Southern Company Has Known About Climate Change For Decades While Financing Climate Denial, Report Findings

Southern Company headquarters in Atlanta.

Southern Company headquarters in Atlanta.
Photo: Kristoffer Tripplaar Sipa (AP)

One of the largest and most profitable electric service companies in the United States has known about climate change for decades and yet continues to build fossil fuel plants to fund groups that contribute to climate misinformation, report released Wednesday found.

Employees at Southern Company who serve 9 millions of customers across six stateshas been involved in discussions on the effect of carbon dioxide about the atmosphere as early as the 1960s, the report of a utility watchdog group the Energy & Policy Institute found.

“The report is based on evidence that the Southern Company knew it was at risk of accelerating and blocking harmful climate change in the future when it chose to spend millions of dollars supporting efforts to undermine public acceptance of climate science and slow the transition to clean energy.” “Dave. Anderson, the report’s author and political administrator at the Energy & Policy Institute, told Earther in an email. “It simply came to our notice then. Today we live in a world where some damaging climate change is now confined, and scientists are increasingly able to attribute damaging extreme weather events such as heat waves and storms to climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

The report uses archived documents, including Southern Company’s Securities and Exchange Commission files, as well as documents previously recovered in other investigations and litigation to compile a timeline of Southern Company’s involvement in climate research. As early as 1964, the chairman of the service – then called Southern Services – was a technical reviewer in a White House report that recommended further research into the impact of CO2 pollution on the atmosphere.

Things heated up in the 1980s, when the Southern Company was warned in publications by scientists and the federal government about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. A company official even co-chaired a panel at the 1985 Air Pollution Control Association meeting that discussed the effects of other greenhouse gases such as methane and discussed how energy savings and renewable technologies could help slow rising CO2 levels.

However, despite growing public demand for climate action since the 1980s, the Southern Company has “established itself as a driving force behind climate misinformation” in the next few decades, the report says.. The company has been a key player and financier for decades in service lobby groups such as the Edison Electric Institute, which was a powerful machine to help the utility industry spread climate denial.

In a statement to Earther, a Southern Company spokesman said:

“We are proud of our progress in reducing our GHG emissions by almost 50% from 2007 levels and remain focused on transitioning our generation fleet and making the necessary related investments in our distribution and distribution networks. Recent announcements include proposals to reduce at 88% of 2007 levels the number of coal units in our system by 2028. In addition to focusing on the carbon emissions of our generation fleet, we continue to invest in infrastructure and technology to further reduce methane and other GHG emissions from our natural gas companies. We support groups, associations and research efforts that pave the way for cutting-edge, carbon-free technologies and focus on developing constructive, sustainable carbon policies that will help facilitate the network’s zero transition. ”

A company representative also sent a link to a report from a separate nonprofit watchdog questioning the financial sources of the Energy & Policy Institute.

In one example from the mid-1990s, “Southern Company’s satellite television network has been used to target teachers in states around the country with workshops that have promoted coal industry talks on climate change and the environment,” Anderson said.

The denial has continued through the decades: in 2017, CEO Thomas Fanning asserted on CNBC that climate change “has been happening for millennia” and denied that CO2 was primarily responsible for climate change. (Fanning is also the highest paid service executive in the country, receiving nearly $ 28 million in 2019.)

Southern Company was also the owner of one of the nation’s highest-profile, and costly, fossil fuel failures: the Kemper facility in Mississippi. The plant was originally intended to be an example of the promises of “clean coal”, using carbon capture and storage, but the technology proved so inconvenient and expensive that the project was axed without ever going online– After years of construction and billions of dollars in delays diverted to taxpayers. The investment in the Kemper plant was made even though experts at that panel (1985) warned that CCS was not an effective method of curbing climate change.

This report is the latest in a series of research in recent years on what potential companies, including utilities, automakers and oil companies, have known about climate change in previous decades and how they have been involved in spreading climate denial. A tool like Southern Company may not have the same name recognition as a company like Exxon, but utilities are probably more powerful, thanks to their control of the electricity grid.

As the United States saw last year when Joe Manchin faltered to abolish major climate supply in the Build Back Better, powerful utilities may force its will on lawmakers to stop climate action. There are many useful companies as well continue to charge taxpayers to build fossil fuel infrastructure, despite public proclamations on climate.

In recent years, the Southern Company has introduced a seemingly greener foot, promising to achieve zero network by 2050 — although those plans are strongly supported unproven technologyand it is continue to build new gas plantsdespite the fact that the world needs to immediately stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure to avoid the worst effects of warming. But as this report shows, it may be too little too late.

“Who will be responsible for paying for the damage done to our climate?” said Andrewn. “Will it be the strong majority of everyday consumers and taxpayers who have long supported prioritizing the development of clean energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, over fossil fuels? of fossil fuels, have they done everything possible to slow down the transition to clean energy and are still the main source of greenhouse gases? “

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