Nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. electric utility industry was warned about potential risks posed by climate change if it continued to rely on fossil fuels. Rather than heed those warnings, the industry spent the following decades instilling public doubt and making substantial investments in fossil fuels—according to a report released Tuesday by the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI).
“Powerful report: #UtilitiesKnew about climate change for decades, and instead of taking action, worked to sow public doubt…just like Exxon.”
—Greer Ryan, Center for Biological Diversity
The EPI report primarily focuses on two industry groups, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), that are supported by the electric utility industry, rather than examining the histories of every utility company. EPI’s researchers reveal that beginning as early as 1968, government scientists repeatedly warned electric utility executives about risks of manmade climate change.
In 1968, a top science adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson, addressing executives at an annual industry convention, said:
Three years later, an MIT professor who addressed the annual convention “spoke of global warming, melting sea ice, and rising oceans as among the possible long-term effects of the buildup of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.” By 1988—as climate change caused by human activity started to become a public discussion—EPRI, the industry’s official research and development organization, acknowledged that “There is growing consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is real.”
Despite EPRI’s acknowledgement, and that the industry “sponsored cutting edge climate research during the 1970s and early 1980s,” the utilities industry also “pushed coal—the largest emitter of CO2 among fossil fuels—as a solution to the energy crisis, and made significant long-term investments in new coal-fired power generation,” according to the report. They also ran ads targeting “fanatical environmentalists,” and in 1991, EEI and Southern Company, a gas and electric utility, “spearheaded” an ad campaign that aimed to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”
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