Opinion: Daily Journal

Instituting A Certain Skepticism

CHARLESTON, SC – Duke University has just announced a new policy institute that will, in the words of a laudatory Associated Press report, provide “unbiased recommendations on how to handle” contentious environmental issues. Here again, I find my impulses in conflict. My idealistic, hopeful side yearns for an academic institution where science and substantive debate prevail over environmentalist propaganda and political spin. My empirical, skeptical side tells me that such an endeavor is highly unlikely, especially in this case.

A close reading of the AP’s coverage (in italics) of the opening event of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions offers the opportunity to see these two sides jockey for position.

The organization is led by Tim Profeta, a self-described veteran of ‘five years in the environmental policy wars in Washington, D.C.,’ where he was an aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

OK, well, Sen. Lieberman is the longtime co-sponsor with Sen. John McCain of major global-warming legislation. On the other hand, he is far from the most radical of environmental busybodies on his side of the aisle. Conclusion: unclear.

• The story quotes Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense, a member of the institute’s advisory board:

“To get [academics] talking with companies and environmental groups and policy-makers, making that expertise available with a bent toward solving problems, I think that’s a terrific addition that doesn’t replace the important things that Environmental Defense does but adds to it,” he said.

Environmental Defense is a clearly left-wing organization that pushes for bigger government through litigation and advocacy. Conclusion: skeptical.

The institute is still hiring staff and creating working channels with other Duke departments. But it already has projects on the table – a report on water created with the Aspen Institute and due out next month, and a newly announced $2.5 million grant from Duke Energy to come up with policy on climate change.

The Aspen Institute is left-wing. Duke Energy has come out for taxes or regulations to combat global warming (which would, not incidentally, favor utilities with substantial nuclear-power investments). Conclusion: skeptical.

[The institute] will have to scrupulously maintain a reputation as unbiased, particularly until its place in the debate is well-established, said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School.

“I think we can come out with policy recommendations that, by happenstance, might be associated with one or the other major political parties’ agenda,” he said. “But this won’t come from us being affiliated with them. They will do the choosing as to whether they want to affiliate with what we recommend or not.”

Schlesinger is an environmental activist, not a dispassionate analyst. His writings identify him as a traditional left-wing, command-and-control thinker on environmental issues. And he says the new institute may maintain a “reputation as unbiased” until it establishes its place in the debate, after which presumably it will be more honest. Conclusion: skeptical.

• The article quotes Nicole St. Clair, communications director for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council (the story says Fund, but I think it’s still Council):

“What [the institute] will do is take people out of the fray of Washington, build a consensus and the momentum for change – and they can come back to hopefully engulf Washington in some kind of movement.”

Uh-huh. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an irresponsible fringe group if ever there was one, hopes the Nicholas Institute will “engulf Washington in some kind of movement.” Conclusion: very skeptical.

Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.