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U.S. Government Knew Climate Risks in 1970s, Energy Advisory Group Documents Show

U.S. Government Knew Climate Risks in 1970s, Energy Advisory Group Documents Show

The National Petroleum Council, once chaired by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, has long advised the federal government on energy issues

The National Petroleum Council, once chaired by former Exxon chief Lee Raymond, has long advised the U.S. government on energy issues. Documents show it downplayed fossil fuels’ role in climate change. Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images  

A series of newly discovered documents clarify the extent to which the U.S. government, its advisory committees and the fossil fuel industry have understood for decades the impact carbon dioxide emissions would have on the planet.

The documents obtained by Climate Liability News show how much the National Petroleum Council (NPC), an oil and natural gas advisory committee to the Secretary of Energy, knew about climate change as far back as the 1970s. A series of reports illuminate the findings of government-contracted research that outlined the dangers associated with increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

They also shed light on how this advisory group to the federal government understood the fossil fuel industry’s contributions to climate change, and unveil the strategies it used to downplay the industry’s role. 

“These documents reaffirm that, to one extent or another, the fossil fuel industry as a whole has known for decades about the basics of climate change and its implications. But rather than warning the public and taking action, many of them turned around and orchestrated anti-science, anti-policy denial campaigns dwarfing even those of Big Tobacco,” said Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard who has extensively studied those denial campaigns.

Many of the documents were compiled by Hugh MacMillan, then a senior researcher on water, energy and climate issues for Food & Water Watch, an environmental nonprofit. He was preparing to file a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to the Trump Administration’s plan to replace the Clean Power Plan.

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