senators for Questioning Funding of Climate Deniers, Calling It a 'Witch Hunt'

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Heartland Institute Attacks Senators for Questioning Funding of Climate Deniers, Calling It a 'Witch Hunt'

Chicago-based think tank the Heartland Institute has a long history of promoting what it calls "free-market environmentalism"—basically defending the right of well-funded corporate interests to trash the environment for profit. It advocates for fracking, opposes clean, renewable energy and, according to The New York Times, is "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism." In the last seven years, it has organized a series of International Conferences on Climate Change, which brought together climate deniers from all over the world to push back on people and policies addressing climate change.

So it's no surprise that the organization would launch an aggressive attack on those questioning the credentials and funding sources of climate-denying scientists and organizations—even when those doing the questioning are U.S. senators.

In the wake of the recent revelations that prominent climate-denying scientist Willie Soon was backed by big donations from ExxonMobile, American Petroleum Institute and the Koch Brothers—donations he "forgot" to reveal when his papers were published—Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to fossil fuel companies, trade organization and other groups involved in climate advocacy asking them for information about what projects, individuals and institutions they've funded to do research on climate-related topics. At the same time, Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva, the ranking member of the House committee on natural resources, sent a letter to seven universities whose scientists had testified about climate change to Congress, requesting information about funding sources.

“For years, fossil fuel interests and front groups have attacked climate scientists and legislation to cut carbon pollution using junk science and debunked arguments,” said Sen. Markey. “The American public deserve an honest debate that isn’t polluted by the best junk science fossil fuel interests can buy. That’s why I will be launching this investigation to see how widespread this denial-for-hire scheme stretches within the anti-climate action cabal.”

Those were fighting words to the Heartland Institute and others who have the fossil fuel industry's back. University of Colorado's scientist Roger Pielke Jr., who says he is not a full-on denier but has gotten a reputation for attacking the work of climate scientists, denounced the information requests as "climate McCarthyism," and a "witch hunt," a term also used by the Heartland Institute, which has also referred to the requests as "persecution."

In response to the Senators' request, Heartland Institute president Joseph L. Bast wrote:

"According to a news release posted at Senator Markey’s website, the same letter was sent to 99 other businesses and nonprofit organizations as part of a campaign to stigmatize and demonize those who question the alarmist claims of Greenpeace and other far-left groups in the environmental debate. So first, shame on you for abusing your public office in an attempt to silence public debate on such an important public policy topic. Second, you repeat the vicious libel that Dr. Wei-Hock 'Willie' Soon failed to disclose funding for his work. Are you not aware that neither his employer, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, nor the journal that published the scholarly article in question, Science Bulletin, has found Dr. Soon violated any of their rules or disclosure policies? Who asked you to repeat that lie?"

Third, I am very proud to report that the Heartland Institute has spent millions of dollars over the past ten years supporting scientific research that contradicts alarmist claims about climate change. The New York Times calls us “the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.” The Times is not a credible source on this topic, but you three probably find it persuasive. Fourth and finally, all the information you need about our funding and programs can be found in our annual tax returns or at one of the following websites: heartland.org, heartland.org/issues/environment,climatechangereconsidered.org, and heartland.org/reply-to-critics."

Apparently "all the information you need" about their funding is "none," because you won't learn much about it at any of those links. The Heartland Institute keeps most of its funding information and donor identities secret. What information is out there has come from leaks and possible hacks that have generated their own share of controversy. But the Heartland Institute has not been forthcoming. It may be feeling a little defensive about funding inquiries because it has funding issues of its own that tend to undermine the objectivity of its opinions. The leaked information has revealed that it's received donations over the years from ExxonMobile, Texaco and conservative foundations like the Charles G. Koch Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, as well as multimillion-dollar donations from unknown individuals.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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