May 27, 2016

Ubiquitous misstatements in the United States Senate

By James S. Burling Vice President for Litigation
Sheldon Whitehouse on PLF
Senator Whitehouse calls PLF a “creepy front group” from Senate floor

On May 17 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave a 17 minute speech to a largely empty Senate chamber attacking Exxon for that company’s alleged climate change denial. You can see the Senator’s speech here at the 9 hour mark. Whitehouse used the occasion to attack PLF as a “creepy front group” that is in the climate-change denial business. To come to this extraordinary conclusion Whitehouse quoted the first sentence from this petition for writ of certiorari that we filed with the Supreme Court in 2013 in Pacific Legal Foundation v. EPA. In that case we questioned EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide. We said, and the Senator quoted: “Carbon dioxide is a ubiquitous natural substance that is essential to life on Earth.” The Senator may not be aware of it, but that statement is completely true and not a single scientist on the planet would deny it. It is hardly a denial of global warming. What’s more, the very next sentence, that Whitehouse did not quote, went on to explain, “Certain prominent scientific organizations have concluded that atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide from manmade sources contribute to global climate change.” And, nowhere in the petition do we raise any doubt about the science of global warming. We do not even mention that others have cast any doubt on the science. So, at best, Whitehouse is confused. 

Our beef with EPA was the agency’s failure to obey the law before adopting its regulations, not with the assertion that carbon dioxide is warming the planet. As I’ve said before, we’re lawyers, not scientists. We don’t have a position on the science of global warming and we don’t have a position on whether there is even room for debate. What we do care about is making sure that the law and constitution are obeyed when regulations are adopted, especially regulations that will touch on every aspect of our economy and give EPA unprecedented powers over our daily lives.

So if Senator Whitehouse wants to invent bogeyman, call for their criminal investigations under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for their exercise of their right to free speech, and call folks out on the Senate Floor, that is his prerogative. But if he has any sense of decency he should choose better targets.

What to read next