A Free-Market Energy Blog

Epstein’s Truth to Boxer’s Power: An Energy Highlight of 2016

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 19, 2016

“I wish Senator Whitehouse were here. Because what he is doing to the free speech of those companies and anyone associated with it is unconstitutional. And I think he should apologize or resign.”

“You violate the constitution, you resign. I thought that was the policy in the United States.”

– Alex Epstein. Testimony before the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. April 13, 2016.

“I’ll never forget this hearing. We have a philosopher who wants Senator Whitehouse to resign. Senator Whitehouse, who is working every day to stop carbon pollution and save lives.”

– Sen. Barbara Boxer [3]

I remember encountering Alex Epstein back in 2011. He was working at the Ayn Rand Institute–and full time on energy. Wow, I thought. Here was someone who could add a philosophical voice to the political economists arguing the macro issues of depletion, pollution, and climate change, and the micro issues of price controls, trade restrictions, access restrictions, etc. I invited Alex to a Texas Hill Country retreat where he spent several days with several free-market energy scholars.

Alex recently told me: “I’ll never forget that you were the first person who believed I had something unique and important to contribute to the energy debate.” Such confidence and expectations reflected the fact that Ayn Rand herself penned the most insightful, trenchant criticisms I have ever read of Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls and the ensuing ‘energy crisis’ of the 1970s.

Consider this gem from Rand’s “The Energy Crisis” in 1973 when the intelligentsia was moving to the theory of resource exhaustion: “There is no ‘natural’ geological crisis; there is an enormous political one.” [1]

Epstein at the US Senate

Last Wednesday, Epstein testified at the US Senate hearing: Examining the Role of Environmental Policies on Access to Energy and Economic Opportunity (his submitted comments are here). In the question and answer, having endured an ad hominem diatribe from Barbara Boxer, Epstein delivered a one minute comment that is surely one of the greatest free market, Objectivist, libertarian speak-truth-to-power moments in the history of the modern US Senate. [2]

Alex Epstein : Well, I disagree with the way people talk about jobs. It’s perfectly legitimate for an individual or a community to lose jobs if it’s out competed by a superior product. What’s happening here, though, they’re being forced out of business despite creating a superior product, a life enhancing product, fossil fuel energy, that in its modern incarnation, even coal today is some of the cleanest energy people have ever had access to. In North Dakota, you have some of the cleanest air in the country and an enormous amount of coal-fired power.

I want to comment on the nature of the industry, because it seems to be an easy way to score points to talk about somebody’s affiliation with the industry. Now, I do not happen to be funded by anybody, since I am an independent speaker and writer. BUT I am very proud that I sell books to and give speeches to fossil fuel companies. These are companies that every day have individuals who are taking action to make all of us alive.

And without being too rude about it, most of the people on this committee are quite into their years. Very few of you would be alive without cheap, plentiful, reliable energy. Everything you’re wearing, whatever made it possible for you to get here is made possible by energy. It’s not just energy in general, you have to produce it cheaply, reliably, scalably, efficiently.

You can talk about, “Oh, I think that can be done via solar.” The way to figure that out is to compete on the free market. But as long as your life is being made possible by the people of the fossil fuel industry, I think you should be grateful. I think it is a crime, a moral crime that you are damning anyone by association. I wish Senator Whitehouse were here because what he is doing to the free speech of those companies and anyone associated with it is unconstitutional and I think he should apologize or resign.

Senator Barrasso: Thank you very much for the comments. I appreciate you being here. I appreciate your writings. I appreciate you taking the time to be here.

Alex: Thank you. And I’m serious. You violate the constitution, you resign. I thought that was the policy in the United States.


[1] Ayn Rand, “The Energy Crisis: Part I” (November 5, 1973). Reprinted in The Ayn Rand Letter: Volumes I–IV (1971–1976). Palo Alto, CA: Palo Alto Book Service, 1979, p. 260.

[2] Epstein’s comments were picked up in the media: Daily Caller; Greenwire;

[3] Greenwire, a foe of Epstein’s worldview, reported Senator Boxer’s comment and described the hearing as follows:

A Senate hearing on climate change this morning was full of fireworks and included a call for one of Congress’ biggest proponents of climate policies to resign.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) convened the hearing to push back on the Obama administration’s national security and moral arguments in favor of climate change action.

Inhofe early in the hearing focused on the president’s focus on climate change as a security threat, arguing that it demeaned Americans who serve in uniform.

“The true purpose of the president’s climate polices have nothing to do with protecting the interests of the America people,” Inhofe said. “Instead, they are meant to line the pocketbooks of his political patrons while promoting his self-proclaimed climate legacy.”

Democrats on the committee pushed back against those arguments. But it was majority witness Alex Epstein, the author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” who caused much of the contention at the hearing. Epstein testified that rising carbon dioxide levels benefit plants and Americans. He defended fossil fuels as a driver of stability and prosperity in an ever-changing climate.

“The president’s anti-fossil-fuel policies would ruin billions of lives economically and environmentally,” he said, “depriving people of energy and therefore making them more vulnerable to nature’s ever-present climate danger.”

He quickly butted heads with several Democratic members of the committee who have long pushed for national policies to address climate change.

Committee ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that Epstein was not a scientist. When he pushed back that he was a philosopher and qualified to speak on the subject of climate change, Boxer cut him off.

“You’re a philosopher and not a scientist,” Boxer countered, “and I don’t appreciate being lectured by a philosopher and not a scientist.”

Later in the hearing, Epstein took aim at Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for comments that the senator had made questioning the funding sources and past activity of the Rev. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and another majority witness on the panel.

Whitehouse had focused on Sirico’s position as founder of the Acton Institute, a free-market research organization. The Acton Institute, Whitehouse charged, received money from and was closely connected with big tobacco companies as they fought federal health regulations and public perception at the end of the 20th century.

“When you’re taking industry money and doing what industry tells you,” Whitehouse said, “I have an issue with that.”

Sirico later confirmed that about 5 percent of the funding for the Acton Institute came from industry sources, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers.

After Whitehouse left the room to attend another hearing, Epstein called on the senator to resign.

“As long as your life is being made possible by the people of the fossil fuels industry, I think you should be grateful,” Epstein said, “and I think it is a crime, a moral crime, that you are damning anyone by association.”

“And I wish Senator Whitehouse were here,” Epstein added, “because what he is doing to the free speech of those companies and anyone associated with them is unconstitutional, and I think he should apologize and resign.”

Democratic senators at the committee audibly gasped at the comment. When asked for comment on the remarks after the hearing, Whitehouse’s office told Greenwire that “Mr. Epstein’s comments don’t merit a response.”

Later in the hearing, Boxer and Inhofe could be heard arguing in barely contained whispers at the top of the dais. Boxer pointed toward Epstein, and the word “resign” could be clearly heard.

Shortly after, Inhofe announced he would, “against my better judgment,” grant Boxer — for whom this could the last hearing on climate change during a four-term Senate tenure — a closing speech.

“I’ll never forget this hearing,” Boxer said. “We have a philosopher who wants Senator Whitehouse to resign. Senator Whitehouse, who is working every day to stop carbon pollution and save lives.”

Inhofe criticized Democrats for not focusing on political spending by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has spent millions of dollars attempting to elect lawmakers in favor of climate action. The senator disputed that climate change is occurring in the first place.

“Why is it that we keep hearing the same thing from the individuals over here that the science is settled, the science is settled,” Inhofe said, “when in fact it is not settled?”


  1. John W. Garrett  

    “A demagogue is one who knowingly tells untruths to those he believes to be morons.”
    -H. L. Mencken

    There was never a better example of what Mencken was describing than Barbara “Call me Senator” Boxer.

    She makes me physically ill. She is pure evil.


    • Jim Mothershead  

      John, I agree with your opinion of the esteemed (non scientist) Barbara Boxer. I watched the hearing video and was so disgusted with her arrogance that I went to her website to provide feedback on her performance. I realized the futility of that act and decided to save our time because she is 75 and retiring this year. If she had not gotten rich off of the public teat, I would actually feel a bit sorry for the old fool.


  2. MacMac  

    Let it be said to those who exhibit such arrogance upon the rugged individual beholden to honesty, they are but a target to judgement of ridicule and pain.


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