Tuerck’s critique of Healey fits a pattern

Beacon Hill Institute stuck in bygone decade of denial

CommonWealth recently published an op-ed by David G. Tuerck, president of the Beacon Hill Institute. His piece, titled “Healey’s kitchen-sink Exxon-Mobil lawsuit,” takes aim at Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy for what he calls a “pointless” climate change lawsuit filed in October 2019.

Healey’s lawsuit, according to her office, “seeks information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon’s business.”

More recently, Healey amended her complaint, asserting that the worsening Covid-19 pandemic underscores the urgency and necessity of such action. The “calamitous consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are a harbinger of the types of systemic risks posed by climate change,” Healey argued.

This apparently triggered David Tuerck, who portrays ExxonMobil as a victim instead of a defendant. Tuerck’s history here is crucial. A search of the tobacco document archives shows he was once on the tobacco industry’s list of “cash-for-comment” academics.

Back to Tuerck’s critique, he argues that “there simply is absolutely no compelling proof that ExxonMobil faces any immediate or even long-term prospects of declining sales as a result of climate change.”

While demonstrably false in so many ways, this statement proves Tuerck is stuck in some bygone decade of denial and suggests he has neither read the Massachusetts complaint, nor the internal Exxon documents from the 1970s and ‘80s cited in the complaint, which can be read and downloaded at ClimateFiles.com.  These documents show Exxon’s staff scientists modeling and anticipating how fossil fuel consumption would have to be curtailed to avoid dangerous climate change.  They knew regulations were coming.

Tuerck writes, “To agree with Healey is to accept the conclusion that oil and gasoline producers are prepared to abandon fossil fuel production and reserves in the near future…”

In fact, British Petroleum just announced they are cutting oil production by 40 percent by 2030 and pouring billions of dollars into clean energy. “The company expects demand for fossil fuels to fall by 75 percent over the next 30 years,” reported CNN. By now, oil and gas companies all know change is inevitable and necessary.

The global pandemic has shown the true danger of science denial. We also need to “flatten the curve” of global warming pollution. But because of decades of delay (caused, in no small part, by ExxonMobil’s climate-denial machine) that effort is now much harder. As the unfolding COVID-19 crisis shows, if you are working on solutions after the disaster is upon you and in the face of denial, you are already too late and climbing a steeper hill.

A recent letter from over 100 economists, led by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz along with Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Reich, and others, makes the case that “to rebuild our world, we must end the carbon economy.

Tuerk and the Beacon Hill Institute have long denied the urgency of man-made climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that even Exxon’s internal research validated four decades ago. The organization has published questionable climate policy analysis for years, using what has been called “deeply flawed and soundly refuted analysis.”

It should come as little surprise that Tuerck’s fundraising and ties to the Koch network were concerning enough to force a divorce between the Beacon Hill Institute and Suffolk University over four years ago when Tuerck sought funding to fight the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition effort by multiple states (with Massachusetts as a founding member).

Tuerck’s grant proposal was linked to the Koch-supported State Policy Network, a nationwide group of conservative and libertarian think tanks. Suffolk University strongly rebuked the Beacon Hill Institute, claiming the school had no knowledge of the funding request and that the grant did not get a proper review, which, Suffolk said, would have rejected it.

Meanwhile, the Beacon Hill Institute’s analysis was already being used by the American Legislative Exchange Council, another Koch and ExxonMobil-supported organization. (Exxon has since dropped its ALEC membership.)

Tuerck did cookie cutter reports on multiple states exaggerating the “economic impact” of renewable energy and efficiency standards. The Beacon Hill Institute also produced misleading and discredited analysis on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, an effort to reduce global warming pollution from electricity generation.

According to tax returns and other documents, Tuerck and the institute have been funded by numerous conservative and libertarian foundations well known for their opposition to climate change policy, such as the Charles Koch Foundation, the Employment Policies Institute, the Bradley Foundation, Donors Trust, and the State Policy Network.

Tuerck has been associated with Texas Public Policy Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which have long records of climate denial and have received past or current funding from ExxonMobil.

We don’t know whether a financial backer encouraged Tuerck to defend ExxonMobil.  But perhaps Tuerck’s CommonWealth piece points to the necessity of lawsuits like the one filed by Healey and many similar cases that have been filed across the country.

Those cases seek to hold ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests accountable for disinformation campaigns that have held us back from taking action on climate change and that have relied upon third party organizations that operate in the same fashion as the Beacon Hill Institute.

Meet the Author

Kert Davies

Director, Climate Investigations Center
Thanks to leaders like Maura Healey, accountability may soon be on its way for those who spread disinformation. In the meantime, the public should remain wary of “cash for comment” experts like David Tuerck.

Kert Davies is the director of the Climate Investigations Center, which was established in 2014 to monitor the individuals and organizations who work to delay the implementation of sound energy and environmental policies in the face of ongoing climate change.