Southern Company Dumps Climate Denier Willie Soon

The Washington Post broke the news yesterday that Southern Company confirmed it is dropping the contract with Dr. Willie Soon at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  But not immediately…at the end of the current 2015 contract.

Southern Co. has not issued a public statement or explanation, only sparse email responses to reporters.

Before this week, Southern’s response was a lot of avoiding the question.  As in this response to the New York Times in late February:

“Southern Company funds a broad range of research on a number of topics that have potentially significant public-policy implications for our business,” said Jeannice M. Hall, a spokeswoman. The company declined to answer detailed questions about its funding of Dr. Soon’s research.

Inside Climate News reports an email confirmation today from Southern Company

“Our agreement with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory expires later this year and there are no plans to renew it,” Southern spokesman Jack Bonnikson said in an email.

Hidden within Monday’s Washington Post article on American Legislative Exchange Council is this Willie Soon news:

In a separate example that echoes ALEC’s plight, Southern Co., the country’s fourth-largest electric utility, recently decided to quietly drop its funding for controversial scientist Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, a solar physicist at the the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory…

The company had been underwriting Soon’s research through a grant to the Smithsonian-affiliated laboratory where the scientists works, but the company has decided to end the relationship later this year, a spokesman confirmed. Soon declined a request to comment.

(Bold emphasis added)

What Southern Company Knew and When They Knew It

We have known this fact for some time, hearing through the grapevine that high ranking Southern Company executives were reaching out to multiple “stakeholders” immediately after the Willie Soon story broke in late February.
The executives claimed ignorance of the Soon contract, calling it an artifact of a bygone era, some remnant contract, some other guy, etc.  We know this to be somewhat false. The Southern Co. PR/media team at least has been aware of that their covert relationship with Soon for at least four years, back to spring of 2011, when there was a round of coverage about Willie Soon’s fossil fuel funders.
In fact, Southern Company was on the record in 2011 and just as cagey about the relationship, with a non-answer response about their broad research spending.
In 2011 when Greenpeace got the first return on its Freedom of Information Act request (detailing grants from Southern Company, ExxonMobil, Charles Koch Foundation, Donors Trust and others) Southern was questioned by Tim Gardner of Reuters and stated that they “did not fund Soon last year.”

“Southern gave Soon $120,000 starting in 2008 to study the Sun’s relation to climate change, according to the FOIA documents. Spokeswoman Stephanie Kirijan said Southern has spent about $500 million on environmental research and development and funding and did not fund Soon last year.

Southern funded Soon for studies of solar variability but not to deny that mercury emissions are dangerous, she said.”

At the time we only had funding data from Smithsonian through 2009 since the original FOIA was filed in 2009.  We now know Southern took a break in 2010 for some reason, then began funding Soon again in 2011 and continued through 2015, racking up over $400,000 in checks to Dr. Soon.

We also know the Soon contract was run out of Southern Company Services, Inc. a subsidiary that does contract work for Southern, hires lobbyists etc.  Southern describes the subsidiary this way: “SCS is the system service company providing, at cost, specialized services to Southern Company and its subsidiary companies.”

You can bet Southern Company HQ knows what Southern Company Services does… like take Federal grants to build the over budget underperforming Kemper “clean coal” plant, like sue whistleblowers who want to talk about Southern’s “clean coal” plant, like hire Haley Barbour’s lobby firm BGR to do the company’s bidding…

More questions for Smithsonian and Southern Company

Some intrepid reporter or investigator might push Southern for more comment and explanation:
  • Has Smithsonian been notified by Southern Company on the termination of the contract?
  • Are there modifications to the existing contract with Southern Company through 2015?
  • What are the expected “deliverables” from Soon to Southern Company for 2015?
  • We also have not seen the “deliverables” or “Year End Reports” from Soon to Southern for the 2013 or 2014 contracts. (Inside Climate News reports that there is an expected report for the 2015 work)
Or to ask Southern Company the same questions:
  • Why wait until the end of the year?
  • Why not end the contract with Soon immediately?

This story will continue until we stop.

Posted by Kert Davies