The success of the right-wing Heritage Foundation has been so effective in Washington DC with the Trump administration that its dangerous agenda is now getting peddled in Oregon. The Heritage Foundation’s work can be seen by looking at the most destructive members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet. It recommended Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos (whose in-laws endowed Heritage’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society), Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions and many more. Nearly 70 Heritage employees and alumni also joined the Trump administration.
And on Tuesday, September 25, a Heritage statistician, Kevin Dayaratna, will testify to the Oregon Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction about carbon regulations. Dayaratna is Heritage’s go-to naysayer on any climate-related safeguards in the country—he regularly writes and testifies before Congress and state legislators in opposition to carbon pricing and other regulations on the fossil fuel industry. Trump used a report by Dayaratna to justify pulling out of the Paris climate accord.
Dayaratna’s testimony could, unfortunately, influence Oregon’s 2019 lawmaking session in a huge way. In March, the state’s Speaker of the House and the Senate President — both of whom are Democrats — vowed to pass carbon-capping legislation during the 2019 session. They formed and co-chair the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction and are inviting experts to teach lawmakers how to design policies to both curb destructive wildfires and storms while still supporting the Oregon economy. The committee invited Dayaratna, but it is clear he will simply wring his hands and claim carbon regulations are unnecessary and harmful. If carbon pricing legislation is truly a priority for legislative leaders, testimony from someone who will tell them not to pass carbon pricing legislation will be of little help.
Heritage tries to spin climate pollution as good for us
Aside from Dayaratna, Heritage has a history of employing climate deniers and obfuscators. Their strategy is to either deny that climate change is an urgent national and global problem, or they claim nothing can be meaningfully done to combat climate change that won’t harm the US economy. Heritage employee Dr. David Kreutzer worked with Heritage-backed Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency to dismantle Obama-era climate policies. That includes the White House working group on the social cost of carbon—an estimate of the harm caused by emitting more global warming pollution into the air. Once the working group was terminated, the EPA developed a new methodology that reduced the social cost of carbon from $50 dollars a ton to just a dollar a ton.
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In a recent article titled “Unlocking Our Immense Oil And Gas Supply Can Make America Great Again,” Dayaratna praised the expansion of hydraulic fracking and called for opening up swaths of federal land for more industrial development. In another, he wrote, “In fact, under some very reasonable assumptions, the social cost of carbon can be negative, suggesting some benefits of carbon dioxide emissions.” Yes, he’s actually arguing that climate change is good for us. It’s doubtful that international scientific consensus, or millions of people suffering from rising sea levels, increased droughts and wildfires, and increased storms and hurricanes, would agree.
Anti-regulation Heritage speaker was not the only option
There were plenty options better than Dayaratna as far as regulation experts go. The Joint Committee could have reached out to an expert from California or the Northeast, where they’ve seen and can explain how carbon pricing programs have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and created thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector. For example, they could have invited an expert from Analysis Group, the Boston consultancy firm that recently concluded the New England Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (a cap and trade program) generated $1.4 billion in net economic benefits since 2015. It also created more than thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector, reduced utility customer bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. Or they could have picked an economist from Next10, an independent organization that recently calculated and concluded that California’s climate action policies have helped to double economic output per unit of fossil fuels, compared to other parts of the country that are lagging on climate action. Resources for the Future also has a whole roster of qualified climate change experts who could testify.
The Joint Committee has been meeting for months, and has heard from more credible voices, including an economist at Resources for the Future. But with the session growing near, it is worrisome that lawmakers might believe the Heritage Foundation — maybe wildfires and extreme weather are actually good for us! Hopefully, the Joint Committee will focus on the economic devastation climate change could inflict on Oregon and the economic advantages of being a leader on clean energy.
Big oil funds Heritage
The Heritage Foundation receives millions of dollars in funding from the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel-loving friends. The Heritage Foundation reported in 2014 that donors “with strong oil and gas affiliations” gave $2.16 million to the foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation gave at least $710,418 between 2013 and 2016, according to tax filings; the Claude R Lambe Foundation, on which Charles Koch was a director, gave close to $2 million between 2008 and 2012; and the Thirteen Foundation, run by a family that made their money on natural gas fracking (and who are also close to the Koch brothers) gave $700,000 between 2011 and 2012.
Heritage is also anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, anti-progress
If all of the above isn’t bad enough, the Heritage Foundation has a long history of opposing progressive policies. They’ve opposed nondiscrimination protections and bans on conversion therapy, both of which Oregon has instituted. The Heritage Foundation has repeatedly criticized immigration policy and compared DACA Dreamers to shoplifters. They believe that discredited and biased “stop-question-and-frisk” policing is a “highly successful” technique. They argue that armed citizens are the answer to curbing mass shootings. Even Republican senators think they’re extreme. Most recently, they supported the Trump tax cuts and argued they would benefit working families around the country — and not just the rich and corporations. We are now seeing how that analysis is playing out (not) in the real world.
The Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction has learned from experts who can help them achieve their goal of passing well-design carbon policy in the 2019 session. Let’s hope they listen to them, and not just to Heritage.