RALEIGH — The Center for Climate Strategies, which is using funds from foundations that promote carbon-dioxide constraints because of global-warming fears, is influencing government climate-change policy in several states, including North Carolina.
In almost all cases the states’ taxpayers are paying little or no money for CCS’s research on cost and benefits, while the private foundations — some with explicitly alarmist viewpoints on the dangers of human-induced carbon-dioxide emissions — provide funds that produce recommendations that, if implemented, would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in additional taxes, as well as placing restrictions on property rights, vehicle usage, and growth.
The fact that private advocacy money is paying for the research behind North Carolina’s Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (CAPAG), and similar panels and commissions in other states, has raised questions about whether a predetermined bias affected their findings.
“I certainly have some concerns about whether or not we’re getting an objective review about the state of the science and the benefit of the state taking some action,” said state Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
How CCS operates
CCS, a policy center of Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Enterprising Environmental Solutions Inc., says it is not an advocacy organization, unlike its parent nonprofit, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. Instead, CCS officials say, they help with climate-action planning processes, drawing together representatives, called “stakeholders,” from various business, advocacy, nonprofit, and governmental groups within each state where they work.
Tom Peterson, the executive director, says CCS is a “policy-neutral” service organization that facilitates the climate-action process, by: introducing carbon-dioxide mitigation options for consideration; providing technical analysis; creating a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the state; providing moderation and mediation for meetings and conference calls; helping stakeholders reach consensus on decisions; and maintaining records, Web sites and meeting notes.
“It’s strictly for supporting information exchange,” Peterson said. “Our commitments are to the purposes and goals of the processes.”
Peterson said CCS has no role in the outcomes, nor do its donors. He said his organization is interested in state self-determination on its climate change choices.
“Once [stakeholders] develop that list [of approved options], it is their decision,” he said. “We don’t make those decisions for them.”
As far as how CCS gets involved with a state or region in the first place, Peterson said his band of advisors goes only where they are asked.
“We act on invitations,” he said.
Getting the invitation
But apparently that applies only to the official climate-action planning process itself, after a CAPAG-like group is established either by a governor’s executive order, or by a legislative action. In fact, CCS says on its Web site it is involved in the creation of the state groups before they are hired by the states.
“Our work actually begins long before a governor launches a planning process,” the CCS Web site says. “We provide extensive technical and planning support, issue-based education, and other capacity- and confidence-building steps with state officials through personal conferrals and assessments before the formal climate planning process.
“Our work reaches a more formal stage of engagement when we are formally asked to serve as an expert and neutral third party to manage the process of developing a state’s climate action plan.”
Last week CCS was poised to get an invitation from Florida. Peterson spoke at a global-warming conference in Tampa, and warned that Florida is among the top 30 emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, the St. Petersburg Times reported. The newspaper said Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, “has a strong interest in the issue,” and that he wants to put solar panels on the governor’s mansion and drives around Tallahassee in an ethanol-fueled vehicle.
“Emissions have to go down in order for us to stabilize,” Peterson said at the conference, according to a Sarasota Herald-Tribune report. “State political leaders have decided it’s time to act. This is not a problem without a solution; there is a wide range of solutions.”
CCS’s appears to cultivate its clients by first targeting governors. Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota, Vermont, South Carolina, and Washington all established their climate-action groups via executive order issued by their respective governors.
A similar attempt was made with North Carolina, where the state’s Division of Air Quality justified the creation of the Climate Action Plan Advisory Group through language in the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act. In December 2004 CCS wrote in a proposal (marked “confidential”) to the state that Gov. Mike Easley approve a greenhouse gas mitigation policy planning process. In the proposal CCS cited language from a September 2004 NC DAQ report on carbon-dioxide emissions.
“In light of the global and national momentum,” the proposal said, quoting the carbon-dioxide report, “and because of the risks and opportunities climate change poses for our state, many are convinced that North Carolina must prepare its economy and its people for a carbon-constrained world.”
But Easley never issued an executive order on climate change. In DAQ’s view Easley’s approval was not necessary, since the agency cited authorization for CAPAG from the Smokestacks bill. But according to the agency’s written justification for sole-sourcing the contract with CCS, the lure of private foundation money to finance the project was attractive as well. The justification cited carbon-dioxide mitigation efforts in other states.
“These efforts and concepts have drawn the attention of ‘several foundations’ which are active in assisting development of public policies in this area to the point that they, working through [CCS], …have indicated a desire to assist [North Carolina] in making such a plan development possible,” the document said.
North Carolina put $100,000 into its CAPAG project, while the following carbon-dioxide-conscious foundations covered most of the rest of the $350,000 budget: Rockefeller Brothers Fund, $100,000; Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, $75,000; the Surdna Foundation, $30,000; and the Marisla Foundation, $20,000.
Bringing the money with them
CCS has used private money, raised from foundations focused on carbon-dioxide reductions, to administer climate-action policy groups in all the other states they’ve worked in as well. The fact that states have to spend little or nothing on their projects is attractive to government officials concerned about their climate- change policies. For example in Montana, where the state paid minimally for its $370,000 Climate Change Advisory Committee project, air-quality officials avoided the competitive bidding process because of all the foundation money that CCS brought.
“It appears to the department that only one source, the Center for Climate Strategies, …is acceptable or suitable for the service desired,” a Montana Department of Environmental Quality official wrote in a “Request for Best Source Contract Approval.” “No other contractor group of which the Department is aware has the funding to perform the whole project, of which the Department’s contribution of $50,000 is but a small part.”
In other states the need for special approval to skip competitive bidding was unnecessary, because the minimum threshold for requiring competitive bids wasn’t met because of all the private money CCS contributed. The New Mexico Environment Department paid only $20,000 for CCS to assist its Climate Change Advisory Group. Minnesota will pay no more than $40,000 for its commission, the same amount Arizona contracted to pay. A representative for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, said his state is paying nothing for CCS to advise its Climate, Energy and Commerce Advisory Committee. In fact, according to Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer, South Carolina doesn’t have any written agreement with CCS.
“There is no contract between us and this group,” Sawyer said.
Amounts paid by other states working with CCS were not available in time for publication of this article. But the public funds paid by Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, and South Carolina fall well short of North Carolina’s $100,000 taxpayer participation for CAPAG.
In every state where it works, CCS, in its documents that explain the climate advisory group processes, prides itself on the transparency of the groups’ project through public meetings, public documents, and Web site accessibility to those documents.
But the transparency has limitations. The fact that CCS brings its own funding to a venture — despite that is initiated by government and designed to influence public policy — means it does not have to divulge its financial sources for its various state projects. CCS did provide for Carolina Journal detailed information about its private funds received for North Carolina’s CAPAG, but declined to respond to subsequent rounds of inquiries about foundation funding for other states’ projects.
“I believe that it is best that you receive this information from the states where the work is occurring,” said Brian Hill, a director on the board of CCS’s parent organization, Enterprising Environmental Strategies, Inc., in an e-mail.
Told that the states do not have CCS’s detailed private funding information nor, in most cases, total overall budgets for the projects, Hill did not respond to further requests delivered via telephone messages and e-mails.
But some information, albeit incomplete and nonspecific, is available through other states’ Climate Action group documents, and also through the private foundations themselves. Among those involved:
* The Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2005 granted CCS $255,000 — $100,000 of which went to its North Carolina CAPAG work, and also to projects in Minnesota and New Mexico
* The Surdna Foundation in 2005 gave CCS $60,000 for its Arizona and New Mexico projects, apparently in addition to its recent $30,000 for North Carolina
* The Marisla Foundation contributed $20,000 for North Carolina, and unidentified amounts for Minnesota and New Mexico
* The Energy Foundation, according to state documents, helped fund projects in Minnesota and New Mexico
* The Compton Foundation gave CCS $26,000 in 2005 for its Arizona and New Mexico projects
* The John Merck Fund contributed $45,000 to CCS for its work in Vermont
* The Merck Family Fund granted CCS $50,000 last year for its Vermont and South Carolina projects
* The WestWind Foundation granted $30,000 in 2006 for CCS’s work in Virginia and in the Southeast
The process for CCS is nearly identical in every state it works with. The climate- action advisory groups, facilitated by CCS-hired personnel, produce the same series of documents, as the result of a similar series of meetings, usually six of them, of the climate group, as well as subgroups.
In nearly all cases (North Carolina being one exception), the process is initiated by a governor’s executive order. The governor then appoints, usually, 25 to 35 members to the study group, while CCS compiles a draft greenhouse-gas-emissions “inventory” for that state. The inventory is imprecise, however, since there is no way to exactly measure total carbon-dioxide emissions.
In addition to the establishment of the overall climate-action advisory group, five “technical Work groups” associated with various sectors of the economy are created, usually broken into the following categories: agriculture and forestry; energy supply; residential, commercial and industrial; transportation and land use; and cross-cutting.
CCS determines the range of policies that are considered by introducing its own list of carbon-dioxide mitigation options, each designed to reduce emissions to some degree, most of which have been considered or implemented in other states. Options are considered by the appropriate technical work groups, which forward approved options to the overall climate-advisory group for final consideration.
CCS produces all meeting summaries, agendas, PowerPoint presentations, and all other related documents, including a final report that goes to elected officials.
CCS also posts documents to, and manages, the Web sites for most of the states with whom they work. They do so using an Internet service called Resource Saver, owned by the nonprofit Global Environment and Technology Foundation, which says it “promotes the use of innovative technology to achieve sustainable development.”
CCS-hired personnel moderate most meetings, and they also provide all technical and analytical information about each carbon-dioxide-mitigation option. Their analysis does not include an assessment of the extent to which the policies that they have presented will affect the climate.
CAPAG was not created to study the science of global warming, said Tom Mather, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Air Quality. Instead the group was tasked with “develop[ing] recommendations for specific actions to help reduce or prevent climate change,” to be delivered to the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change.
Inevitably questions come from CAPAG members, however, Peterson said. He said when they do, CCS analysts refer them to information about global-warming science produced by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and by the National Academy of Sciences.
“We don’t dispute their findings,” Peterson said. “We don’t take a position on them.”
But despite the weight of the organizations behind the reports provided to CAPAG by CCS, consensus is nonexistent on the threats, and actions needed to be taken, in response to global warming.
“Although no cause for alarm rests on this issue, there has been an intense effort to claim that the theoretically expected contribution from additional [human] carbon dioxide has actually been detected,” said Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, in a July 2, 2006 Wall Street Journal editorial.
“Given that we do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change, this task is currently impossible. Nevertheless there has been a persistent effort to suggest otherwise, and with surprising impact.”
Senate Minority Leader Berger cast doubt upon the U.N.’s research.
“The U.N.’s track record for predicting actual temperature increases are usually incorrect by between 45 to 75 percent,” he said.
Where does North Carolina stand?
CAPAG recently held its sixth meeting May 8. Another meeting to consider further carbon-dioxide mitigation options, recommended by the five technical work groups, is planned for July.
A large menu of options is under consideration. Among them are gasoline-tax increases, taxpayer subsidies for biofuels, removal of barriers to “smart growth,” tax-funded expansion of mass transit, renewable-energy incentives, carbon-dioxide taxes, and taxes and surcharges on electricity bills. Critics argue that many of these programs increase tax burdens, are a drag on the states economy, and have little or no impact on global temperatures.
“If we determine that carbon emissions are truly a threat to the environment, there are more effective options than those proposed by the environmental committee,” said State Sen. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, and member of the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change. “Nuclear power, for example, creates no carbon emissions and is generally recognized as the cleanest method of generation for electric power. The legislature and North Carolina’s citizens should stop, examine the facts carefully, and remove emotion from this issue before we take steps that may very well have long-term negative consequences for our economy.”
CAPAG has already recommended 16 “early consensus” options to the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change. It will consider 37 other options for possible approval to the legislative panel, possibly at the July meeting. The LCGCC is by law required to make a final report on its findings and recommendations to the full General Assembly in April 2008.
CCS’s work is complete with Arizona’s and New Mexico’s climate change advisory groups. The Arizona Climate Change Advisory Group produced 49 recommendations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the state. “The CCAG strongly recommends early and aggressive implementation of the recommendations and a corresponding set of incentives to promote their early adoption,” the advisory group wrote in its final report to elected officials.
New Mexico’s Climate Change Advisory Group sent a list of 69 policy recommendations to Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.
Paul Chesser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.