NYTimes.com Article: Exxon Backs Groups That Question Global Warming
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Exxon Backs Groups That Question Global Warming
May 28, 2003
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
WASHINGTON, May 27 - Exxon Mobil has publicly softened its
stance toward global warming over the last year, with a
pledge of $10 million in annual donations for 10 years to
Stanford University for climate research.
At the same time, the company, the world's largest oil and
gas concern, has increased donations to Washington-based
policy groups that, like Exxon itself, question the human
role in global warming and argue that proposed government
policies to limit carbon dioxide emissions associated with
global warming are too heavy handed.
Exxon now gives more than $1 million a year to such
organizations, which include the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, the George C. Marshall
Institute, the American Council for Capital Formation
Center for Policy Research and the American Legislative
The organizations are modest in size but have been
outspoken in the global warming debate. Exxon has become
the single-largest corporate donor to some of the groups,
accounting for more than 10 percent of their annual
budgets. While a few of the groups say they also receive
some money from other oil companies, it is only a small
fraction of what they receive from Exxon Mobil.
"We want to support organizations that are trying to
broaden the debate on an issue that is so important to all
of us," said Tom Cirigliano, a spokesman for Exxon. "There
is this whole issue that no one should question the science
of global climate change that is ludicrous. That's the kind
of dark-ages thinking that gets you in a lot of trouble."
He also noted, "These are not single-agenda groups."
The organizations emphasize that while their views align
with Exxon's, the company's money does not influence their
policy conclusions. Indeed, the organizations say they have
been sought out in part because of their credibility.
"They've determined that we are effective at what we do,"
said George C. Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom,
a conservative group that maintains that human activities
are not responsible for global warming. He says Exxon
essentially takes the attitude, "We like to make it
possible to do more of that."
Frontiers of Freedom, which has about a $700,000 annual
budget, received $230,000 from Exxon in 2002, up from
$40,000 in 2001, according to Exxon documents. But Mr.
Landrith said the growth was not as sharp as it appears
because the money is actually spread over three years.
The increase corresponds with a rising level of public
debate since the United States withdrew from the Kyoto
Protocol, some of the groups said. After President Bush
rejected the protocol, a treaty requiring nations to limit
emissions of heat-trapping gases, many corporations shifted
their attention to Washington, where the debate has
centered on proposals for domestic curbs on the emissions.
"Firefighters' budgets go up when fires go up," said Fred
L. Smith, the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Myron Ebell, an analyst from the institute, spoke at last
year's Exxon shareholders' meeting, where he criticized a
renewable energy resolution proposed by a group of
Exxon's backing of third-party groups is a marked contrast
to its more public role in the Global Climate Coalition, an
industry group formed in 1989 to challenge the science
around global warming. The group eventually disbanded when
oil and auto companies started to withdraw. As companies
were left to walk their own path, Exxon shifted money
toward independent policy groups.
"Now it's come down to a few of these groups to be the good
foot soldiers of the corporate community on climate
change," said Kert Davies, a research director for
Greenpeace, which has tried to organize an international
boycott of Exxon.
Exxon's publicly disclosed documents reveal that donations
to many of these organizations increased by more than 50
percent from 2000 to 2002. And money to the American
Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that
works with state legislators, has almost tripled, as the
policy debate has moved to the state level.
The gifts are minuscule compared with the $100 million,
10-year scientific grant to Stanford, which is establishing
a research center that will focus on technologies that
could provide energy without adding to greenhouse gases
linked by scientists to global warming. Nevertheless, the
donations in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands
of dollars are significant for groups with budgets ranging
from $700,000 to $4 million.
Critics say that Exxon and these groups continue to muddle
the debate even as scientific consensus has emerged, and as
much of the industry has taken a more conciliatory stance
toward the reality of global warming. As Exxon has become
isolated from its peers, it has faced increasing pressure
from shareholders and environmentalists. BP, Shell and
ChevronTexaco have developed strategies that incorporate
renewable energy, carbon trading and emissions reductions.
Among the initiatives that Exxon's money has helped is the
Center for Science and Public Policy. The two-month-old
center is a one-man operation that brings scientists to
Capitol Hill on two issues: global warming and the health
effects of mercury.
"We don't lobby, we educate," said Bob Ferguson, head of
the center, who spent 24 years working as a Republican
Congressional staff member. "We try to be nonpolitical and
nonpartisan and nonideological."
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