A Free-Market Energy Blog

Climate Politics: When Will the Sanctimony End?

By -- March 2, 2010

[Editor note: Mr. Lewis’s musical parody, “How I Was Not Al Gored Into Submission,” released three weeks ago, has exceeded 20,000 views on YouTube.]

Polluter-funded” is the global warming movement’s favorite pejorative to discredit anyone who questions the reality of a climate crisis or opposes their policy nostrums. Google the term and you’ll find about 18,300 sites where it appears.

Polluter-crafted” brings up about 7,500 sites. The warming lobby uses this buzzword to trash legislation they oppose, most recently Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s resolution of disapproval, pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to stop EPA from dealing itself into a position to make climate policy – a power Congress never approved when it enacted the Clean Air Act.

Who are these “polluters” who craft and fund? Any big company that emits carbon dioxide (CO2) because it supplies, refines, or combusts carbon-based (fossil) fuels.

CO2 ‘Pollution’: A Rhetorical Trick

This is all a rhetorical trick. Yes, CO2 is a “greenhouse” (heat-absorbing) gas. However, water vapor (H2O) is also a greenhouse gas, yet nobody calls it “air pollution.” Since 1975, EPA has required automakers to install catalytic converters to clean up automobile exhaust. The core function of these devices is to turn other substances into the aforementioned greenhouse gases, H2O and CO2. It would be nutty to say that catalytic converters pollute the air.

Carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless trace gas that is non-toxic to humans and animals at more than 30 times ambient levels. An essential plant nutrient, CO2 is the basic building block of the planetary food chain. Plants raised in CO2-enriched environments grow larger and faster, use water more efficiently, and are more resilient to environmental stresses such as drought and air pollution. Since animals directly or indirectly depend on plants for food, CO2 emissions nourish the entire planetary biosphere. Name another “pollutant” that does that!

But okay, for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that CO2 emissions are “air pollution.”  Some of the nation’s biggest CO2-emitters support the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Waxman-Markey supporter American Electric Power (AEP) is the nation’s top CO2-emitter, according to Benchmarking US Air Emissions (2006), a joint report by Ceres, NRDC, and PSEG. Duke Energy, which merged with Cinergy, is the nation’s third-largest CO2-emitter. CEO Jim Rogers crowed about Duke’s role in crafting Waxman-Markey shortly after the House passed it last June.

U.S. CAP–‘Polluters’ Too

Waxman-Markey arguably takes the cake in the industry-scripted bill category. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (U.S. CAP), a coalition including some of the world’s biggest corporations, outlined the bill’s main provisions months before it was introduced in A Blueprint for Legislative Action: Consensus Recommendations for U.S. Climate Legislation (January 2009).

So is Waxman-Markey a “polluter-crafted” bill? And are recipients of campaign contributions from AEP, Duke, and other U.S. CAP member companies “polluter-funded” politicians? Yes, if you apply green “logic” without fear or favor.

A clarification is in order here. Under federal election law, corporations may not directly give money to political candidates. However, corporate employees and their family members as individuals are free to contribute up to certain specified amounts, as are corporate-affiliated political action committees (PACs). Moreover, corporate PACs, CEOs, and lobbyists may use a technique known as “bundling” (see here and here) to coordinate such contributions. It is in this sense that corporations may be said to “fund” federal candidates.

The Web site OpenSecrets.org documents how much money AEP and corporate members of U.S. CAP gave to federal and state candidates in the 2007-2008 election cycle. Nearly all of these companies contributed big bucks to the Barack Obama campaign: AES, $11,925; Alcoa, $14,413; Deere & Company, $18,450; AEP, $22,366; Dow Chemical, $26,313; Duke, $27,597; PGE, $28,134; Siemens, $42,046; Honeywell, $44,870; DuPont, $47,237; BP, $71,051; Pepsico, $78,073; Johnson & Johnson, $168,191; Exelon, $259,263; General Electric, $509,030.

U.S. CAP member FPL did not contribute to the Obama campaign, but it gave $41,512 to GOP presidential candidate John McCain and $29,800 to Sen. John Kerry – both long-time cap-and-trade advocates. Similarly, U.S. CAP member NRG contributed nothing to Obama but gave $79,650 to cap-and-trade advocate Hillary Clinton.

Most of these firms are “polluters” as that term is used in Greenspeak.  PG&E boasts that it has “among the lowest” CO2 emissions of the nation’s 100 largest electric generating companies. That may be so. Nonetheless, according to the Benchmarking report, in 2004, PG&E emitted almost 1.5 million tons of CO2; some of its facilities undoubtedly emit at least 25,000 tons of CO2 annually — the “major source” threshold EPA proposes in its Tailoring Rule. In 2004, Exelon emitted 11.9 million tons of CO2; AES, 42 million tons; and AEP, 163.9 million tons. Duke currently emits about 100 million tons per year, according to Forbes. Dow Chemical emitted 26.1 million tons of CO2, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The carbon footprints of BP and Shell Oil, which include all the CO2 emitted by consumers of their products, are gargantuan. Ditto for former U.S. CAP member ConocoPhillips.

BP is so far from being “beyond petroleum,” that in 2007 its U.S. facilities alone produced 640,000 barrels per day of crude oil, according to EIA. Shell’s U.S. facilities produced 339,000 barrels per day; ConocoPhillips’ U.S. facilities, 373,000 barrels per day. When combusted, a barrel of crude emits about 0.43 metric tons of CO2. So in the U.S. alone, BP’s crude oil production was responsible for more than 100 million tons of CO2; Shell’s, about 53 million tons; and ConocoPhillips, about 58 million tons.

Emissions data for other U.S. CAP members are hard to find, but their carbon footprints are likely to be as big as their professions of environmental concern. For example, Alcoa “is the world’s leading producer and manager of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum and alumina facilities.” The smelting process used to produce aluminum emits CO2 and is also powered by electricity, most of which comes from CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

Or consider Chrysler, another U.S. CAP member. Chrysler recently boasted that its Environmental Leadership Award Program “has led to reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) output of approximately 370,000 tons” – roughly equivalent “to the annual CO2 output of four large manufacturing plants or 71,000 automobiles operating on the road.” Impressive! However, even in 2009, Chrysler’s lowest sales volume year since 1962, the company sold 931,000 vehicles, making it a major source of and contributor to CO2 emissions. 

So there you have it. The so-called American Clean Energy and Security Act is a “polluter-crafted” bill, and Barack Obama, the hope of Copenhagen, may well be the nation’s number-one “polluter-funded” politician.

Climate Progress and Murkowski’s EPA Challenge

Climate Progress (CP) is leading the charge against the Murkowski bill as polluter-funded and -crafted, calling it “The Dirty Air Act.” CP claims  former Bush EPA air administrator Jeffrey Holmstead helped Murkowski “write her proposed amendment” to block Clean Air Act regulation of CO2 “last fall.” CP also says that Holmstead is a registered lobbyist for Bracewell and Guliani, and “has lobbied for Amerern Corporation, an electric utility company; Arch Coal, a coal producer; and Duke Energy, an electrical utility company.” That all maybe correct, but it is false evidence for the smear CP is trying to paint on Murkowski’s current legislative action.

Murkowski’s draft legislation “last fall” was an amendment to the Debt Ceiling bill. It would have prohibited EPA from spending money to regulate CO2 from stationary sources. Conceivably, industry lawyers could have “crafted” it. But Murkowski’s CRA resolution of disapproval is a completely different animal. Its form is fixed by the CRA itself. A lawmaker seeking via the CRA to veto an agency action has one choice and one choice only — which rulemaking to insert into the blank space. There is simply no room for “crafting,” whether by polluters or anyone else! 

Note that CP names Duke Energy as one of the “polluters” that somehow taints Murkowski’s CRA resolution and makes it “dirty” even though, as just explained, Duke had no role in “crafting” it. Yet CP fiercely defends Waxman-Markey, which it calls “the clean energy bill,” even though Duke had an important role in “crafting” it. Now there’s consistency for you!

And wouldn’t you know, in 2007-2008, Bracewell and Giuliani gave a bigger campaign contribution to Barack Obama ($45,469) than to any other candidate for federal office except Rudolph Giuliani ($113,700), who kinda had the inside track. So again, Barack Obama is “polluter-funded” if we’re going to apply that term to Sen. Murkowski.

In the 2010 election cycle, Bracewell and Giuliani’s PAC has contributed $1,000 to Sen. Murkowski — and $1,500 to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the Senate’s leading advocate of cap-and trade. So by CP’s lights, Sen. Boxer is “polluter-funded.”

Who else is “polluter-funded”? Alcoa donated $525,000 to World Resources Institute and $450,000 to Nature Conservancy in 2006, and $200,000 to World Wildlife Fund in 2007. Dow Chemical gave $500,000 to Nature Conservancy in 2008. Shell Oil Company Foundation gave over $1 million to Nature Conservancy and several million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation since 1999. AEP gave Audubon Ohio $500,000 in both 2007 and 2008. BP donated $600,000 to the Center for Clean Air Policy in both 2006 and 2007. All these environmental organizations are “polluter-funded.”

In short, many who trash free-market groups as “polluter-funded” or the Murkowski bill as “polluter-crafted” (a complete calumny, as explained above), unwittingly accuse and condemn their own allies and policy proposals — maybe even their own organizations. Several proverbial expressions leap to mind: hoist with their own petard, tarred with the same brush, the pot calling the kettle black, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.


When will the sanctimony end? Alas, never. Carl von Clausewitz famously observed that “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.” The converse is that policy (or politics) is the continuation of war by non-military means. Politics and war aim at the same ends – liberty, wealth, empire (power, dominion, control, etc.). Unsurprisingly, “by any means necessary” is a warlike sentiment far from unknown in the political arena.

One such means is cultivating the appearance of piety by espousing and invoking an influential orthodoxy. From time immemorial, partisans, rogues, and crooks have exploited public pieties to advance their ambitions. Niccolò Machiavelli went so far as to imply that a successful prince must be a pious fraud if “the times” call for it. Environmentalism is one of the most influential orthodoxies of our time. It’s no surprise then that sanctimony abounds in environmental politics.

The good news is that unmasking sanctimony is also good politics. Greener-than-thou is as off-putting as holier-than-thou, especially when exposed as pretense, hypocrisy, and partisan cant. Deflating our faux moral betters will never go out of style — it’s just too damn much fun.


  1. Debunking the Smear Campaign against the Murkowski Resolution | OpenMarket.org  

    […] Climate Politics: When Will the Sanctimony End? (MasterResource.Org, Mar. 2) debunks the calumny that the Murkowski resolution is “polluter-crafted,” and shows that this pejorative accurately applies to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill — legislation that many Murkowski detractors such as Climate Progress and MoveOn.org enthusiastically support. […]


  2. Jon Boone  

    Outstanding piece. I’ve used the phrase “pecksniffian sanctimony to describe the faux piety reported here. There is a definite Dickensian flummery at work. Thanks for the peek at some of the reality behind the green curtain.


  3. artemis  

    Cheers for pointing out the fallacy of “polluter funding” that is running amok in environmentalism today.


  4. Charles  

    It makes me laugh here in Australia, when our Prime Minister goes about telling anyone who will listen that he will make the ‘big polluters’ pay.

    What most people haven’t realised yet is that the ‘Big Polluter’ is wearing the face that you see in the mirror every morning. Ergo, he is promising to bring the whole population to account for being this Big Polluter’.

    Luckily he has not yet developed an irony detector, as it would be ringing off its head at the moment if he had!


  5. Owen Wallace  

    Who are you paid by?
    Institute for energy resource? What does that mean? You have no agenda, he.

    Man what a damned hypocrite.


  6. Marlo Lewis  

    Jon and artemis, thanks for the kind words.

    Charles, you’ve hit a nail on the head. In the United States, courts are reviewing several tort cases against energy companies for their alleged responsibility as CO2 emitters for the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, melting permafrost at Alaskan villages, and other damages blamed on global warming. Of course, energy companies produce or contribute to CO2 emissions only in the process of serving customers who consume electricity, gas, and oil. People powering their factories, lighting their homes, running their laptops, and driving their cars are ultimately to blame for destroying the planet, according to the “science” invoked by plaintiffs. In their worldview, everybody is injuring everybody else. “We have met the public nuisance, and it is us.”

    This mentality is deliciously lampooned in the South Park Episode, “Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow” (http://www.southparkstudios.com/guide/908/) – a parody of the preachy, global warming, Sci-Fi disaster film, The Day After Tomorrow.

    The South Park episode implies that warming hysteria feeds two psychological cravings. One is the need for villains to blame and punish. Stan and Cartman “borrow” (steal) a speed boat and crash it into the world’s largest beaver dam, breaking the dam and flooding the town of Beaverton. When Stan gets home and sees people stranded on their rooftops on the evening news, he asks what the government is doing to help them. Stan’s father lectures him that helping people is less important than finding out who deserves blame. A mob forms outside the mayor’s office, with some South Park residents blaming George Bush, others terrorists. But soon a consensus of scientists decides that global warming caused the flood. When this explanation later proves false, because the climate does not flip into an ice age as scientists predict, the U.S. Army identifies a new culprit: six-legged, pincered “Crab People.” The people of South Park are ready to believe in this hobgoblin too.

    At that moment, Stan steps foreward and confesses that he broke the dam. This is immediately misinterpreted by an adult who says, “Can’t you see what this child is trying to tell us? We all broke the dam.” Another adult steps forward and confesses, “I broke the dam,” and another, and another, etc.

    In addition to providing villains (oil companies, coal companies, George Bush) to blame and punish, climate alarm feeds the yearning for group think, for membership in a greater collective, replete with rituals to atone for collective guilt. ‘Yes, I am destroying the planet, but we all are, and at least I recycle, voted for Obama, support cap-and-trade, use compact fluorescents, drive a hybrid, etc.’

    Owen, you’ve lost your girlish laughter. I would not bother exposing the hypocrisy of “polluter-funded” global warming advocates and “polluter-crafted” cap-and-trade bills if the warmists were not so sanctimonious. I thought this was evident from the content and tone of my column. Please think about it, and if the gist still eludes you, trying watching another South Park episode, “Smug Alert” (http://www.southparkstudios.com/guide/1002/).


  7. terry colon  

    The question of who funds what is nothing but a genetic fallacy.

    Genetic fallacy or poisoning the well: the source of, or supposed motivation behind, the idea determines its worth.

    Factual truth is independent of the source espousing it. Both American rockets and Soviet rockets worked, despite one coming from capitalists and the other from communists. The proof is in the pudding, not the chef.


  8. Marlo Lewis  

    Spot on, Terry.


  9. Jon Boone  

    Thanks for your followup here, Marlo. I love the South Park episode you relate. In this spirit, I’m pasting below an excerpt from a speech I gave a few years ago, where my specific topic was the wind mess but my more general message was, as yours is, “We have met the enemy and he is us” –which Pogo’s Walt Kelly first put on an Earth Day poster in 1970.

    When a bird on territory sees someone approaching the nest, its first instinct is often to attack in defense. But when it sees the size of the intruder, the next instinct is to flee. Caught between two equally powerful conflicting emotions, what does the bird do? It pecks its foot. Knowing it should do something, the bird performs a grooming displacement behavior at odds with the situation.

    There’s a lot of footpecking going on. Why else would anyone unquestioningly accept the claims of wind salesmen, unless their good intentions were whipsawed between the desire to do something about climate change, as if they could, while clinging to the comforts of a life fossil fuels make possible. Since wind developers promote their technology as both environmentally benign and effective, support for wind technology allows people to footpeckingly sooth their consciences without affecting their high-energy lifestyles.


  10. Charles  

    Thanks for extra analogy Marlo, and I particularly like that line ‘we have met the public nuisance, and it is us!’

    Variations on that theme might be included in some of my future writings I suspect, so thanks greatly for the lead.


  11. Waxman, Markey, Inslee Put Agenda Ahead of Constitutional Principle  

    […] Inslee denounced H.R. 910 as the “dirty air act” (not very original), asserting it would prevent EPA from fighting childhood asthma. If Inslee really believes that, […]


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