The Mercatus Center: A Tentacle of the Deregulation-Loving Kochtopus Helping in the Effort to Deny Climate Change and Eviscerate the EPA

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

From Climate Science Watch (March 18, 2010): To the libertarians, the widely-shared scientific assessment that human-caused climate change will likely produce major harmful consequences — and the communication of this evidence to the public by the leading climate scientists — poses a particularly serious threat. An informed public concerned about the likelihood of harmful impacts of unchecked global climatic disruption is more likely to call for significant government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In order to block proactive government policymaking and keep corporate interests unregulated, libertarian groups have focused a significant part of their efforts on climate change on distorting the science to confuse public opinion, denying the seriousness of the problem, and, most recently, impugning the integrity of the climate science community. The Koch brothers have stepped forward with deep pockets to bankroll such efforts.

Many people have already heard about the libertarian billionaire businessmen brothers Charles and David Koch who have helped to found and/or fund a number of non-profit organizations and think tanks—including the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the Federalist Society, the Reason Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation—whose aim seems to be the advancement of the Kochs’ agenda “that government taxes and regulations impinge on prosperity.”

What many people may not be aware of is the number of academic centers/institutions that the Kochs are also helping to fund at both public and private colleges and universities—including Florida State University, West Virginia University, Brown University, Troy University, and Utah State University.

I’m going to focus on just one of these Koch-funded academic centers in this post—the Mercatus Center, a conservative think tank located at George Mason University in Virginia—and on Susan B. Dudley, a woman who worked at Mercatus and was then appointed to a regulatory position at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2007.


In a 2004 Wall Street Journal article, the Mercatus Center was described as “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of.” Previously known as the Center for the Study of Free Market Processes, the Mercatus Center was founded by Richard Fink—with a grant from Charles Koch. Koch currently serves on the center’s Board of Directors—as does Fink who is also an executive vice president and a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries, Inc.

Jane Mayer wrote the following in Covert Operations, an article that appeared in the New Yorker in 2010: The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.

Public Citizen, a group founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, has called the Mercatus Center  “a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries and other corporate interests.” Richard Fink claims, however, that the center does not actively promote the Koch company’s private interests. He said that Koch “has other means of fighting its battles” in Washington and that they never had a nonprofit advance their agenda. Some people would disagree.

Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in environmental issues, told Mayer that “Koch has been constantly in trouble with the E.P.A., and Mercatus has constantly hammered on the agency.” Another environmental lawyer who spoke to Mayer said that Mercatus was “a means of laundering economic aims.”  The lawyer described the strategy: “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” which “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.”

Rob Stein, a Democratic strategist, told Mayer that the relationship between George Mason University and Mercatus is an unusual arrangement. “George Mason is a public university, and receives public funds. Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control.” Stein claimed that Mercatus was “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”

According to Sourcewatch, Mercatus “has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation.” It has been reported that fourteen of the twenty-three regulations that George W. Bush put on his hit list were first suggested by academics who worked at the Mercatus Center.

In 2010, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute released a study that named Koch Industries as one of this country’s top ten polluters. That same year, Greenpeace released a report titled Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine. In the report’s executive summary, Greenpeace stated that Koch Industries had “become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.” (Greenpeace also reported that Koch foundations have contributed more than $48 million in grants to “climate opposition groups” since 1997—and that more than half of that has been donated since 2005.)



Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, wrote in 2007 about George W. Bush’s re-nomination of “a veritable rogues’ gallery of anti-environmental figures to key posts in federal agencies.” O’Donnell said that Susan B. Dudley, one of the nominees, was “a true anti-regulatory zealot. As director of regulatory studies at the industry-funded Mercatus Center, Dudley was like a wrecking ball out to smash key safeguards.” He added, “Putting Dudley in this key federal post would be like naming comedian Michael Richards to head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.”

According to Lee Fang of Think Progress, George W. Bush appointed Susan B. Dudley, the director of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center, to head the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)—after the center had attacked the “EPA regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gases by challenging the science of climate change.” (Dudley’s was a recess appointment in 2007.)

O’Donnell said that as head of OIRA Dudley would have one “of the most obscure yet powerful jobs in Washington. The person in this position can, largely without public scrutiny, interfere with actions of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and become a conduit for industries seeking to avoid federal health, environmental and safety standards.”

The Cost is Too High: How Susan Dudley Threatens Public Protections, a report produced by Public Citizen and OMB Watch in 2006, said that while Dudley worked at Mercatus, she “attacked proposed regulations in formal submissions to government agencies and orchestrated campaigns to derail other safeguards already on the books.” The report also claimed that Dudley displayed “an extreme anti-regulatory ideology” and “questioned the merit of regulation altogether in congressional testimony and regulatory comments, and she has urged weakening, if not eliminating entirely, public safeguards.”

Dudley worked to oppose public health regulations as a “hidden tax” that hinders profits when she was at Mercatus. She opposed all of the following: EPA plans that would have set tougher standards for smog; lower-polluting cars and SUVs—as well as cleaner gasoline; air bags in cars; stronger regulations for arsenic in drinking water; measures that could help curb global warming. (Think Progress)

Dudley has been quoted as stating that the “evidence regarding global warming and human contribution to it is mixed, and…if a slight warming does occur, historical evidence suggests it is likely to be beneficial, occurring at night, in the winter, and at the poles.” In her testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety/Committee on Environment and Public on April 24, 1997, Dudley said: “Ozone in the troposphere, like ozone in the stratosphere, has the beneficial effect of screening ultraviolet radiation, which is known to have various health and welfare effects including melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, cataracts, and crop and fishery damage.”

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a nonprofit consortium of more than seventy universities that offer Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences, doesn’t see it the same way Dudley does. UCAR has said the following about ozone in the troposphere:

Ozone occurs naturally at ground-level in low concentrations. The two major sources of natural ground-level ozone are hydrocarbons, which are released by plants and soil, and small amounts of stratospheric ozone, which occasionally migrate down to the earth’s surface. Neither of these sources contributes enough ozone to be considered a threat to the health of humans or the environment.

But the ozone that is a byproduct of certain human activities does become a problem at ground level and this is what we think of as ‘bad’ ozone. With increasing populations, more automobiles, and more industry, there’s more ozone in the lower atmosphere. Since 1900 the amount of ozone near the earth’s surface has more than doubled. Unlike most other air pollutants, ozone is not directly emitted from any one source. Tropospheric ozone is formed by the interaction of sunlight, particularly ultraviolet light, with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, which are emitted by automobiles, gasoline vapors, fossil fuel power plants, refineries, and certain other industries.

And this is what UCAR said about the negative impacts of tropospheric ozone:

While stratospheric ozone shields us from ultraviolet radiation, in the troposphere this irritating, reactive molecule damages forests and crops; destroys nylon, rubber, and other materials; and injures or destroys living tissue. It is a particular threat to people who exercise outdoors or who already have respiratory problems.

Ozone affects plants in several ways. High concentrations of ozone cause plants to close their stomata. These are the cells on the underside of the plant that allow carbon dioxide and water to diffuse into the plant tissue. This slows down photosynthesis and plant growth. Ozone may also enter the plants through the stomata and directly damage internal cells.

Rubber, textile dyes, fibers, and certain paints may be weakened or damaged by exposure to ozone. Some elastic materials can become brittle and crack, while paints and fabric dyes may fade more quickly.

When ozone pollution reaches high levels, pollution alerts are issued urging people with respiratory problems to take extra precautions or to remain indoors. Smog can damage respiratory tissues through inhalation. Ozone has been linked to tissue decay, the promotion of scar tissue formation, and cell damage by oxidation. It can impair an athlete’s performance, create more frequent attacks for individuals with asthma, cause eye irritation, chest pain, coughing, nausea, headaches and chest congestion and discomfort. It can worsen heart disease, bronchitis, and emphysema.

Prior to Dudley’s appointment to OIRA, Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness, wrote in an email exchange with Media Transparency that “Dudley would be the most anti-regulatory zealot within the Bush Administration, bar none. Her ideology is based upon a core belief that regulations are generally bad and there should be no regulation unless it can be proven to be cost effective and supported from within the market place.”

The Cost is Too High report said that Dudley’s radicalism put her “right at home at Mercatus”—which was “founded by corporate interests and endowed by large corporations, free-market oriented foundations, and leaders from the corporate world”  and “has long operated at the intersection of money, power, and influence in order to promote corporate special interests at the expense of the public interest.”

Note: Susan B. Dudley is a Research Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration and is serving as the Director of the Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University.


EPA Nemesis: Mercatus Center Another Koch Think Tank (Sourcewatch/Center for Media and Democracy)

Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group Mercatus Center (Greenpeace)

From Promoting Acid Rain To Climate Denial: Over 20 Years Of David Koch’s Polluter Front Groups (Think Progress)

The White House’s Agents Of Environmental Corruption (Think Progress)

Koch’s Web of Influence (Center for Public Integrity)

Koch-Powered Tea Party Pushes Climate Denial Bill In New Hampshire (Think Progress)

Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama. (The New Yorker)

The White House’s Agents Of Environmental Corruption (Think Progress)

Does Bush know how to pick ’em or does he know how to pick ’em? (Daily Kos)

The Cost is Too High: How Susan Dudley Threatens Public Protections (Public Citizen & OMB Watch)

Bush Nominates Anti-Regulatory Zealot To Head ‘Super-Powerful’ Public Safety Office (Think Progress)

Stop Susan Dudley: The air you breathe depends on it (Public Citizen)

Dudley Do-Wrong of George Mason University (Media Transparency)

With Senate on break, Bush appoints officials: The three, including a contentious regulatory director, most likely would not have been approved by lawmakers. (Los Angeles Times)

I Am OMB and I Write the Rules (Washington Post)

On First Day Of New Congress, Koch Operatives Met With GOP Chairman Planning To Gut The Clean Air Act (Think Progress)

ALEC Exposed: The Koch Connection (The Nation)

Exclusive: Tea Party Billionaire David Koch Denies Climate Change, Shrugs Off His Carbon Pollution (ThinkProgress)

The Koch Energy and Commerce Committee (Turley Blog)

Koch Industries multibillionaire Koch brothers bankroll attacks on climate change science and policy (Climate Science Watch)

The Most Important Think Tank You’ve Never Heard Of (Richard C. Young)

Rule Breaker: In Washington, Tiny Think Tank Wields Big Stick on Regulation (Mercatus)

Meet Koch Industries (Oil Watchdog)

Mercatus Center—Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial [REPORT] (PolluterWatch)

Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial [REPORT] (PolluterWatch)

Koch Industries: Still Fueling Climate Denial 2011 Update (Greenpeace)

Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine (Greenpeace)

The Kochs’ Mercatus Center and Environmental Deregulation (The Green Market)

Does This Matter? Eliminating the EPA? (Watchdog Progressive)

REPORT: Koch Fueling Far Right Academic Centers At Universities Across The Country (ThinkProgress)

FSU Accepts Funds From Charles Koch In Return For Control Over Its Academic Freedom (ThinkProgress)

Billionaire’s role in hiring decisions at Florida State University raises questions (St. Petersburg Times)

VIDEO: Why Oil Billionaire David Koch Is Secretly Funding Astroturf To Repeal CA Clean Energy Law AB 32 (Think Progress)

Wegman scandal rocks cornerstone of climate denial (Think Progress)

Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) – Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group (Greenpeace)

Climate Change Deniers Without Borders: How American oil money is pumping up climate change skeptics abroad—and how they could derail any progress made in Copenhagen. (Mother Jones)

Bush Obstructs EPA, OSHA, CDC Regulations (Mother Jones)

Koch Industries and Lobbying in Washington (Desmogblog)

Koch and George Mason University (Desmogblog)

Still Hiring Tree Haters (Tom Paine)

Another big time fox nominated to be gatekeeper to the henhouse (Watching the Watchers)

Charles Koch’s Assault on Academic Freedom (Mother Jones)

In Washington, Tiny Think Tank Wields Big Stick on Regulation: With White House Ex-Staffers, Mercatus Helps Zap Codes It Says Restrict Business (Wall Street Journal)

Statutory Interpretation in the Era of OIRA (Georgetown University law Center)

Testimony of Susan E. Dudley
Before the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety
Committee on Environment and Public Works
April 24, 1997

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