Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, powerful conservative donors with close ties to the Trump administration, donated millions of dollars to climate science denial groups, newly released 2016 tax filing details show.
According to the tax filings published by Buzzfeed and obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the total $19 million donated to nonprofits by the Mercer Family Foundation in 2016 went to groups working, at least partially, on spreading misinformation around climate change and pushing to repeal environmental protections. Many of the groups that received donations have promoted carbon dioxide as nonpolluting, called for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and, over the past year, funneled officials into the Trump administration.
The Mercers have quickly become known as some of the most powerful and secretive donors behind President Donald Trump. The family has given millions of dollars to conservative causes through its foundation, prompting Bloomberg News to describe Robert as “the man who out-Koched the Kochs”.
As the filings show, the Mercers gave $125,000 to the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a nonprofit based in Arizona which also goes by the name CO2 Science. Another $150,000 was donated to the CO2 Coalition, a small Virginia-based nonprofit with the tagline, “Carbon dioxide, a nutrient vital for life.” This contribution makes the Mercers the CO2 Coalition’s largest donor. Both organizations work exclusively on activities that promote a false uncertainty regarding the link between carbon emissions and their impact on global temperatures.
A series of other donations also went to groups that work in part to promote climate science denial, including: $2 million to the Media Research Center, $800,000 to the Heartland Institute, $500,000 to the Heritage Foundation, $300,000 to the Cato Institute, $200,000 to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and $200,000 to the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine.
Many of the organizations that received money from the Mercers have been consistently working to bring their anti-environmental agenda to the White House — from stacking the new administration with friendly faces to promoting fossil fuels and undermining the Paris climate agreement.
After the November 2016 election, Trump began assembling his transition team. One of the most influential forces in shaping its members was the Heritage Foundation, according to Politico. Rebekah Mercer, who sits on the board of the Heritage Foundation, was part of the transition team’s executive committee and, according to Politico, she worked with Heritage to recruit appointees to the transition team.
The Heritage Foundation and its affiliate, Heritage Action for America, were both signatories to an official January 2017 letter of support for Scott Pruitt, calling on the Senate to “swiftly approve his nomination” as administrator to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Heartland Institute also signed this letter. Pruitt’s nomination was approved one month later.
Kathleen Hartnett-White is also currently in the running for a top environment position as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). During her Senate confirmation hearing last November, Hartnett-White said she did not have “any kind of expertise or even much layman study” of climate change issues. On carbon dioxide she said, “CO2 in the atmosphere has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that contaminates and fouls and all of that that can have direct impact on human health. As an atmospheric gas, it is a plant nutrient.”
This last sentence echoes the CO2 Coalition’s main message on carbon emissions. Hartnett-White sits on the advisory board of the CO2 Coalition and last February spoke at a CO2 Coalition sponsored discussion panel at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference.
The idea that carbon dioxide should not be considered a pollutant is also being promoted by the Fueling Freedom project directed by Hartnett-White at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. This project seeks to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” while “building a multi-state coalition to push back against the EPA’s unconstitutional efforts to take over the electric power sector by regulating CO2 via the Clean Power Plan.” In June 2016, Hartnett-White was hosted at a Heartland Institute event on “Fueling Freedom.” While her nomination has been met with resistance in the Senate, if approved, Hartnett-White will likely be another Trump administration voice calling for the repeal of key environmental regulations.
Another potential member of Trump’s team connected to the CO2 Coalition is William Happer, the group’s founder, who has long been rumored to be a front-runner for the position of Trump’s science adviser. Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, Happer was reported to have met with both Trump and former adviser Steve Bannon. The Mercers funded Bannon’s Breitbart News but recently cut ties with the former White House adviser after his fallout with the Trump administration.
A spokesperson for the Mercer family did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment. Neither did any of the eight nonprofit climate denial groups that received donations from the family.
The Heartland Institute has perhaps made one of the most concerted efforts to influence the government agenda on climate change, and not just under the current administration. In a February 2017 report, however, the group’s president Joe Bast wrote that its “primary goal over the next four years is to win the global warming war.”
Both Rebekah and Robert Mercer attended the Heartland Institute’s climate denial conference last year where the government’s regulatory rollback was celebrated. And last September, the EPA reportedly reached out to Heartland to help it identify a list of researchers who reject mainstream scientific consensus on climate change for Pruitt’s “red team” exercise, aimed at poking holes in mainstream climate science. Emails and notes obtained by E&E News revealing the closed door meetings helped to give a “broad look at skeptics’ playbook under the Trump administration.”
Finally, Trump’s campaign promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement could not be forgotten. On May 8, 2017 an open letter was sent to Trump urging him to “withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty and to stop all taxpayer funding of UN global warming programs.” Signatories to this letter include the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the CO2 Coalition, and CO2 Science.
On June 1, Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the landmark agreement (although the United States doesn’t officially exit the accord until November of 2020, and could re-enter under a new administration).
Present in the Rose Garden for Trump’s announcement was Heartland President Joe Bast, who later described this as a “sign that our efforts for the past 20 years on the climate change issue have not gone unnoticed.”