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

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

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  5. Koch Political Group Brags About Bullying GOP Lawmakers Into Denying Climate Science
    By Marie Diamond on Dec 7, 2011

    In its cover story this week, the National Journal explores a curious phenomenon: while the science supporting climate change has only gotten stronger, the onetime Republican consensus on the issue has fallen apart. The reason, quite simply, is the right-wing polluter Koch Industries and its political front group Americans for Prosperity.

    As Political Correction notes, just three years ago, Republicans including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) all expressed a belief in human-caused climate change. Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) even supported legislation to reduce carbon pollution. But all of these prominent leaders have since joined the rest of the Republican party “in a sudden and near-unified retreat to silence or denial.”

    What’s changed for Republican politicians is “the influx into electoral politics of vast sums of money from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups”:

    Republicans have long had close financial ties to the fossil-fuel industry, of course. Between 1998 and 2010, the oil-and-gas industry gave 75 percent of its $284 million in political contributions to Republicans. […]

    Among the most influential of the new breed of so-called super PACs is the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, founded by David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries, a major U.S. oil conglomerate. As Koch Industries has lobbied aggressively against climate-change policy, Americans for Prosperity has spearheaded an all-fronts campaign using advertising, social media, and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who will ensure that the oil industry won’t have to worry about any new regulations.

    AFP President Tim Phillips proudly takes credit for the GOP’s turnaround and readily admits that his group threatened politicians with “political peril” if they “played footsie” with green solutions:

    Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, says there’s no question that the influence of his group and others like it has been instrumental in the rise of Republican candidates who question or deny climate science…“We’ve made great headway. What it means for candidates on the Republican side is, if you…buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. The vast majority of people who are involved in the [Republican] nominating process—the conventions and the primaries—are suspect of the science. And that’s our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it.”

  6. Bdaman,

    Many climate change deniers have claimed that climate scientists are alarmists. Muller who was a skeptic once believes climate chang is real and that the scientists were unbiased and careful in their work.

    Richard Muller:
    “When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.”

  7. Bdaman 1, October 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    The issue of the world warming is not an issue for sceptics it’s the magnitude and whats causing it. CO2 is not solely responsible.

    The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism
    There were good reasons for doubt, until now.

    Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.

  8. The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism
    There were good reasons for doubt, until now.
    WSJ, 10/21/2011

    When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.

    Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.


    Mr. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Physics for Future Presidents” (W.W. Norton & Co., 2008).

  9. From Doug Keenan this would be a good one for Slarti to review as Keenan is a mathematician.

    The Economist asked me to comment on four research papers from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project. The four papers, which have not been published, are as follows.

    Decadal variations in the global atmospheric land temperatures
    Influence of urban heating on the global temperature land average using rural sites identified from MODIS classifications
    Berkeley Earth temperature averaging process
    Earth atmospheric land surface temperature and station quality

    Below is some of the correspondence that we had. (Note: my comments were written under time pressure, and are unpolished.)

    Unless the data is measured with error, you never, ever, for no reason, under no threat, SMOOTH the series! And if for some bizarre reason you do smooth it, you absolutely on pain of death do NOT use the smoothed series as input for other analyses!

    If, in a moment of insanity, you do smooth time series data and you do use it as input to other analyses, you dramatically increase the probability of fooling yourself! T

  10. There’s one problem Ms. Elaine Not one of the BEST papers have completed peer review nor has one been published in a journal and they are already finding problems. According to BEST they decided to forgo the normal procedures for the peer review process. Science at it’s BEST.

    The issue of the world warming is not an issue for sceptics it’s the magnitude and whats causing it. CO2 is not solely responsible.

  11. Climate Skeptics Take Another Hit
    —By Kevin Drum
    Fri Oct. 21, 2011

    Physicists are notorious for believing that other scientists are mathematically incompetent. And University of California-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller is notorious for believing that conventional wisdom is often wrong. For example, the conventional wisdom about climate change. Muller has criticized Al Gore in the past as an “exaggerator,” has spoken warmly of climate skeptic Anthony Watts, and has said that Steve McIntyre’s famous takedown of the “hockey stick” climate graph made him “uncomfortable” with the paper the hockey stick was originally based on.

    So in 2010 he started up the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST) to show the world how to do climate analysis right. Who better, after all? “Muller’s views on climate have made him a darling of skeptics,” said Scientific American, “and newly elected Republicans in the House of Representatives, who invited him to testify to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology about his preliminary results.” The Koch Foundation, founded by the billionaire oil brothers who have been major funders of the climate-denial machine, gave BEST a $150,000 grant.

    But Muller’s congressional testimony last March didn’t go according to plan. He told them a preliminary analysis suggested that the three main climate models in use today—each of which uses a different estimating technique, and each of which has potential flaws—are all pretty accurate: Global temperatures have gone up considerably over the past century, and the increase has accelerated over the past few decades. Yesterday, BEST confirmed these results and others in its first set of published papers about land temperatures. (Ocean studies will come later.) Using a novel statistical methodology that incorporates more data than other climate models and requires less human judgment about how to handle it (summarized by the Economist here), the BEST team drew several conclusions:

    ■The earth is indeed getting warmer. Global average land temperatures have risen 0.91 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years. This is “on the high end of the existing range of reconstructions.”

    ■The rate of increase on land is accelerating. Warming for the entire 20th century clocks in at 0.73 degrees C per century. But over the most recent 40 years, the globe has warmed at a rate of 2.76 degrees C per century.

    ■Warming has not abated since 1998. The rise in average temperature over the period 1998-2010 is 2.84 degrees C per century.

    ■The BEST data significantly reduces the uncertainty of the temperature reconstructions. Their estimate of the temperature increase over the past 50 years has an uncertainty of only 0.04 degrees C, compared to a reported uncertainty of 0.13 degrees C in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

    ■Although many of the temperature measuring stations around the world have large individual uncertainties, taken as a whole the data is quite reliable. The difference in reported averages between stations ranked “okay” and stations ranked “poor” is very small.

    ■The urban heat island effect—i.e., the theory that rising temperatures around cities might be corrupting the global data—is very small.

    In the press release announcing the results, Muller said, “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK.” In other words, climate scientists know what they’re doing after all.

  12. Koch brothers accidentally fund study that proves global warming:
    The latest global warming results confirm those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA and elsewhere that came under fire from skeptics in an episode known as ‘climategate’.
    By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / October 21, 2011
    Christian Science Monitor

    A new climate study shows that since the mid-1950s, global average temperatures over land have risen by 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit), confirming previous studies that have found a climate that has been warming – in fits and starts – since around 1900.

    Most climate scientists attribute warming since the mid-1950, at least to some degree, to carbon dioxide emissions from human activities – burning coal, oil, and to a lesser extent gas, and from land-use changes.

    The latest results mirror those from earlier, independent studies by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in Britain, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    These previous efforts, however, came under fire from some climate-change skeptics who said they had detected serious flaws in the analytical methods and temperature records the three groups used.

    The new research, which has yet to be formally published but which appears in four papers posted on, uses new analytical techniques and a much larger set of records than the previous studies did.

    Indeed, the new approach to analyzing temperatures records allowed the team to make use of partial and older records previous studies had rejected as unusable, explains Richard Muller, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who coordinated the effort.

    In the end, the team’s result shows that the earlier studies “were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate-change skeptics did not seriously affect” the conclusions these studies reached, said Dr. Muller, who some climate activists have labeled a global-warming skeptic.

  13. TPMDC
    Climate Change Deniers Abandon ‘Befuddled Warmist’ Physicist Who Came Around On Global Warming

    Climate change deniers thought they had an ally in Richard Muller, a popular physics professor at UC Berkeley.

    Muller didn’t reject climate science per se, but he was a skeptic, and a convenient one for big polluters and conservative anti-environmentalists — until Muller put their money where his mouth was, and launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, in part with a grant from the Charles G. Koch foundation.

    After extensive study, he’s concluded that the existing science was right all along — that the earth’s surface is warming, at an accelerating rate. But instead of second-guessing themselves, his erstwhile allies of convenience are now abandoning him.

    “When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find,” Muller wrote in a Friday Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate.”

    That’s put a small but influential group of anthropogenic global warming skeptics and climate change deniers on the war path.

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