A key Democratic lawmaker is seeking an expanded inquiry into whether fossil-fuel companies have been secretly underwriting the research of some of the country’s most prominent scientific skeptics of climate change.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D- Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent requests to seven universities asking for detailed records on the funding sources for affiliated researchers who have opposed the scientific consensus on man-made global warming. Grijalva cited concerns over possible conflicts of interest involving scientists who have sought to influence the public debate on climate.
“Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air-quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulation and shapes public understanding of climate scientists,” Grijalva wrote in letters addressed to the presidents of the seven universities. He asked for copies of the scientists’ financial disclosure forms as well as information about the sources of research grants.
The move follows the release of documents that shed new light on extensive financial links between fossil-fuel interests and prominent skeptic Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, a Cambridge, Mass., aerospace engineer. Soon’s loud dissents on mainstream climate science have made him the champion of global-warming skeptics in Congress and around the country.
Soon, who is affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has for years promoted a controversial view that attributes recent warming not to carbon emissions but to fluctuations in solar intensity. But documents from his institute show that his research was underwritten almost entirely by fossil-fuel interests, including the Koch Foundation and the Southern Co. Soon did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Grijalva said Soon failed to properly disclose Big Oil’s support for his work when he testified to Congress and at the state legislature of Kansas — testimony that downplayed the seriousness of man-made climate change. “My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships,” Grijalva wrote.
The letters were addressed to the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Pepperdine, Arizona State and the universities of Alabama, Colorado and Delaware. Each cited a single affiliated researcher at each institution who has appeared before Congress to question whether man-made carbon pollution is contributing to a dangerous warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. In the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey also called for an investigation, saying energy companies should disclose their support for climate research.
Smithsonian officials on Monday’s expressed concern over allegations that Soon failed to disclose sources of funding for his reseach. An internal investigation is underway, said a spokesman, adding that the institution “does not support” Soon’s climate conclusions.