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LETTER: Group funded by oil-and-gas industry lacks credibility

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WASHINGTON — I was disappointed to see that the Herald paired my column, “Wind energy threat to birds overblown,” with an op-ed by Taylor Smith, a policy analyst at the Heartland Institute, an oil and gas industry-funded group that rejects mainstream climate science (Page F1, April 13).

Smith wrote that it was “intellectually dishonest” for me to contrast the number of wind energy-related bird deaths with those caused by buildings, power lines and other man-made structures that kill considerably more because those structures “produce real economic value; wind farms rely on government subsidies to stay alive.”

Smith clearly didn’t do his homework. In North Dakota alone, wind developers have made $3.4 billion in capital investments and are distributing nearly $5 million in annual land lease payments to landowners who host turbines on their property. That’s real economic value, no?

As for the subsidy question, Congress historically has favored fossil fuels over renewables. The oil and gas industry, for instance, has been enjoying an average of $4.86 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in today’s dollars annually since 1918. Renewable energy technologies, meanwhile, averaged only $370 million a year in subsidies between 1994 and 2009.

The 2009 stimulus package did provide $21 billion for wind, solar and other renewables, but that support barely begins to balance the scales that have tilted toward oil and gas for nearly 100 years and coal for more than two centuries.

Although Smith paid lip service in his op-ed to “eliminating subsidies to all energy sources,” his organization has been actively lobbying for the elimination of the wind tax credit — which Congress killed at the end of last year — but is mum about oil and gas industry subsidies. Why?

Perhaps because over the past decade or so, Heartland has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute (the oil and gas industry’s trade association), and a foundation controlled by Charles Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries, the coal, oil and gas conglomerate.

All have a vested interest in quashing government action on climate change and undermining the wind industry.

Unlike Heartland, my organization — the Union of Concerned Scientists — does not accept corporate financial or in-kind contributions that would create a conflict of interest. Likewise, we will not accept funding from a company that could gain a competitive advantage or other benefit from our work.

The Herald should have found a reputable wind energy critic, such as the Audubon Society, to write the op-ed paired with mine. We welcome an honest debate. Unfortunately, the Heartland Institute, which has a long history of peddling unscientific rubbish on behalf of its corporate sponsors, is not up to the task.

Elliott Negin

Negin is director of news and commentary for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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