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Climate change denying "expert" got coal company money for Minnesota testimony

When 97 percent of the world's scientists agree that human activity contributes to global warming, skeptics like Will Happer are vital to the fossil fuel industry.

When 97 percent of the world's scientists agree that human activity contributes to global warming, skeptics like Will Happer are vital to the fossil fuel industry.

Prominent climate change denier Will Happer, a retired Princeton professor who recently testified in Minnesota about the benefits of coal, charges oil and gas companies for scientific reports at a rate of $250/hour of work. Then he promises to keep their patronage under wraps.

In early November, a Greenpeace activist posing as a consultant for an anonymous Beirut oil and gas company commissioned Happer to write a report highlighting "the crucial role that oil and gas have to play in developing economies."

Through a series of emails, Happer said he was happy to help, as long as this mysterious client understood that he's not a total goon. He believes there are actual pollutants associated with burning fossil fuels, such as sulfur oxide and nitrogen, fly ash, heavy metals, and volatile organics, Happer wrote. However, because burning fossil fuels also produce carbon dioxide — food for trees — he would have no problem writing a pro-fossil fuel paper. 

He only asked that a check be made out to the CO2 Coalition, an organization that promotes fossil fuel burning, for which Happer serves as a board member. He went on to assure the undercover activist that in the U.S., nonprofits do not have to disclose their donors' identity, so his report would never be linked to an oil and gas company. 

This neat little workaround is more than a little troubling, ethically, but Happer was pretty sure it would work out for him. After all, he'd already put his name to for-profit science-denial here in Minnesota. 

<!——StartFragment——>This August, Happer came to St. Paul to testify at a Public Utilities Commission hearing about the environmental costs of carbon. Happer’s job was to provide a rebuttal to renewable energies, which he did by expounding on the virtues of CO2.

“I do not deny that more CO2 will cause some amount of global warming. But … the most important question is how much the increase will be,” Happer said. He urged the commission not to panic, since some warming of the earth will be good for icy Minnesota, which stands to benefit from a longer growing season.

Happer's scientific services were bought by Peadbody Energy, the biggest private coal producer in the world. His total fee for the Minnesota testimony was $8,000, though Happer insists that none of it ever went into his personal account.

"I was willing to write something gratis, as a "labor of love," as long as I could get my message (not the 'client's' message) to more people," Happer wrote in an email. "But the little CO2 Coalition, that paid for the printing of the first attachment, leads a hand-to-mouth existence, with an annual operating budget of under $200,000 per year. So even a few thousand dollars from the 'client' would help keep the lights on." 

News of the Greenpeace sting came out about the same time that Happer was due to testify at a Congressional hearing on the global warming "hoax" convened by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Since then, he's been hounded by other Princeton academics who want him to publicly address his relationship to fossil fuel interests. 

Happer addressed the issue directly in an email to a student: "I was only interested in helping the 'client' to publicize my long-held views," he wrote, "not to peddle whatever message the 'client' had in mind."