Clean Coal Officially Dead in Mississippi as Southern Company Battered by Kemper Fall-Out

Clean coal officially died in Mississippi today as state regulators voted unanimously to issue an official order denying further money for the Kemper coal plant and beginning a settlement process with its builder, Southern Company.

The order provides a legal framework for the state Public Service Commission's June 21st vote proposing the plant continue to operate on natural gas, as it has since August 2014, instead of spending additional money to try to use Kemper's non-functional multi-billion dollar gasifier to generate power from lignite coal.

"The commission today is taking firm steps towards resolving all substantive matters associated with the Kemper Project," says the 35-page PSC order.

The order gives Southern Company subsidiary Mississippi Power, the plant's owner, 45 days to reach a settlement with the commission about Kemper's future, followed by a 45-day open comment period and then a final vote by the PSC. 

Sources close to the PSC said negotiations are already well along, and Public Utilities Staff Executive Director Virden Jones told the Associated Press he believes the utility is open to an agreement along the lines laid out in today's order. But should negotiations fail, the PSC warned Southern that it could issue an order to show cause "which could potentially result in the revocation of the Kemper Project certificate," which would mean the plant could no longer legally operate.

That order very closely followed the PSC's proposal of last month freezing rates with the understanding that a rollback may be necessary to remove any impact on consumers from some $4.3 billion spent on the coal side of the power plant and a temporary rate increase passed in 2015 to support the natural gas-powered combined cycle equipment which produces electricity.

Officials from Mississippi Power, Southern Company and the North American Coal Corporation,which operates the now-useless lignite mine adjacent to the 582-megawatt power plant, jammed today's PSC meeting in the state capital of Jackson, taking up most of the seats in the room, according to participants.

Southern has good reason to be vigilant - and worried.

For one, Southern announced it has given Mississippi Power a $1 billion cash infusion to offset money lost on the plant,  which is an extremely complicated piece of engineering designed to gasify coal in a reactor, then capture and store carbon dioxide from the inexpensive but dirty brown lignite and spin off other waste products into industrial-grade sulfuric acid.

For another, the Kemper fiasco, combined with the bankruptcy of the builder of its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, has driven down Southern's stock price by 7 percent over the last two weeks, wiping out $3.7 billion of the company's value.

Mississippi oil man Thomas Blanton, who sued and got the state Supreme Court to order a rebate of a large rate increase that was to help pay for Kemper, blamed the company's current plight on "arrogance." He warned that "the really hard work has to be done over the next 90 days, which is reducing this whole deal to writing in order to protect the consumers from the horrible mistake that Kemper represents."

Sierra Club state director Louie Miller praised the PSC's "strong leadership."

"I can't say enough about how these three commissioners put a bullet in the head of Southern Company's big bet gone bad," said Miller, referring to the company-authored book Big Bets, a history of Southern that stresses the energy giant's vaunted willingness to take risks on giant infrastructure projects like Kemper and Vogtle.

But the fact that Southern issued a notice that it was suspending further attempts to operate Kemper's gasifier just days after the PSC's June 21st initial decision to deny it funding led one source close to the PSC to suggest that Southern may have welcomed the forced conclusion to the endless money-losing saga of Kemper as a way to save face with investors.













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Mississippi Regulators Veto Any More Money for Southern Company's Kemper Plant in Stunning Vote


In a historic vote this morning, Mississippi state regulators slammed the brakes on the Kemper coal power plant, saying they will refuse to ask utility customers to pay anything for Kemper's non-functional multi-billion dollar "clean coal" gasification technology and will re-designate the plant as a natural gas facility.

In a joint press release explaining their unanimous decision, the three Mississippi Public Service commissioners said they seek a solution that "eliminates ratepayer risk for unproven technology and assures no rate increase to Mississippi Power customers," and that they want Mississippi Power, the Southern Company subsidiary that built Kemper, to consider rolling back existing rates.

"I think it's high time we finally turn the corner on this project and also strongly protect our ratepayers, who should only have to pay for what actually delivers electricity," said PSC chairman Brandon Presley in an interview. Presley was, until recently, the lone opponent of a bloated, runaway project that saw costs jump from $2.3 billion in 2010 when work began to $7.5 billion now. 

The 2015 PSC election quickly turned into a referendum on the unpopular project. Two new commissioners were chosen, Sam Britton and Cecil Brown, both of whom promised to rein in Kemper and re-examine public support for the project, which was supposed to have gone on-line as a coal facility in the spring of 2014.  Instead, the plant has run on natural gas since August 2014.

Important personnel shifts are also part of the new picture at the PSC, as longtime counsel Shawn Shurden has announced he is leaving. Meanwhile, the commissioners said at the meeting today that Frank Farmer, a special assistant state attorney general, is taking the lead on "all pre-hearing matters" regarding Kemper, according to a transcript.

The PSC's decision on the power plant, located near DeKalb in eastern Mississippi, was hailed by consumer and environmental groups.

"I applaud the commission for doing what needed to be done, and driving a stake through the heart of this so-called clean coal project," said Louie Miller, the Sierra Club's statewide director. "I think this is the beginning of the end of a long nightmare for Mississippi Power customers. This is a boondoggle that should never have been built in the first place"

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NY Attorney General: Phony CO2 Accounting, Extensive Document Destruction by ExxonMobil

Former ExxonMobil CEO and now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson personally approved a scheme for accounting for the financial impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the company's business that deliberately misled investors, one that continued right through ExxonMobil's May 31st shareholders', according to an explosive court filing by the New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman.

Schneiderman claims that beginning in 2007, ExxonMobil used one set of figures in describing carbon-related risks to investors but internally used another, secret set.  The net result was to vastly understate the financial danger to the company.

The June 2nd court filing also accuses ExxonMobil of destroying countless documents despite the fact that it had a legal obligation to preserve all records potentially relevant to the attorney general's investigation, which is probing possible fraud in ExxonMobil's disclosures about climate change to investors and the public. 

"These failures directly resulted in the destruction of months, and in many cases, more than a year’s worth, of emails and other electronic documents belonging to key custodians including the company’s top management and reserves analysts," the attorney general writes.

Material from a secret email account maintained by Tillerson under the name "Wayne Tracker" was also evidently destroyed. 

An ExxonMobil lawyer acknowledged that she "knew in 'early 2016' about the second email address for Rex Tillerson – the Wayne Tracker email address –and that she did not disclose that email address to OAG, stating that it would 'be an interesting test of whether the Attorney General’s office is reading the documents,' " according to the filing in state court in Manhattan.  (Emphasis in the original.)

This omission led to "months of automatic destruction of relevant correspondence involving Mr. Tillerson," the court papers charged.

Courts can impose substantial financial and other sanctions - and even criminal penalties - for destruction of evidence.  

The attorney general did present a number of preserved emails that seem to show Tillerson's fingerprints on the decision-making for how to minimize to the public the likely impact of a carbon-constrained business environment - such as new national and international greenhouse gas regulations  - not only on ExxonMobil's business operations, but on the value of its oil and gas assets.

A May 2011 email exchange between ExxonMobil managers describes two different price calculations for the potential cost to the company of a ton of emitted carbon dioxide, one used internally and one presented to the public as the  "proxy" for GHG costs that the company supposedly used in calculating the impact on ExxonMobil's bottom-line.

"I have pointed out the difference in past reviews," writes Tom R. Eizember, then Planning Manager for Corporate Strategic Planning at the company.

"Rex has seemed happy with the difference previously - appeared to feel it provides a "conservative" basis (but only if viewed from the perspective of claiming economics credits to reduce emissions; it is not conservative vs EO from the perspective of debiting actions that increase emissions)," Eizember continues.

The AG's court filing provides a significant amount of new, explosive information about what the investigation, which began in 2015, is undercovering about the world's largest oil company's climate secrets. These are backed up by 33 exhibits that include internal corporate emails, a transcript of an investor conference call, and XOM's own reports on carbon risk.









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Steve Milloy climate denier's ExxonMobil shareholder proposal goes down in flames

milloy.jpgSteve Milloy's decades long war on climate change science and policy continued today at the ExxonMobil Annual General Meeting for shareholders.  

There Milloy forwarded shareholder proposal on "Nuisance Shareholders" with an attack on environmentalists, shareholder activists and the Exxon management.

Milloy's proposal got a lame 1.5% of shareholders' votes, while a climate change proposal linked to the Paris agreement's 2 degree target garnered a record 62.3% of votes, the first climate change resolution ever to pass, even while it was opposed by ExxonMobil.

For your reference, Milloy's proposal is "Item 8 - Restrict Precatory Proposals" on the ExxonMobil 2017 Proxy statement.

I will try to post a tape of Milloy's rant at the shareholder meeting...

(thanks to Media Matters for the image)


In what some might term 'blowback', Exxon can blame itself for Milloy, having funded his operations for several years in the mid 2000s, including a grant that kickstarted Milloy's Free Enterprise Action Institute in 2003 and the subsequent Free Enterprise Education Institute in 2004 and 2005, both headquartered in Milloy's Potomac, Maryland home.  The company also funded the tobacco industry funded front group that made Milloy who he is today, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition.

Exxon grants to Steve Milloy that we know about from ExxonMobil public documents and tax returns:

The Advancement of Sound Science Coaltiion - at least $30,000

Free Enterprise Action Institute - $50,000 in 2003

Free Enterprise Education Institute - $80,000 ($10,000 in 2004, $70,000 in 2005)


Footnote: There was an interesting discrepancy in ExxonMobil's reporting of these grants to Milloy.

In 2005, the company's Worldwide Giving Report shows the $70,000 total with no description

ExxonMobil Foundation's IRS 990 Form  lists a grant titled "Corporate Social Responsibility and Climate Change" for $45,000 and another $25,000 in "general operating support"

The company did not renew these grants in 2006.

With Exxon's money, Milloy went after numerous companies that were stepping up to the plate on climate change, including General Electric and others.

The Free Enterprise Education Institute ran the website CSR/SRI Watch which is now offline. The site showcased anti-corporate social responsibility/socially responsible investment and monitored the so-called "anti-business" movement composed of social and environmental activists holding corporations accountable for their actions. 

CSR/SRI Watch lists the "Top 10 Worst Moments in Free Enterprise" which includes companies who buy fair-trade coffee, BP's renewable energy plans, and Citigroup's decision to not lend to those contributing to global warming and logging as per the Rainforest Action Network's asks. CSR/SRI Watch deplores businesses listening to activists of any sort and lambasts corporations who make decisions based around social responsibility rather than the bottom line. CSRWatch also includes "required reading" from the likes of the Institute for Economic Affairs - a conservative free-market think tank based in London.  

From the Free Enterprise Education Institute website: "American Electric Power, Alcoa, Boeing, DuPont, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Toyota and 32 other companies that belong to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change were heralded by New York Times editors as “progressive” for subscribing to the unproven notion that humans are altering global climate for the worse, and to the even more dubious idea that environmental activists like those at the Pew Center should decide U.S. energy policy in hopes of affecting global climate. Though voters (through both President Bush and the U.S. Senate) have already recognized the junk science behind global warming hysteria and the economic downside of the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol, these 40 corporate managements, nevertheless, see some sort of public relations-upside in supporting the Pew Center’s economy-killing agenda. These managements are also helping CSR activists circumvent our public democratic process -- which has rejected the Kyoto Protocol -- in order to compel U.S. companies to adopt “private Kyoto” protocols."

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Bombshell Votes at Southern Company Annual Meeting for Cleaner Energy, Against CEO Fanning


 The Kemper "clean coal" plant/credit: Dan Zegart    

Southern Company shareholders cast a substantial vote of no confidence in chief executive officer Tom Fanning's at the annual shareholders' meeting near Atlanta May 24th, while almost half the company's shares were cast in favor of steering the company toward climate-friendly energy policies.

The vote against approving the executive compensation package for Fanning and Southern's leadership team was 39 percent - a very high rate of disapproval, putting Fanning among the bottom five in compensation votes for Fortune 500 companies, according to Rosanna Landis Weaver, a CEO compensation expert with the non-profit As You Sow.

"Southern shareholders are clearly very dissatisfied. I think the enormous problems at the Kemper and Vogtle plants played into that," said Weaver, referring to the years-long delays and huge budget overruns at Southern's two flagship energy facilities, the still-incomplete Vogtle nuclear plant, and the Kemper "clean coal" power plant in eastern Mississippi, which still doesn't operate after a year of false starts, and which Southern admits will probably never actually burn coal.

The 46 percent of shares cast for the climate proposal was at least as remarkable as the compensation outcome - twelve percent higher than last year's tally for an identical measure, which was the first time it was on the proxy ballot.

The climate proposal calls for Southern to issue a report on its plans for "aligning its operations with the IEA 2 degree scenario," which refers to the target of preventing more than a two-degree Celsius rise in the earth's temperature, the point at which some scientists believe irreversible, catastrophic climate impacts become inevitable.

A press release on the ballot measure, put up by the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, led by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, noted that Southern is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States.

Clean energy activists were charged up by the vote.

"It's astounding," said Sam Collier, a Sierra Club member who attended the shareholder's meeting. "It shows that there's a lot of concern over where Southern fits into a carbon-limited future."

Southern spokesman Schuyler Baehman said the company has no comment on the shareholder votes.

The negative attention Southern has received on Kemper and Vogtle - which has included a credit downgrade of operating subsidiary Mississippi Power, owner of Kemper, to junk bond status, and a warning in April that Georgia Power, Vogtle's majority owner, could suffer the same fate - somehow has yet to catch up with Fanning.

Nor has the fact that Fanning admitted recently that he doesn't believe in human-caused climate change, making his promotion of the Kemper plant as a clean coal facility all the more puzzling.

"How can a guy who doesn't believe in climate science be in charge of this giant energy company and expect investors to trust him?  It makes no sense," said Weaver,

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Manufacturers' Group Attempts 11th Hour Escape from Kids' Climate Lawsuit

Screen_Shot_2017-05-23_at_10.14.08_AM.pngIn a last-minute legal maneuver, the National Association of Manufacturers is trying to extricate itself from a closely-watched federal climate lawsuit 18 months after it won a legal battle allowing it to intervene in the case.

NAM's motion to withdraw from the Our Children's Trust lawsuit came on May 22nd, just as it was about to be ordered to turn over documents on its climate change knowledge and activities, which would presumably have included its participation in political front and lobbying groups that denied the reality of climate change and spread disinformation on the subject.

A powerful trade organization that claims to be "the largest manufacturing association in the United States," NAM, along with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, intervened in the OCT case over the heated objections of the plaintiffs two months after the case was filed in September 2015.  

The OCT plaintiffs, a group of 21 young people aged 9 to 20 from all over the United States each of whom allegedly suffered harm from global warming, didn't sue the fossil fuel industry or any corporation, but the federal government for allegedly violating their constitutional right to life via policies that harm the climate.

The three trade associations made themselves legal "intervenors" in the case in an effort to get it dismissed, presumably because the case was of great interest to some of their corporate members. Outside parties can intervene in a federal lawsuit if they have an important interest in the case that might not otherwise be represented by the litigants.

One powerful reason for NAM to leave the case now is that it and the other intervenors must decide by May 25th whether they will admit to certain facts about climate change.  The federal government has already made a series of 98 such admissions, but two weeks ago, the intervenors begged the court for more time to respond. 

In seeking to withdraw, NAM's brief motion simply states that it "no longer seeks to pursue its right to participate as a party in this litigation," notes that the court "has ample authority to grant that request," and claims its withdrawal won't harm the case but will in fact streamline it by reducing the number of parties.

However, in a footnote, NAM explains that the "plaintiffs have agreed that an intervenor-defendant which moves to withdraw on or before May 25, 2017 does not need to file responses to the plaintiffs' requests for admissions on May 25, 2017."

The ironic twist is that NAM and OCT have now reversed positions, after the intervenors' efforts to have the case thrown out failed and NAM apparently realized it had opened itself up to pre-trial discovery that could shed light on its role in obstructing progress on climate change.

A call to NAM requesting comment was not immediately returned.  

A press release by Our Children's Trust said NAM and the intervenors "went to great lengths to become a party defendant in this case...Now, faced with significant legal victories by these young plaintiffs, and on the eve of having to take a position on climate science, NAM wants out of this case." 

NAM may have been scared off by the extremely detailed discovery request already filed by OCT against the American Petroleum Institute - 21 pages of questions citing names, dates, organizations and activities bearing on what API understood about climate science versus its apparent participation in sophisticated efforts to confuse the public, deny the science and obstruct progress on the issue to protect petroleum sales.  

For NAM to undergo similar discovery, or to have to take positions on climate matters that might conflict with past behavior and statements, is something it clearly wishes to avoid. 


One line of inquiry, for instance, could lead to NAM's participation during the 1990s - along with API - in founding the Global Climate Coalition, a powerful front group with a membership of over 50 fossil fuel, chemical, industrial and consumer goods companies, electric utilities, trade groups, and others. The GCC carried out a media campaign using climate change denying scientists, it planted news stories, and it used political influence to try to thwart the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Global Climate Coalition was run out of NAM's offices for some years and NAM was a member of the GCC for over ten years.Screen_Shot_2017-05-23_at_11.29.57_AM.png

If a trial of the OCT suit does follow in short order, as federal Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin has indicated it will, and if any documents detailing tortious or potentially illegal acts are obtained through pre-trial discovery, those documents could well become exhibits at a trial in Coffin's courtroom and become public records, a politically toxic possibility for the fossil fuel industry and others like NAM. Of course, the industry could try for a protective order sealing the documents from public view.

It's now up to Judge Coffin to rule on whether to let NAM out of the case.

If he does, and if a trial in the OCT case comes before the end of the year, as Coffin has promised, then there's not much time left for a defendant-intervenor to withdraw from Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana v. United States of America, as the case is formally known.  

Northeastern University law professor Richard Daynard, who worked closely with plaintiff's lawyers in the 1990s to help launch lawsuits against the tobacco industry, called the intervention by the trade organizations "an impressive piece of stupidity."

"They'll be very lucky if they get out of that one unscathed," he said.




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Climate Deniers Urge Trump to Leave Paris Agreement

Dark Money Behind Paris Agreement Opposition

On May 8th, 2017 forty four climate denying organizations wrote a letter to President Trump urging that he pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. The table below shows the total amount of traceable funding provided to the organizations by Exxon and the Koch brothers. In combination with Exxon and Koch funds, our analysis shows that major donors linked to funding climate change denial provided a total of $142,206,524 to the signatories on this letter. For more information on our analysis please contact us directly. 

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By Dick Russell, author of Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Who is Paying For Heartland Institute Climate Denial-Palooza?

UPDATED March 24

This week the Heartland Institute will be gathering their small island of misfit toys in Washington, DC for another of their tedious climate Denial-Palooza events.  We have followed these events going back to 2008.

Heartland declares War on the climate

The climate deniers of course feel vindicated by the Trump election. These fringe extremists have a lot in common with the extreme agenda of the Trump camp, where many have embedded themselves. There are speakers at the Heartland meeting who were on the Trump EPA transition team, who will be talking about the plan to dismantle the government's climate science and policy capacity.  The Heartland Institute is equally gushing with pride, with boss Joe Bast declaring war in February, writing about the climate change policy fight, "It is a war, the most important and most consequential war of our era."  Fighting words indeed.

The question is...Who is paying for this?

Heartland has been losing a lot of revenue in recent years. DeSmogBlog has everything that can be found about Heartland Institute's funding.  

Heartland had a sugar daddy rich donor named Barre Seid revealed after a 2012 sting operation exposed Heartland's finances (New York Times and The Guardian covered this). Heartland recently left its glitzy upscale Chicago HQ, where it moved in 2012 from its self proclaimed "shabby" former offices. They now reside in a former dentist office in suburban Chicago (justifying that they were now closer to the airport).

Heartland Institute and friends are heavy recipients of Koch foundation funding and Donors Trust 'dark money' funding, but an important new donor has emerged in the past decade...

The Mercer Family and Heartland Institute

In recent months, the Mercers have been revealed as among the biggest backers of Trump's campaign and machine. Rebekah Mercer is now a Trump Whitehouse advisor according to news accounts.

The NewYorker's Jane Mayer published a new piece last week, The Reclusive Hedge Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency, on the Mercers and their influence over the current state of affairs

And the Washington Post's Matea Gold threw down a big piece on the Mercers and Steve Bannon in last Sunday's paper.

Over the past decade the Mercer Family Foundation has funded Heartland Institute and have become one of their biggest donors (e.g. Heartland 2014 total revenue = $6.9M Mercer foundation donation $885,000).  

The Heartland Institute took a big financial hit for unknown reasons between 2014 and 2015, with revenue dropping almost $2 million dollars.  We now know that a big chunk of the revenue drop was the Mercers cutting their donation from the ~$900,000 they had been giving Heartland annually from 2012-2014 down to $100,000 in 2015.  Who knows what they gave Heartland in 2016 or 2017. The Mercers dropped a lot of cash on the Trump election but is Heartland back on the Mercers A-list?

UPDATE: DeSmogBlog dove deep into the Mercer family's climate denial funding about a month ago documenting $22 Million the family has funneled to climate denial organizations from 2008-2014.  They are trying to out-Koch the Kochs in targeted climate denial spending in recent years.

We can update those numbers here with a new Mercer 990 from 2015, recently acquired.

2015 climate denial donations from Mercer foundation:

Media Research Center - $3 million (Marc Morano's former employer and again partner on a film project)

Cato Institute - $300,000

Manhattan Institute - $300,000

Reason Foundation - $50,000

Heritage Foundation - $500,000 add another $4 Million plus to Desmog's $22 Million tally of Mercer climate denial funding.

The  Washington Post's graphic below (without above 2015 data) nicely puts the scale of Mercer funding to Heartland Institute in perspective:


Mercer Family Foundation funding to Heartland Institute

2007 $0

2008 $1,000,000 (the year of the first Denial-Palooza)

2009 $500,000

2010 $370,000

2011 $444,000

2012 $912,000

2013 $877,000

2014 $885,000

2015 $100,000

The Mercer Family Foundation is also a heavy donor of three more of the Heartland Institute climate conference co-sponsors: the Media Research Center and the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute.  MRC is the leading recipient of Mercer foundation non-profit giving, by far now totaling $16.5M from 2008-2015.  As DeSmog points out, MRC is where lead climate denier Marc Morano cut his teeth and they are now helping Morano with his film projects.  Rebekah Mercer also sits on their Board, as she would as a major shareholder.


But there is more...

UPDATE:  Heartland clearly is not only a grantee of the Mercers, but it seems a pretty important one.  In 2007, the Mercer foundation gave out small grants to just 5 grantees in and around NYC.

In 2008, suddenly they start funding think tanks, writing much larger checks, with Heartland at the top of the list on the Mercer tax forms at $1 million dollars, followed by Media Research Center (which also happens to be a prominent sponsor of the current Heartland Institute climate denial meeting).

Heartland remains the very top of the list on every one of the Mercer tax forms to this day, 


















I now think it's a fair hypothesis that the Mercers were a big part of funding the very first Heartland Denial-Palooza which took place in NYC, at a hotel on Times Square (for reasons we couldn't understand at the time, except the attempt to garner attention which Heartland craves). Perhaps they brought the show to the Mercers home town, literally on Broadway.

In 2012, when the Heartland Institute was exposed by a sting operation, and their full finances, climate strategy and funding scheme was revealed, the Mercer grants, which had been significant from 2008-2011 ( over $2M) were not mentioned by name.  

We know the Mercers like to remain anonymous if possible.  Their massive grants to the George W Bush Foundation are not revealed on the Bush side.  Heartland wrote of an "anonymous donor", later deduced by experts to be Chicago millionaire Barre Seid, who then funneled money to Heartland through Donors Trust.

In 2012, the Mercer grant to Heartland more than doubled.


Here's a climate denial wrinkle in Mercer funding...

Mercer Family Foundation funds the Berkeley Earth project, a controversial data crunch project started by Richard Muller.  They are the project's largest donor, listed on the Berkeley Earth web page as "Anonymous Foundation #1"  and gave another $250,000 in 2015 we now know.  Berkeley Earth confirmed the global temperature data showing a warming trend, much to the chagrin of the Koch funders and denier cheerleaders who hoped in 2010 for the opposite conclusion. 

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Climate Lawsuit Demands Rex Tillerson's "Wayne Tracker" Emails

Petroleum industry knowledge of global warming in the Arctic, where ExxonMobil, shown here working on a massive drilling platform with Russian oil giant Rosneft near Sakhalin island, has long been a pioneer in oil exploration, is among evidence being sought in the Our Children's Trust case. 


Lawyers in the Our Children's Trust climate lawsuit are going after a trove of company emails written by former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson under the alias "Wayne Tracker."

The "request for production" for the emails went out to both the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade association, and the U.S. government as part of pre-trial discovery in the Our Children's Trust federal suit, according to a press release by OCT late Sunday.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office stated in a March 13, 2017 court filing that Tillerson used the “” pseudonym “to send and receive materials regarding important matters, including those concerning to the risk-management issues related to climate change…”

According to ExxonMobil, Tillerson's pseudonym “was put in place for secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials and the former chairman for a broad range of business-related topics."

In its press release, the Our Children's Trust lawyers maintained the emails are likely to reveal "the deep influence of the fossil fuel defendants over U.S. energy and climate policies" and to demonstrate Big Oil's "private acknowledgement that climate change was caused by their product," both key issues in the case.

The OCT legal action was initially filed, not against the oil companies, but solely against the government for failing to pursue policies that would protect against and even exacerbated climate change. Suing in the case are a group of 21 children from all over the United States, each affected by global warming in a particular way. The kids' lawsuit maintains that a livable climate is a public trust and constitutionally guaranteed as part of the right to life.

In the fall of 2015, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute intervened in the OCT case in federal district court in Eugene, Oregon.

After trying unsuccessfully to have the suit thrown out, the trade associations have found themselves on the defensive, battling having to turn over internal documents that may show them and their members obstructing efforts - sometimes surreptitiously - to limit carbon emissions, and promoting misleading information about climate science in the media and elsewhere.

As the Trump team has taken over at the Department of Justice, which is charged with defending the government, the U.S. renewed its push to have the pioneering climate suit dismissed by asking the the judge to allow an appeal to a higher court to hear evidence about why the case shouldn't be allowed to go to trial, now scheduled for sometime before the end of the year.  If an appeal is allowed, there would also be a simultaneous ruling on whether to halt the case until the appeal runs its course.

So far, the fossil fuel companies have avoided answering whether they believe climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels, something the U.S. government has admitted in legal filings.

OCT lawyers were about to get an opportunity to question Tillerson under oath about his knowledge and activities at the American Petroleum Institute when he resigned at the end of December 2016 from both ExxonMobil and API, where he had been on the board of directors, in order to become secretary of state, at which time he became a named government defendant, one whom OCT is yet trying to question.

The government and API defendants have until April 16th to turn over any Wayne Tracker emails in their custody.

“When looking for evidence of a cover up, emails from Rex Tillerson’s pseudonym about climate change are just the kind of evidence the court needs to see,” commented Julia Olson, an OCT lawyer, in the organization's press release.

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