DC Think Tank Claims Wealthy Enviro Donations Not Behind Boulder’s Climate Lawsuit

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A Washington, D.C.-based think tank behind a slew of climate lawsuits in Colorado is denying a recent large donation from wealthy environmentalists prompted the group’s decision to back the litigation.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave Niskanen Center a $200,000 donation for its climate program in February less than two months before the former libertarian group joined a climate lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil. RBF is not the only activist group to give Niskanen money.

EarthRights International and Niskanen would be providing legal support for their lawsuit, which seeks to hold the two energy companies responsible for the effects climate change pose to the city, Boulder, Colo., city officials announced Tuesday.

Niskanen, which also received at least $350,000 from the Energy Foundation and a $300,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, has not weighed in on or played a role in similar litigation in California and New York City.

The large donations had nothing to do with the decision, David Bookbinder, chief counsel for the group, told reporters with Western Wire.

“Niskanen is the leading center-right organization working on carbon tax issues. And we’ve been working on carbon tax issues since Niskanen was founded about three years ago,” Bookbinder said, adding the lawsuit is in line with the group’s support for private property. “So we’ve had a climate program since day one. And that’s support for the climate program.”

The group is an offshoot of the Cato Institute — a benchmark D.C.-based libertarian group mired in turmoil shortly after the 2012 death of co-founder William Niskanen. Former Cato senior fellow Jerry Taylor founded Niskanen in 2014 after a falling out he had with fellow libertarians who wanted to alter Cato’s mission. Taylor’s group supports many issues countering traditional liberation causes, including rebel-rousing for a tax on carbon.

Niskanen’s involvement in the climate lawsuit gives environmentalists cover while pursuing Exxon. Many of the groups currently crusading against the oil industry are environmentalists generally opposed to libertarian orthodoxy. Media outlets still refer to Niskanen as a libertarian group, even as Taylor continues to push back against that label.

“While most of the communities and environmental groups involved in these lawsuits can be considered on the liberal side of the political spectrum, one of the groups collaborating on the Colorado cases is decidedly not: the Niskanen Center, a libertarian policy group in Washington with a climate focus,” The New York Times wrote in an April 18 article on the Boulder lawsuit.

RBF joined with the Rockefeller Family Foundation (RFF) to take on Exxon. RFF President David Kaiser and RBF helped kick start what would become a nearly two-year investigation against the Texas-based oil company’s supposed willingness to hide information on climate change, Kaiser admitted in 2016.

“What we had funded was an investigative journalism project,” RFF President David Kaiser and RFF Director Lee Wasserman wrote in an essay for the New York Review of Books. “With help from other public charities and foundations, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), we paid for a team of independent reporters from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to try to determine what Exxon and other US oil companies had really known about climate science, and when.”

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