Study: Utilities knew about climate change risks decades ago

Study: Utilities knew about climate change risks decades ago
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American electric utilities knew decades ago about the role fossil fuels play in climate change, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Energy and Policy Institute study, citing industry documents, found that utilities and industry groups were aiming to investigate the “effects of carbon dioxide” on the environment — including rising temperatures and sea levels — as early as the 1970s.

One 1988 study, from industry groups Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the Electric Power Research Institute, concluded that “climate changes possible over the next 30 years may significantly affect the electric utility industry.”

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The industry heard warnings about climate change as early as 1968, when a science adviser to President Lyndon Johnson told an EEI convention that carbon dioxide emissions could “produce major consequences on the climate — possibly even triggering catastrophic effects such as have occurred from time to time in the past.”

But, the report concluded that some utilities and industry groups later joined coalitions that cast doubt on climate change, all while continuing to burn fossil fuels and opposing government curbs on pollution.

“Nearly 50 years after scientists began to warn the electric utility industry about climate change, some utilities continue to stand in the way of real progress in addressing the problem,” the report says.

The study is similar to media investigations into Exxon Mobil Corp.’s climate science, which concluded that the oil and gas giant knew about the impacts of climate change as early as the 1980s. Several state attorneys general are looking into the allegations, which Exxon has denied.

In a statement, an EEI spokesman Jeffrey Ostermayer noted that, "the electric power industry has reduced carbon emissions by 25 percent below 2005 levels as of the end of 2016."

Clay Perry, an EPRI spokesman, said the group's "science- and technology-based research on air, land and water has historically and continues to provide a basis for responsibly managing the environmental footprint of power industry operations."

He added, "our work is consistent with our charter as an independent, non-profit center of public interest energy for environmental research."

Updated at 1:50 p.m.