Oil, Utilities, and Coal at Helm of GCC and its Denial Committee, STAC

Throughout the GCC’s existence, the industries with the most to lose in a carbon-constrained future were ringleaders in the GCC and central in informing their denial and delay strategy. From GCC’s founding until it was disbanded, coal-burning electric utilities, oil majors and refiners, and other fossil fuel producers like coal mining companies, were central to the GCC’s strategy and output. Coal interests, oil and gas corporations, and their respective trade associations represented fifty-seven percent of the GCC’s membership over seven years of data uncovered in our documents. As shown below, coal, oil, and gas interests also dominated the GCC’s Board, the highest level of membership available within the GCC.

At its formation, the GCC was housed within the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a group with a long history of advocating for the oil industry and utilities.

At its formation, the GCC was housed within the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a group with a long history of advocating for the oil industry and utilities. The small GCC team was organized with Phillips Petroleum’s Tom Lambrix as Chairman, Southern Company’s J. Minter as government liaison, and a support staffer from NAM.

The GCC’s founding members overwhelmingly consisted of fossil fuel producers and heavy users: oil majors Shell, Texaco (now a part of Chevron), Amoco (now a part of BP); oil refiner and retailers ARCO (now a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum) and Phillips Petroleum (now a part of ConocoPhillips); coal miners BHP – Utah International and Peabody; and utilities Southern Company, American Electric Power and Pacific Gas and Electric. The oil, coal, and utility contingent was also represented by founding member trade associations (American Petroleum Institute, National Coal Association, and Edison Electric Institute (EEI) respectively).

The GCC became an independent organization in 1992. It announced a new executive director, John Shlaes, with experience at utility trade EEI. While Shlaes worked at EEI, it was later revealed, the group implemented its 1991 “Information Council on the Environment” denial campaign.

With a new leader, a new dues structure, and boasting the addition of at least 8 utilities and 7 oil and coal corporations as members, the GCC officially filed for 501c(6) tax-exempt status. The change in designation was helpful for the GCC; records reflect three million dollars in corporate and trade association dues in tax years 1996 and 1997, compared to one million dollars in dues from July 1994 to December 1995. American Petroleum Institute’s (API) William O’Keefe would assume chairmanship of GCC’s Operating Committee in 1994, eventually assuming Shlaes’ Executive Director position.

STAC Staffed by utility, coal, and oil interests

Litigation documents show GCC’s STAC leadership was staffed by oil and coal-vested utility interests. Mobil Oil Corporation’s Lenny Bernstein, for instance, shared his seat as chair person with Porter Wolmerdorff, who represented the utility Illinois Power (now Ameren), which relied heavily on coal and struggled with Clean Air Act compliance. Womeldorff was the STAC member to identify “a list of topics which were sources of the uncertainty in the scientific assessment of climate change,” coordinating an effort to “put together write-ups on these topics.” Womeldorff highlighted climate models, sea level rise, solar variability, carbon dioxide, and temperature record/measurement as critical issue areas – the next five years the GCC focused on those exact issues.

Coal mining companies and coal-fired utilities were one of the most well-represented interest groups in STAC.

Coal mining companies and coal-fired utilities were one of the most well-represented interest groups in STAC. Powerful utility industry EEI, for instance, had more than their former staffer Shlaes running the GCC but also placed John Kinsman amongst STAC’s members. Kinsman was responsible for keeping STAC abreast of IPCC findings and scrutinizing its science. He also was responsible for shaping the internal draft climate change primer with Lenny Bernstein, discussed below, that both acknowledged the reality of anthropogenic climate change and debunked “contrarian theories” that supported natural climate variability. The primer in this form was never published publicly.

Another coal interest group, the Western Fuels Association, became a board member of GCC and committee member to STAC at the same time they were launching their own denial campaign, “the Greening Earth Society.” The WFA’s Ned Leonard served on STAC. Leonard eventually went on to work with EEI and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. In addition to WFA, The Electric Power Research Institute, the National Coal Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, all trade associations of utilities and coal interests, contributed four representatives to STAC’s efforts.

Alongside trade associations, member corporations reliant on coal were active members of STAC as well. Illinois Power Company and Union Electric (both entities now a part of Ameren Corporation) seemed to have the greatest individual control, occupying the Co-Chair position, plus two additional support staff serving on STAC.

Other coal-reliant utilities and their representatives that were members of STAC in 1997:

Oil companies and their trade associations were heavily represented within STAC as well. Individual corporations Mobil, Exxon, Texaco (now a part of Chevron), and ARCO contributed five staffers to STAC. Like coal and utilities, oil interests concentrated their STAC support through their principal trade association, API, which committed four staff members to STAC. One of API’s STAC members was Mitchell Baer, who API hired away from the American Meteorological Society after Baer published work expressing skepticism toward the “enhanced greenhouse effect” as climate change was often referred to in the 1980s and early 90s.

Like with coal and utilities, the staff representing oil industries was responsible for accomplishing STAC’s goals. API’s Howard Feldman distributed and prepared STAC meeting minutes; API’s Tom Kirlin coordinated the development of “Climate Change Assertions and Facts” report; Mobil co-chaired the committee; and Exxon presented repeatedly on human health impacts from climate change, informing later GCC denial materials.

The recurring STAC meetings themselves were hosted by the same entities as well, rotating from the D.C. offices of the National Mining Association, Edison Electric Institute, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Southern Company.

Corporate divide/departures

As consensus around climate change grew, so did rifts between GCC’s industry members. 

As consensus around climate change grew, so did rifts between GCC’s industry members. The nine corporations that departed GCC from 1996 to 2000 included two automakers, one chemical manufacturer, one utility, and five oil companies. BP started the exodus in 1996, stating that “the time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point.”

The documents in our collection reflect the internal tension caused by BP’s departure – fear that the GCC was receiving too much negative publicity and an interest to distance themselves from anti-Kyoto Protocol sentiments. Documents show the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers’ (AIAM)  in internal discussions  about leaving the GCC, stating, “[t]he message of the GCC is there is no scientific basis for global warming … AIAM Government Relations, Technical, and Manufacturing Operations Committees are considering whether to join the International Climate Change Partnership rather than continuing with the GCC.” Based on a 1998 GCC membership document distributed at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Fourth Conference of the Parties, it appears that AIAM did leave the GCC soon after their internal discussion.

Another GCC STAC member was Ford Motor Company. In Ford’s 2001 Climate Report, the section, “Changing Our Approach to a Changing Climate,” recounted the early 1990’s when, “[a]long with energy companies, automakers and others, we questioned the science of climate change.” This period, of course, was when Ford was affiliated with the Global Climate Coalition. Ford then highlighted the late 1990’s as the period when “we started listening,” citing scientific consensus as the reason for it to “shift significantly” its “stance on climate change.” And Ford did, leaving the GCC in 1999. The GCC responded to Ford, remaining steadfast to its core mission, claiming that Ford’s departure was “driven by a campaign of misinformation by fringe environmental groups.”

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View and download the full report: Global Climate Coalition: Big Business Funds Climate Change Denial and Regulatory Delay.