BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Heartland Institute is back with a vengeance. After years of being written off by environmentalists as a fringe group pushing fringe ideas and policies, Heartland has found a love connection with officials from the Trump administration.
You would be justified if you were asking yourself, what in heaven’s name is The Heartland Institute? Sit back, you may be in for a bumpy ride!
Founded in 1984 by Joseph L. Bast and David H. Padden, Heartland has never enjoyed the praise or prestige heaped upon such conservative institutes as the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution or the American Enterprise Institute. While consistently pushing a free-market, pro-privatization agenda, over the years it placed a major emphasis on climate change denial.
Nevertheless, Heartland became one of the more innovative conservative think tanks. Not because of its free-market ideology, but early on it developed a method of providing critical information to hundreds, if not thousands, of legislators – both state and national – and journalists, columnists and editorial board members.
In 1996, long before the Internet was omnipresent, Heartland launched what it called PolcyFax, a project that became an indispensible tool for the then-growing conservative information infrastructure. Marrying conservative advocacy with what was then state-of-the-art technology, PolicyFax brought together information from dozens of right-wing think tanks and policy institutes on such issues as air quality, chemicals, endangered species, energy, environmental justice, forestry, free-market environmentalism, global climate change, ozone depletion, regulatory reform, and sustainable development, and delivered them for free to its constituents.
As I reported in January 2016, "PolicyFax was accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and was absolutely free to every elected official in the United States (regardless of position), every significant media worker, and researchers from many other think tanks. … In many ways, Heartland’s PolicyFax helped seed the conservative movement’s long-lived project denying global warming; a project that continues unabated to this day."
Over the years, Heartland has sponsored numerous conferences, inviting climate change deniers and skeptics to hang out and debunk climate science. In 2012, the Institute went off the rails. It sponsored a series of billboards on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago, comparing global warming advocates to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Heartland's rationale for the billboards: "Still believing in man-made global warming ... is more than a little nutty. In fact, some really crazy people use it to justify immoral and frightening behavior."
The billboard campaign angered donors and forced Heartland to issue what I call the Falwell non-apology apology, named after Rev. Jerry Falwell’s half-hearted and profoundly insincere apology he issued after accusing liberals and progressives of causing 9/11. Heartland issued the following statement: "We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland's friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the 'realist' message on the climate."
This year’s The America First Energy Conference was different: Fringe players with fringe ideas joined with several Trump administration officials, making it perhaps the most significant Heartland-staged event ever.
In a pre-conference piece, the Climate Investigations Center ‘s Kert Davies reported, "Many speakers have deep ties to the Cooler Heads Coalition (CHC), a group of organizations that deny climate change and oppose policies to address it. From 1997-2015, the combined grants from ExxonMobil to CHC members top $11 million dollars. Since its inception, the coalition has used a variety of tactics to distort public opinion on climate change and influence decision-making in Washington. For decades the coalition has authored biased reports, held briefings on Capitol Hill, and released weekly newsletters attacking 'climate change alarmists'."
As BuzzFeed’s Zahra Hirji recently reported, at the Houston meeting "some of the nation’s most vocal climate deniers gushed about the Trump administration’s rapid rollback of environment and climate rules and set their sights on a far more ambitious plan: gutting the policy that allows the EPA to treat carbon as an air pollutant."
Vincent DeVito, the Interior Department’s counselor for energy policy, "gave a keynote over dinner": Richard Westerdale II, a former Exxon Mobil staffer who advised senior executives under the leadership of then-CEO and now Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and now a senior energy advisor to the State Department was a panelist; and Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental and Protection Agency, addressed attendees in a pre-taped video, Hirji pointed out.
While many conference attendees lauded the administration for stepping away from the Paris climate agreement, scrapping the Clean Power Plan, and blocking government from presenting at professional conferences, they were also busy plotting an aggressive climate change denying future; specifically to do away with an Obama administration EPA declaration called "endangerment finding," "which since 2009 has served as the basis for climate policies and regulations," according to The Washington Post.
The goal is to put the kybosh on the Obama administration’s declaration that climate change poses a danger to public health, which, according to Hirji, is "the foundation of the agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions as an air pollutant, and has been backed up by the Supreme Court."
In a story posted at heartland.org, and headlined "Endangerment Finding Should be Reviewed and Repealed, Says Think Tank," Kenneth Artz reported that "Representatives of the Texas Public Policy Foundation met with Environmental Protection Agency staff to show why as a matter of law the agency should reconsider its endangerment finding concerning carbon dioxide."