A Free-Market Energy Blog

On the History of IER (for the record)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 11, 2024

Ed note: The evolution of the Institute for Energy Research (IER), from a part-time to a full-time organization, is recounted below. (The earlier history of IER can be found here, here, and here. ) From inception, the institute has been a classical-liberal organization in favor of economic freedom–and thus consumers and taxpayers. In this regard, Wiki’s (erroneous) entry on IER is rebutted here.

In its 36th year, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) has a proud history that rebuts the erroneous ad hominem arguments hurled against its principles and principals. Ever since its humble beginnings, IER’s rock-solid research into the economics, political economy, philosophy, and history of energy markets have stood the test of time. Energy markets need to be free of, not controlled by, government—for human betterment and individual justice.

Under the direction of president and COO Tom Pyle, IER’s Washington DC organization is a trusted free-market voice in today’s contentious debates over subsidies for wind, solar, and batteries, ethanol mandates, and carbon-dioxide regulation. Thanks to our donors (thousands strong), IER’s education efforts have reached the media, the public, academia, and federal and state legislators.

Never has IER’s educational mission been more important. Both major political parties have increasingly politicized energy away from what consumers really want and need for their homes, vehicles, and businesses. The Biden’s Administration’s “whole of government” crusade against fossil fuels—accounting for 82 percent of U.S. and global energy consumption—props up uneconomic, unreliable, symbolic alternatives.

What F. A. Hayek called “the fatal conceit” is alive and well with government energy planning, whether done in the name of promoting national security, creating jobs, or addressing global climate change (all misapplied rationales).

The United States needs to shape and expand its domestic energy industry in accordance with profit/loss signals in the marketplace. This is capitalism proper—versus political capitalism, where a special government regulation or subsidy overrides the consumer verdicts.

Energy abundance, affordability, and reliability cut across class, race, and political boundaries. Artificial scarcity, price spikes, and Big Brother edicts (such as what light bulbs are legal to buy or sell) are the bane of government energy planning. Economic coordination and growth—and in the present context, economic recovery—require the type energy policies championed by IER.

We look forward to your input and support in the months and years ahead.

A Look Back

On June 26, 1989, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) was founded as a 501(c)3 public foundation in Houston, Texas. The original board members were:

  • Robert L. Bradley Jr., president
  • Nancy C. Bradley, secretary/treasurer
  • Emma B. Broussard
  • William A. Johnson

Howard H. Gano Jr., a CPA, would also join the board in this early period.

IER then centered on the burgeoning activity of its founder and president (me) with the publication of my first book, The Mirage of Oil Production (University Press of America, 1989), sponsored by the Cato Institute. The process that led to this book was my testimony before Congress in 1986 against the imposition of new import fees, as well as my work on what became Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience, which would be published in 1996 (Rowman & Littlefield).

A Part-time Organization

At the time of IER’s founding, Bradley was a full-time employee of Transwestern Pipeline Company, a natural gas transmission company that was wholly owned by Enron Corporation. A market analyst by day, he devoted nights and weekends to his scholarly activities and IER, making it a respected if small free-market think tank dedicated to energy issues. Humorously, the editor of Natural Gas Week, John Jennrich, labeled IER a “think bucket.” After all, the organization was essentially a one-person show.

Small steps were important ones in IER’s early years. In early 1991, publicity for Bradley in the New York Times led to a foundation grant to install an IER phone line. Each fundraising success was reason for celebration. And with enough activity, Bradley began preparing quarterly reports for IER’s small group of donors and other allies, a list that would grow over time from less than a hundred to several hundred.

IER leveraged its activities by teaming up with the Georgia-based Southern Regulatory Policy Institute (SPRI), which was the avocation of Jim Clarkson, an energy engineer with strong free-market beliefs. In November 1991, Clarkson merged the energy-focused SRPI into IER and joined IER’s board.

IER inherited SPRI’s booklet program, and with this printing capability, it began the series Studies in Market-based Energy Policy. One study, “Demand-Side Management: Ratepayers Beware,” by Douglas Houston of the University of Kansas, was highly publicized in the energy trade press and went through two editions.

In conjunction with its publications, IER began an adjunct scholar program. Doug Houston was an original member of the project, as was Jerry Ellig of George Mason University, who authored an IER booklet critical of public-utility regulation.

In March 1993, IER spearheaded a conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Cato Institute, “New Horizons in Natural Gas Deregulation.” This was a breakout event, with attendance of 130, favorable publicity, and a book of proceedings published by Praeger. The handsome volume was edited with an introduction by Ellig and Joseph Kalt, the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University. Two years later, IER and Cato repeated the success with another major conference, “New Horizons in Electric Power Deregulation.”

IER continued to grow around Bradley’s active writing and lecturing. Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience came out in 1996 and was followed in 2000 with the release of an energy primer for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability. But things were changing for Bradley in his day job in ways that caused conflicts.

In 1988, Enron chairman Ken Lay seized upon the climate-change issue as part of the company’s strategy to focus on natural gas as the ideal fuel for electric generation. The enemy to Enron was coal, which emitted one and a half times as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as did gas. To its credit, Enron developed new products to reduce the volatility and risk of long-term gas prices in order to foster a resurgence of gas demand for electric generation, but playing the political card was seen as necessary too.

Expanding its political model, Enron entered into the renewable energy business, first with solar power (1994) and then with wind power (1997). Thus, Enron was embracing the very energy path that Bradley was criticizing in publications and lectures. In 1997, in fact, Bradley—Enron’s new director of public policy analysis—had just published a major study for Cato: “Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green.’

Nevertheless, Enron valued Bradley for his extensive free-market connections (Enron had pro-market issues too), and Ken Lay, ever the politician and appeaser, acted as a buffer between Bradley and his critics at Enron. (Some of Bradley’s skirmishes with Enron Wind Company and Enron’s climate lobbyist are posted on the website PoliticalCapitalism.)

Full Time IER

Bradley’s 16-year career with Enron ended with the company’s bankruptcy. On December 4, 2001, a day after he was laid off, IER technically became a full-time organization for the first time. Some emergency funding was secured from free-market donors and Houston individuals and foundations to help Bradley make the transition.

Bradley turned his attention to two projects: authoring a book on the global warming debate and co-authoring an energy primer. A major new opportunity also presented itself: writing an insider book describing the rise and fall of Enron from a free-market, classical liberal perspective. There was also much fundraising to do, as well as attracting like-minded energy scholars to IER’s cause.

In 2003, Bradley published Climate Alarmism Reconsidered with the Institute of Economic Affairs, a London-based think tank with a classical-liberal outlook. The next year, Bradley (and coauthor Richard Fulmer, an IER senior fellow) published Energy: The Master Resource with Kendall/Hunt, a publisher of textbooks for the high school and college market. Bradley also began his Enron book project, which would grow into three stand-alone volumes. The first volume of the trilogy, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy, would come out in 2008.

A full-time IER gave Bradley the chance to expand the organization. This was much needed, for energy issues were growing with rising prices and political events. In 2003, Tom Tanton affiliated with IER. Rising to vice president, Tanton actively gave radio interviews, wrote op-eds, prepared studies, and made presentations at professional events. Tanton also managed IER’s new website and its blog feature, Tom Tanton’s Talkback. Based in California, Tanton is now a fellow in environmental studies at Pacific Research Institute in California and an adjunct scholar of IER.

IER Washington

In the spring of 2007, IER expanded its reach to the nation’s capital. Mary Hutzler, formerly Acting Administrator of the Energy Information Administration (Department of Energy), joined IER as a distinguished senior fellow. Robert P. Murphy joined IER as an economist. Andrew Morriss, a law professor and Ph.D. economist, became a senior fellow in 2007, as did, a year later, Robert Michaels, a professor of economics at California State Fullerton and an energy specialist.

These affiliations joined IER’s full time staff: President Rob Bradley and secretary/treasurer, Nancy Bradley. All other relationships were either on a consulting basis or were nonpaid affiliations. But IER’s achievements led to new opportunities to expand significantly and become what it is today: a major Washington, D.C.-headquartered, all-energy-all-the-time think tank.

On February 1, 2008, Tom Pyle joined IER as president and COO, with Bradley taking the new title of CEO. (For more information about staff and activities, visit IER’s website.)


From its founding until the present, IER has been a principled free-market think tank, turning its deep scholarly research for academics into educational materials for audiences ranging from the interested public to policymakers. IER’s mission is stated here. Funding comes from the voluntary (non-taxpayer) contributions of individuals, foundations, and corporations who believe in our principled positions in favor of private property, voluntary exchange, and capitalist wealth creation.

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