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Michaels Refuses to Disclose Funding In Court Case

Climate skeptic Michaels refuses to disclose funding


Society of Environmental Journalists Watchdog Newsletter, Sept. 19, 2007

Patrick J. Michaels, one of the global warming skeptics most often interviewed by news media, withdrew as an expert witness in a high-profile Vermont court case rather than disclose his funding sources,

court documents show.


Moreover, Michaels told the court in July 2007, some funders gave him money on the condition that their identities remain secret -- and he is largely dependent for his livelihood on the money they give him.


Michaels' web publication, World Climate Report, and its skeptical predecessors have been heavily funded by coal and electric utility industries with a large financial stake in preventing regulation of greenhouse emissions. In the 1990s, he published World Climate Review without clearly disclosing in the publication itself that it was funded by the Western Fuels Association -- until after journalist Bud Ward brought this to light in the Environment Writer newsletter.


World Climate Report gives no indication on its Web site of who funds or publishes it. Michaels is listed as its chief editor.

Reached by phone, Michaels said the court documents largely speak for themselves.




The just-decided case in federal District Court was an attempt by the auto industry to thwart efforts by Vermont and other states to regulate the greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles. Judge William K. Sessions ruled in Burlington September 12, 2007, that Vermont could regulate auto emissions in the case, known as Green Mountain Chrysler v. Crombie. Major carmakers and auto industry associations joined the case, which is likely to have fallout in other states.


The automakers had hired Michaels, listed as a University of Virginia professor, as an expert witness. During the discovery phase of the case [in 2006], Michaels had produced financial records and given an affidavit about his funding with the understanding that he could keep the information from being publicly disclosed. That information was pre-emptively sealed by an order from Judge Sessions. When lawyers for the automakers told him the funding information might have to be disclosed, Michaels in April 2007 withdrew as a witness in the case.




The key information -- a list of Michaels' funders and the amounts they paid him -- remains under court seal. Barely a hint of its existence -- or Michaels' non-disclosure -- would have ever come to light had not the environmental group Greenpeace moved on June 8, 2007, to intervene in the case for the specific purpose of getting the information disclosed. Judge Sessions eventually threw out Greenpeace's motion, because, with Michaels out of the case, it was no longer relevant to a fair trial.


But Michaels and his lawyers made some surprising admissions in the course of opposing Greenpeace's attempts to win disclosure.


Michaels in documents said he was dependent for his livelihood on the income he got through his wholly owned firm, New Hope Environmental Services, Inc. On its Web site, New Hope describes itself as "an advocacy science consulting firm that produces cutting edge research & informed commentary on the nature of climate." The Web site also describes New Hope as the publisher of World Climate Report.


"Many of New Hope's clients provide funding to New Hope with the understanding that the funding will be confidential," Michaels and his lawyers said in one document.


"Public exposure of the funding will therefore result in the loss of some or all of New Hope's clients," Michaels' lawyers told the Vermont court, "leading either to destruction of the business or a significant curtailment of its operations. Since Dr. Michaels and other research scientists obtain a significant portion of their income from New Hope, the damage to New Hope will seriously diminish their livelihoods."




Michaels' court filings also brought to light the final chapter of a story begun in July 2006, when ABC News' Clayton Sandell and Bill Blakemore and the AP's Seth Borenstein revealed that the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), a coal-burning co-op utility in Colorado, had given $100,000 to Michaels' New Hope firm in February 2006.


The story was based on a July 17, 2006, letter from Stanley R. Lewandowski Jr., IREA's general manager, to members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). In that letter, Lewandowski said IREA fundraising had won additional contributions and pledges for funding support for Michaels from other utilities.


In the Vermont case, Michaels cited this incident in arguing against disclosure.


"Public disclosure of a company's funding of New Hope and its employees has already caused considerable financial loss to New Hope," Michaels stated. "For example, in 2006, Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc., an electric utility, had requested that its support of $50,000 to New Hope be held confidential. After this support was inadvertently made public by another New Hope client, Tri-State informed me that it would no longer support New Hope because of adverse publicity."


Tri-State is another Colorado rural electric co-op. IREA disclosed in 2006 that it had won a $50,000 pledge from some co-op to support Michaels' work, although it is not clear whether IREA actually disclosed Tri-State's identity as donor.


"Also in 2006," Michaels told the Vermont court, "when a $100,000 contract between New Hope and electric utility Intermountain Rural Electric Association to synthesize and research new findings on global warming became public knowledge, a public campaign was initiated to change the composition of the Intermountain board of directors so that there would be no additional funding. That campaign was successful, as Intermountain has not provided further funding."




On CNN's Capital Gang in 2002, Michaels had said: "Well, you know, most of my funding, the vast majority, comes from taxpayer-supported entities. I would make the argument that if funding colors research, I should be certainly biased more towards the taxpayers, of which I am one, than towards industry. But the fact of the matter is, numbers are objective."


If Michaels was in fact mostly taxpayer-funded in 2002, that seems no longer to be true today. He told the Vermont court in July: "Beyond modest speaking fees, New Hope is my sole source of income beyond a negotiated retirement package from the University of Virginia."


Michaels became a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia in 1980, and has been tenured there since 1986. He explained to the WatchDog that his court filing was referring to retirement only in the future tense. Michaels is still on the U.Va. faculty, although he is currently on leave, paid half-time by U.Va., and working as an unpaid senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


In recent years, state general fund appropriations have amounted to barely more than 8 percent of the operating budget of U.Va. Michaels has also received research grants from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Michaels has argued in at least two books, The Satanic Gases and Meltdown, that federal funding has corrupted climate research.