ABC News Reporting Cited As Evidence In Congressional Hearing On Global Warming

This report was cited by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., in a Congressional hearing on climate change. She read out parts of this report to explain the confusion surrounding the issue of global warming.

July 27, 2006 — Ever wonder why so many people still seem confused about global warming?

The answer appears to be that confusion leads to profit -- especially if you're in some parts of the energy business.

One Colorado electric cooperative has openly admitted that it has paid $100,000 to a university academic who prides himself on being a global warming skeptic.

Intermountain Rural Electric Association is heavily invested in power plants that burn coal, one of the chief sources of greenhouse gasses that scientists agree is quickly pushing earth's average temperature to dangerous levels.

Scientists and consumer advocates say the co-op is trying to confuse its clients about the virtually total scientific consensus on the causes of global warming.

ABC News has obtained a copy of a nine-page document that IREA general manager Stanley Lewandowski Jr. addressed to the more than 900 fellow members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The document is a wide-ranging condemnation of carbon taxes and mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions that Lewandowski writes would threaten to "erode most, if not all, the benefits of coal-fired generation."

The letter also says that in February of this year, IREA contributed $100,000 to Patrick Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Michaels is one of about a dozen academics who for years have cast doubt on the science surrounding global warming while downplaying the scientifically accepted idea that humans are causing it.

"We have had many apocalypses through the ages that haven't shown up, and this is likely to be another one," Michaels said on CNN earlier this year.

Consumer advocates say it's not surprising a utility that relies on burning coal to produce electricity would oppose regulation calling for mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions -- caps that Lewandowski says would mean expensive investments in new technologies and higher rates for customers.

What is an unusual breach of trust, the advocates say, is that a relatively small company like IREA has given such a substantial sum to Michaels without telling customers.

"It's outrageous. It's an abuse of authority," said Ron Binz, a public utility consultant who was Colorado's state utility consumer advocate from 1984 to 1995.

"Intermountain is a rural electric cooperative," Binz said. "The customers are member-owners. Stan Lewandowski is basically spending other people's money."

Lewandowski is unapologetic about the contents of the document and for donating the money to Michaels, who did not immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

"I think what we need to talk about is how much can be done, and at what cost," Lewandowski said to ABC News. "My intent is to get the issue out there and say, 'This is important.' I'm trying to keep the low rates for our customers. And I'll do anything in my power to try and do that."

Lewandowski says the IREA board of directors legally and unanimously approved hiring Michaels -- who he says has "significant credentials" -- though he says that IREA's 133,000 customers were not notified first.

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