Detroit Knew

E&E News Reporter Maxine Joselow has broken new ground with an investigative story on what scientists at General Motors and Ford knew about climate change back to the 1960s. There were scientists employed by these companies not only studying the issue, but publishing their work in scientific journals, pushing the issue in the scientific community and briefing company management along the way. Game changing new information here.

The Center for International Environmental Law helped with archival research on industry scientists for this E&E reporting, building on their blockbuster “Smoke and Fumes” American Petroleum Institute research a few years back.

The picture E&E draws of ‘what happened next’ is what makes the story most intriguing. After establishing this base of clear internal knowledge of the threat of climate change and how the use of fossil fuels was driving the crisis, the auto companies then join rank with the fossil fuel industry and others to push back on science and block policy solutions starting in the late 1980s and extending well into the 2000s. Over this time period, GM and Ford were involved in multiple efforts to undermine policies that would have begun to reduce global warming pollution. Having missed this chance, society/humanity now will have a harder time “flattening the curve” and bringing global emissions down to a level that won’t further disrupt the planet’s balance.

Many of the lawsuits you have read about in recent years hover on this exact question: how much did the companies know, did they know their product, used as directed, would cause harm and contribute to global warming, and how did they react in the public policy arena.

Materials from our archives on GM, Ford and the automakers trade associations:

1989 Global Climate Coalition membership list

The GCC was formed as a front group within the National Association of Manufacturers in 1989. The earliest membership list we have includes Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Chrysler and the Motor Vehicles Manufacturers Association (now known as The Alliance).

1996-97 GCC Subcommittee Documents with auto company representatives listed

Mitchell Baer (American Petroleum Institute), Tim Banfield and Fred Starheim (Allegheny Power and Ohio Edison Company respectively (FirstEnergy Corp. was formed in 1997 by a merger of Ohio Edison and Centerior Energy, Allegheny was acquired by FirstEnergy in 2011)), Greg Dana (Association of International Automobile Manufacturers), Dennis Devlin and Brian Flannery (Exxon), Howard Feldman and Russell Jones (American Petroleum Institute), Bronson Gardner and Eric Holdsworth (GCC), Robert Gehri (Southern Company), Chuck Hakkarinen, (Electric Power Research Institute), Jon Heuss (GM Research Scientist), , John Holt (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association), John Kinsman (Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Eric Kuhn (Cinergy Services), Ned Leonard (American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Western Fuels Association, EEI), John McManus (American Electric Power Corp.); James Pinto (Texaco, now a part of Chevron); Terry Pritchett (General Motors), Eric Reiner (3M Environmental Engineering and Pollution Control), John Shiller (Ford Motor Company), Jerrel Smith (Union Electric Company), James Smithson and Porter J. Womeldorff (Illinois Power Company (now Ameren)), Mike Stroben (Duke Energy), Marle Takemoto (Chrysler).

Auto industry people listed on GCC STAC list:

  • Greg Dana (Association of International Automobile Manufacturers); 
  • Jon Heuss (GM Research Scientist); 
  • Terry Pritchett (General Motors);
  • John Shiller (Ford Motor Company), 
  • Marle Takemoto (Chrysler).

At other meetings, Chuck Sharp represented GM

1999 Ford and GM withdraw from the Global Climate Coalition

GCC response to Ford leaving the coalition

1998 CEI TV Ad “Let there be light”

1998 CEI TV Ad “Gas Lines”

2003 CEI IRS Form 990 with funders listed

2006 Ford Statement on CEI “They call it pollution, we call it life” TV ads

The controversial Ad

2006 leaked internal memo from head of Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA)

The memo takes about Koch funding a coalition run through the National Association of Manufacturers and notes that about Ford and GM funding Competitive Enterprise Institute TV ads in ten states.

“Koch Industries is working with other large corporations, including AEP and the Southern Company, on possibly financing a film that would counteract An Inconvenient Truth. Koch has also decided to finance a coalition that very likely will be administered through the National Association of Manufacturers. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has been running two ads in ten states that were financed by General Motors and the Ford Motor Company. CEI has a director on climate change and other employees working on the issue. We have met with Koch, CEI, and Michaels meet periodically to discuss activities.”

Pat Michaels Affidavit in Green Mountain Chrysler v Crombie

Posted by Climate Investigations Center