Commentary

Why Enron Wants Global Warming

By now, much to the chagrin of my greener friends, it is common knowledge that Enron Corporation was lobbying the Bush administration for highly profitable policies relating to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In fact, the tatters of Enron still want the administration to place a cap on carbon dioxide emissions so the company can broker the trading of “permits” to emit carbon dioxide under that cap.

The purpose of those permits is to gradually “dial coal out of the economy,” increasing its cost relative to natural gas (which emits slightly less carbon dioxide per unit energy than coal). Enron, of course, would be happy to pass the gas through their pipelines after brokering the permits to burn it. So Enron was very big on Kyoto. Company correspondence asserted it would “do more to promote Enron’s business” than any other single regulation.

“Big deal,” you say. This is just sleazy Washington at its finest, and Enron looks just like another pig at the trough. The eyes of K Street turn from gimlet to glaze.

But what’s not run-of -the-sty is a 1998 letter, signed by Enron’s then-CEO Ken Lay (and a few other bigwigs), asking President Clinton, in essence, to harm the reputations and credibility of scientists who argued that global warming was an overblown issue. Apparently they were standing in Enron’s way.

The letter, dated Sept. 1, asked the president to shut off the public scientific debate on global warming, which continues to this date. In particular, it requested Clinton to “moderate the political aspects” of this discussion by appointing a bipartisan “Blue Ribbon Commission.”

The purpose of this commission was clear: high-level trashing of dissident scientists. Setting up a panel to do this is simple — just look at the latest issue of Scientific American, where four attack dogs were called out to chew up poor Bjorn Lomborg. He had the audacity to publish a book demonstrating global warming is overblown.

Because of the arcane nature of science, it’s easy to trash scientists. Imagine a 1940 congressional hearing to discredit Einstein. “This man actually believes the faster you drive, the slower your watch runs. Mr. Einstein, then why weren’t you here yesterday?” The public, listening on radio, immediately concludes this Princeton weirdo is just another academic egghead. End of reputation.

The proposed commission was billed as an “educational effort” that would lead to “subsequent policy actions,” which the letter itself recommended. These included a directive to “establish the rules for crediting early, voluntary emissions reductions [of carbon dioxide].” And who was going to sell these credits? Enron, of course.

But what about Kyoto itself, which Enron knew would never be ratified by the required 67 senators? In 1998, Kyoto enjoyed the support of about 12 senators. “We urge the Kyoto Protocol not be submitted to the Senate in the near future, where pre-emptive rejection would remove the U.S. from a political leadership role,” said Lay’s letter. In other words, Lay wanted to derail the normal democratic process of having our elected officials vote on a treaty, so that Enron could prosper.

While that was happening, Enron commissioned its own internal study of global warming science. It turned out to be largely in agreement with the same scientists Enron was trying to shut up. After considering all of the inconsistencies in climate science, the report concluded: “[T]he very real possibility that the great climate alarm could be a false alarm. The anthropogenic warming could well be less than thought and favorably distributed.”

One of Enron’s major consultants in that study was NASA scientists James Hansen, who started the whole global warming mess in 1988 with his bombastic congressional testimony. Last month, he published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicting exactly the same, inconsequential amount of warming in the next 50 years as the scientists that Enron wanted to gag. They were a decade ahead of NASA.

True to its plan, Enron never made its own findings public, self-censoring them while it pleaded with the new Bush administration for a cap on carbon dioxide emissions that it could broker. That pleading continues today — the remnant-Enron still views global warming regulation as the straw that will raise it from its corporate oblivion.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.”