ABC Uncovers Climate Science for Sale

ABC catches a Colorado electric cooperative giving money to a global warming skeptic under dubious circumstances. Colorado newspapers fail to notice.

Yesterday ABC News broke the story of how a Colorado electric cooperative, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, “openly admitted that it has paid $100,000 to a university academic who prides himself on being a global warming skeptic.”

“[IREA] is heavily invested in power plants that burn coal, one of the chief sources of greenhouse gasses that scientists agree is quickly pushing Earth’s average temperature to dangerous levels,” reported ABC’s Clayton Sandell and Bill Blakemore. “Scientists and consumer advocates say the co-op is trying to confuse its clients about the virtually total scientific consensus on the causes of global warming,” Sandell and Blakemore added beneath the headline, “Making Money by Feeding Confusion Over Global Warming.”

A nine-page document that IREA general manager Stanley Lewandowski sent to members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, ABC reported, was “a wide-ranging condemnation of carbon taxes and mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions that Lewandowski writes would threaten to ‘erode most, if not all, the benefits of coal-fired generation.’”

The document also included mention of IREA’s February contribution of $100,000 to Patrick Michaels — Virginia’s state climatologist and “one of about a dozen academics who for years have cast doubt on the science surrounding global warming while downplaying the scientifically accepted idea that humans are causing it.”

Such doubt has led to lingering public confusion about global warming and its causes, despite unprecedented scientific consensus both that it is happening and that humans are contributing to it.

ABC also reported that IREA, a relatively small company, gave the contribution to Michaels without any notice to consumers — a move that Ron Binz, Colorado’s former utility consumer advocate, called “outrageous” and “an abuse of authority.”

The story was full and fair, with Lewandowski, who was “unapologetic about the contents of the document and for donating the money to Michaels,” given much space to defend himself.

With ABC’s work in mind, we turned today to Colorado’s two largest newspapers to see what they could add to the story — and found nothing about it on the Web sites of either the Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News.

Why not? Here is a global warming story that’s juicy (after a fashion), and one that’s relatively easy to explain to readers, and one with a local angle. But while the Post carried an editorial on wind power yesterday as well as a Wednesday story on a new report warning of the danger warming poses to “12 of the nation’s most prominent parks,” it does not mention the IREA news. Nor does the News, although it carried a story about the parks Wednesday, an article on a dispute between Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe and the Denver regional EPA office Thursday, and published a feature on a “Veggie oil-powered bus” today.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post published an Associated Press brief on the IREA news in its print edition today, and the Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times all carry the AP’s full story on their Web sites. (The AP reported that the $100,000 IREA gave Michaels is part of a collection campaign it organized to help him with a financial shortfall “for his analyses of other scientists’ global warming research,” and that another company has pledged to give $50,000.)

Now if only the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News would do the same.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.