Well, Well, Well: Enron Knew - Climate Litigation Watch

Well, Well, Well: Enron Knew

Climate industries, both political and legal, are premised on claims that the “fossil fuel” energy industry “knew” of catastrophic man-made global warming since the 1970s, 1980s…  It is the subject of an “academic” speaker seriespastand upcoming Hill hearings and a massive, clearly coordinated media campaign aimed at promoting climate policy and especially litigation.

The marketing claim is that “Exxon Knew”, though the claim is spun out as “Utilities Knew, Too”, “Coal Knew, Too”, down to “The Utilities Knew, Exxon Knew, Shell Knew, They All Knew”. This relies upon on excerpts from internal and mostly public documents, misrepresenting statements doing little more than asserting greenhouse warming theory and if-then-based-on-these-assumptions projections about the future as “knowledge”. See, e.g., “Coal Knew, Too,” pointing to a quote in a 1960s trade industry publication acknowledging greenhouse warming theory.

Enron memos reveal not only the rent-seeking behind the industry push that helped make “climate change” such a political obsession particularly in Washington, D.C., but the uncertainty about the science underpinning it. This point thoroughly and irredeemably undermines the “Exxon Knew” narrative.

The fact that everyone did “know,” and many were investigating, greenhouse warming theory is a major weakness inadvertently promoted by the New York Times in its Losing Earth series. 

However, some other internal emails and memos destroy the premise of “knowledge”. These company records from the late 1990s reflect continuing debate over scientific uncertainties among executives in the company most invested in, dedicated to (and arguably most behind) the global warming policy push: Enron, which heavily invested in and promoted the “climate” agenda”.

And Enron Knew the uncertainties shared by all, and was concerned given its business plan based upon “climate”.

ELLISON: I mean, that’s – so they [Exxon] knew in ’79, and then they lied about it. [For example] – the most serious problem with catastrophic global warming is that it may not be true. They directly contradicted what their research found. We can prove that, and we will.”

Minnesota AG Keith Ellison, October 2021 NPR interview (emphasis added)

“Enron has aided the cause of regulating greenhouse gases more ably than any other company in the U.S. and has earned credibility and goodwill with the environmentalist groups. Yet there is a very good chance that the global warming problem is either scientifically overstated or insoluble even with Kyoto’s targets (which may still be unobtainable for political or economic reasons)…” 

January 27, 1998 memo to Enron CEO Ken Lay (emphasis added)

In truth there was (and remains) great uncertainty, and the evidence being cited as proving otherwise, upon scrutiny, reflects little more than the futurist “spitballing” that individuals in institutions do in charting their future course. Somehow such close examination of the claims, which make that clear, has yet to emerge in the massive media campaign and noise machine surrounding the ongoing public and legal arguments.

Conveniently, also missed in the debate to date is that this climate industry was launched (just as it is still sustained) by companies which designed businesses around climate alarm, which alarm they then promoted, in a plan to reward investments whose prospects for success were slim barring climate alarm-driven policy.

“We all know that the financial stakes are enormous in the global warming debate—many oil, coal and power companies are at risk should carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases get regulated in a manner that harms their bottom line. The potential losses of an Exxon or a Shell are chump change, however, compared to the fortunes to be made from those very same regulations.”

Lawrence Solomon, “Enron’s Other Secret“, Financial Post (Canada), May 30, 2009 

Enron was the Alpha among such companies, the leading champion with green activist groups promoting climate alarm and policies. In fact, it was by far the leading such company behind what has become today’s massive global warming lobby in Washington, D.C. About this, one 1996 Enron memo to CEO Ken Lay laid out prospects and concerns over supporting “climate” policies being pushed by then-VP Al Gore — including “whether Enron continues to front an effort that does not have as much political cover as we would like or whether we work – just as hard – more behind the scenes.” It noted, “In the private sector, our allies will be limited”, given only a few companies had made Enron’s same bet. Lay responded with a handwritten: “You’re raising all the right issues. Although we want to be helpful, we probably should try not to be too public.”

“Ken, we want you to chair the forum. You are by far the best candidate. Simply stated, your background, expertise and experience make you uniquely qualified [to run our] global-warming [initiative].” 

Teresa Heinz Kerry to Enron CEO Ken Lay

Let’s change all that, as we see the fruits of the Enron agenda in energy crises around the world (which Enron internally recognized was a systemic risk inherent what it was doing by pushing this agenda, more on which later). Enron was fully invested in the climate industry, making substantial investments in wind and solar and was building a “carbon” trading business with Goldman Sachs to capitalize on the “cap-and-trade” market it sought to lobby into place in the name of climate.

In fact, internal Enron memos reveal not only the rent-seeking behind the industry push that helped make “climate change” such a political obsession particularly in Washington, D.C., but the uncertainty about the science underpinning it. This point thoroughly and irredeemably undermines the “Exxon Knew” narrative.

“You know that I am responsible for developing “climate change” polices that promote our products and services”

Enron Executive John Palmisano in memo to Enron Executives

As Lawrence Solomon of Canada’s Financial Post wrote as part of a series exposing industry’s driving role behind this pact and related policies (citations omitted):

Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay…saw his opportunity when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were inaugurated as president and vice-president in 1993. To capitalize on Al Gore’s interest in global warming, Enron immediately embarked on a massive lobbying effort to develop a trading system for carbon dioxide, working both the Clinton administration and Congress. Political contributions and Enron-funded analyses flowed freely, all geared to demonstrating a looming global catastrophe if carbon dioxide emissions weren’t curbed. An Enron-funded study that dismissed the notion that calamity could come of global warming, meanwhile, was quietly buried.

To magnify the leverage of their political lobbying, Enron also worked the environmental groups. Between 1994 and 1996, the Enron Foundation donated $1-million to the Nature Conservancy and its Climate Change Project, a leading force for global warming reform, while Lay and other individuals associated with Enron donated $1.5-million to environmental groups seeking international controls on carbon dioxide.

Lawrence Solomon, “Enron’s Other Secret”, Financial Post (Canada), May 30, 2009, available at https://ep.probeinternational.org/2009/05/30/enrons-other-secret/. This was “real money” at the time.

“Subject: Climate Change/work with me to make Enron rich”

June 1998 internal Enron email 

Illustrating the rent-seeking at play, consider comments by the Enron executive tasked with ensuring the U.S. joined the Kyoto Protocol, or global warming treaty (and with helping design its “mechanisms”):

“[T]his treaty is exactly what I have been lobbying for” 

“This agreement will be good for Enron stock!!,” 

“if implemented, this agreement will do more to promote Enron’s business than will almost any other regulatory initiative,” 

“Enron has immediate business opportunities which derive directly from this agreement,” 

“Enron now has excellent credentials with many ‘green’ interests including Greenpeace, [World Wildlife Fund], [Natural Resources Defense Council], German Watch, the U.S. Climate Action Network, the European Climate Action Network, Ozone Action, WRI, and Worldwatch,” 

and therefore 

“This position should be increasingly cultivated and capitalized on (monitized).” (sic)

Indeed, the U.S. signed at the urging of rent-seeking industry leaders including Enron’s CEO Ken Lay in an August 1997 Oval Office meeting, despite unanimous Senate “advice and (non-)consent” to not sign the pact just the week before on July 25, 1997.

“Enron more than any other U.S. corporation has helped legitimize the case of apocalyptic climate change and today is carrying the Kyoto flag more than any other U.S. corporation.…The climate change issue is not penny ante–it is multi-trillion dollar ante.” 

Internal Enron Memo

On October 28, the House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing to question energy industry officials about “misinformation” around climate change. This is part of and plainly to support the activists’ Exxon Knew narrative. But in fact, Enron Knew that the science was not clear on climate change and yet funded a nascent green industrial complex anyway in the name of profits.

As CLW readers will also see, numerous other Enron emails and memos noted the uncertainties and the risks that reality posed for it — and any company using and pushing global warming as a political agenda “to make [itself] rich”.