Energy & Environment Legal Institute

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Learn more from the Center for Media and Democracy's research on climate change.

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) (formerly the American Tradition Institute (ATI)) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Washington, DC; and formerly also headquartered in Colorado. According to its website, "In September 2013, E&E Legal’s Board of Directors voted to to refine its focus primarily to the area of strategic litigation, and to change its name in order to reflect more accurately its work in the legal arena."[1] The name "American Tradition Institute" and that of its 501(c)(4) partner organization "American Tradition Partnership"/"Western Tradition Partnership" (ATP/WTP) are prominently associated with a controversy over campaign finance during the 2010 elections. According to the Huffington Post, "During the 2010 elections, the Montana Commission of Political Practices found that the organization broke state campaign laws by failing to register as a political committee or report its donors and spending. The state suggested WTP/ATP was involved in corruption and money laundering."[2]

According to its mission statement, E&E Legal is "engaged in strategic litigation, policy research, and public education on important energy and environmental issues" and "seeks to address and correct onerous federal and state governmental actions that negatively impact energy and the environment. E&E Legal advocates responsible resource development, sound science, respect for property rights, and a commitment to markets as it holds accountable those who seek excessive and destructive government regulation that’s based on agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria."[1]

The group's website at one time stated that it "is part of a broader network of groups with close ties to energy interests that have long fought greenhouse gas regulation." The group has "connections with the Koch brothers, Art Pope and other conservative donors seeking to expand their political influence," reported the Institute for Southern Studies in October 2011.[3]

In 2011, E&E Legal (then ATI) sued the University of Virginia to get access to the emails of climatologist Michael Mann.

Background

When ATI was formed in 2009/2010, it sprung from a 501(c)(4) group called the Western Tradition Partnership, which was formed in Colorado in 2008.

"The Western Tradition Partnership (WTP)...[was] a political advocacy group backed primarily by the energy industry. It was first registered as a Colorado nonprofit [501(c)(4)] in 2008 by Scott Shires, a Republican operative who pleaded guilty that same year to fraudulently obtaining federal grants to develop alternative fuels."[4]

"In 2010 WTP changed its name to American Tradition Partnership (ATP), and announced that it had launched the American Tradition Institute, a 501(c)(3) think tank that would be "battling radical environmentalist junk science head on." The "junk science" ATP seems most concerned with is what the US National Academy of Sciences says should now be regarded as "settled facts" -- that the Earth is warming and humans are the likely cause."[4]

Activities

Subverting Wind Power

On May 8, 2012, the Guardian posted a confidential memo prepared by a fellow of then-ATI that advises how to build a national movement of wind farm protesters. Among its main recommendations, the proposal calls for a national PR campaign aimed at causing "subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad that no one wants to admit in public they are for it." It suggests setting up "dummy businesses" to buy anti-wind billboards, and creating a "counter-intelligence branch" to track the wind energy industry. It also calls for spending $750,000 to create an organization with paid staff and tax-exempt status dedicated to building public opposition to state and federal government policies encouraging the wind energy industry.

The proposal was discussed at a meeting of self-styled 'wind warriors' from across the country in Washington DC in February 2012. Participants included members of conservative groups such as Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and Tea Party Patriots.

The proposal was reviewed by John Droz Jr., a senior fellow at ATI, for discussion at the Washington meeting, which he also organised. ATI's executive director, Tom Tanton, told the Guardian that Droz had acted alone on the memo, although he remains a fellow at ATI. Droz is a longtime opponent of wind farms, arguing that the technology has not yet been proven and that wind technology should not receive government support. He claims 10,000 subscribers to his anti-wind-power email newsletter. In a telephone interview, Droz said the Washington strategy session was his own initiative, and that neither he nor any of the participants had been paid for attending the session.[5]

2011 Colorado Lawsuit Over Renewable Energy Standard Mandate

On April 4, 2011, then-ATI, the American Tradition Partnership and plaintiff Rod Lueck sued the State of Colorado and several officials over the constitutionality of the state’s Renewable Energy Standard mandate. The RES requires the state’s major utilities (mainly Xcel Energy) to obtain 30 percent of their power generation from renewable sources by the year 2020.

The group also released a 2011 report with Beacon Hill Institute in favor of repealing Ohio's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, arguing that renewable energy would drive up electricity costs and hurt the state economy. The repeal did not move forward.

2011 Michael Mann E-mails

In 2011, then-ATI issued a FOIA request to the University of Virginia for emails sent by climate scientist Michael Mann during his tenure at that university. On May 25, 2011, an agreement was reached in which UVA agreed to release 9000 documents to ATI within 90 days.[citation needed]

But on November 2, 2011, a Virginia county circuit judge issued a procedural ruling[6] that was "a huge setback for ATI":

"The court allowed that there was reason for UVA to reopen the protective order before the court. The original protective order would have allowed ATI to review the emails themselves. That court order is now invalid. ATI will not see the exempt emails. ...Now, a neutral party will be able to see the emails, not ATI. The neutral party must be agreed upon by all parties...", Scott Mandia reported Michael Mann saying.[7], [8]

What had changed? University of Virginia court filings[9][10] had argued that ATI publicity and actions of ATI principals David W. Schnare and Christopher Horner - who were both the attorneys and the petitioners in this case - had raised questions about whether with these dual roles they could be trusted to abide by the previous ruling's requirement to keep the content of the exempt emails private.[11] [See Schnare's SourceWatch page for his response.]

In July 2012, the Guardian reported that ATI had begun seeking the release of scientists' communications with specific journalists -- the first time the media was being drawn into FOIA requests concerning climate science. The list of news organizations includes the New York Times, the Associated Press, Frontline, and the Guardian.[12]

2009 Colorado Campaign: Corporate Money and Disclosures

"In 2009, the group sued Longmont, CO over their Fair Campaign Practices Act. The city settled and agreed to drop disclosure requirements. In 2010, after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, WTP/ATP successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Montana Corrupt Practices Act of 1912, which prohibited independent political expenditures by corporations."[4]

Disciplinary Actions

2010 Montana Ruling

"During the 2010 elections, the Montana Commission of Political Practices found that the organization broke state campaign laws by failing to register as a political committee or report its donors and spending. The state suggested WTP/ATP was involved in corruption and money laundering. They found that it solicited unlimited contributions to support candidates and then passed them through a "sham organization," the Bozeman-based political action committee The Coalition for Energy and the Environment that ran attack ads against Democrats. WTP told corporations that it aimed to combat "radical environmentalists" and "beat them at their own game" and that their contributions would remain secret."[4]

Funding and IRS Status

American Tradition Institute was the dba name of the Western Tradition Institute 501(c)(3). Guidestar lists it as EIN #264239065, ruling date 07/2009. The IRS still reports the group with that EIN as being called the "Western Tradition Institute" as of March 2014, despite two intervening name changes.[13]

E&E Legal does not fully disclose its funders. However, the following list of its 2010 funders revealed by the Institute for Southern Studies:[14]

The Atlas Economic Research Foundation -- which received over $1 million in funding from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2011; $122,300 from the Koch foundations between 1997 and 2008; and $735,000 from the Pope Foundation between 1997 and 2008[15]

According to ATI's 2010 IRS Form 990, its personnel are all volunteers; whether some[16] are paid by ATI's sister 501(c)(4), Western Tradition Partnership, is unknown, as that group did not file a return with the IRS that year.[17] The group's 2012 Form 990 (which still, despite being filed in November 2013, lists the group as ATI despite the group's website stating that it had changed its name in September 2013) still lists no compensated employees, and "other salaries and wages" of only $8,830 for the year.[18]

There are two versions of its 2010 IRS Form 990 online, an original return by Scott Shires available on Guidestar and an amended return by another preparer available at the Institute for Southern Studies. The original return shows 30 volunteers and 1 independent director where the amended return shows 3 volunteers and 3 independent directors (although only one is named), and there are also other differences.

The ATI website's About page says that "ATI accepts no government grants, and our financial backing has to date primarily derived from a broad and growing base of grassroots contributors."[19] In 2010, $140k of its $186k of funding reportedly came from Doug Lair (whose family sold Lair Petroleum to William Koch in 1989)[3] and the Lair Family Foundation. (The remainder was $1k from memberships, $40k from the American Tradition Partnership, and $5k from Atlas Economic Research Foundation).[20]

Partnership with George Mason University School of Law

As of 2012, the George Mason Environmental Law Clinic (GMELC) at George Mason University served as the attorneys for then-ATI, according to GMELC's 2012 IRS filing.[21] The clinic was led by the following people:

As of May 2013, the billable hours for then-ATI cases were shared between ATI and GMELC, with the division being made on a case-by-case basis.[21]

GMELC is now known as the "Free Market Environmental Law Clinic" (FME Law). According to its website, "the Directors of FME Law engaged in a friendly and supportive discussion with the Dean of the George Mason University School of Law and recognized that the clinic could better perform its function by servicing multiple law schools as a stand-alone clinic. The Board thus directed a name change to reflect this broadened purpose. Until completion of the legal transition to its new name, the Clinic is doing business as the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic but must retain its original name for banking and tax purposes." It goes on to explain, "It remains in close cooperation with George Mason University’s School of Law and provides both academic courses and clinical opportunities for GMU Law students and is expanding its externship program to other law schools that have a doctrinal focus on law and economics."[22]

Personnel

Board Members

As of March 2014, the group's website references a "five member Board of Directors,"[1] and Greg Walcher is listed as a board member,[23] but no other board members are listed. But as of the November 2013 filing of its 2012 IRS Form 990, the following makes up its five-member board:[18]

As of June 2013:[24]

  • Nick Spyros
  • Dennis Champion

Former board members include:[25]

  • Dan Reed
  • John Reed

Staff

As of March 2014:[26][23]

Former staff include:[25]

  • Paul Chesser, Executive Director
  • Mark Newgent, Associate Research Fellow

Core Financials

2012:[18]

  • Total Revenue: $553,953
  • Total Expenses: $407,810
  • Net Assets: $159,927

2011:[27]

  • Total Revenue: $319,580
  • Total Expenses: $422,148
  • Net Assets: $13,784

2010:[28]

  • Total Revenue: $186,000
  • Total Expenses: $70,140
  • Net Assets: $116, 352

2009:[28]

  • Total Revenue: $10,000
  • Total Expenses: $9,508
  • Net Assets: $492

Contact Details

722 12th St., NW, 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 785-8301
Email: Info AT eelegal.org
Web: http://eelegal.org/
Twitter: @EELegal
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Energy.Environment.Legal

Former Contact Details:

2020 Pennsylvania Avenue, #186
Washington, D.C. 20006

1601 Blake Street, Suit 310
Denver, CO 80202

E-mail: info AT atinstitute.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AmericanTraditionInstitute
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ATIEnergyEnvrmt

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Resources

American Tradition Institute website (http://www.atinstitute.org - not to be confused with the American Tradition Partnership website at http://www.americantradition.org)

External Articles

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Energy & Environment Legal Institute, About, organizational website, accessed March 2014.
  2. Shawn Lawrence Otto, Climate Scientist Wins A Round for America, Huffington Post, November 1, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sue Sturgis (2011-10-31). SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Who's behind the 'information attacks' on climate scientists? -. The Institute for Southern Studies. Retrieved on 2011-11-01.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Shawn Lawrence Otto (2011-11-01). Climate Scientist Wins A Round for America. Huffington Post. Retrieved on 2011-11-02.
  5. Suzanne Goldberg, "Conservative thinktanks step up attacks against Obama's clean energy strategy: Confidential memo seen by Guardian calls for climate change sceptics to turn American public against solar and wind power," The Guardian, May 8, 2012.
  6. Rick Piltz (2011-11-02). Favorable Virginia court procedural ruling in Michael Mann v. global warming denialist email raid. Climate Science Watch. Retrieved on 2011-11-09.
  7. Michael Mann (2011-11-02). Mike Mann’s Thank You Letter to Supporters. Global Warming: Man or Myth. Retrieved on 2011-11-02.
  8. Geoff Mohan (2011-11-02). Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2011-11-02. “A county Circuit judge in Virginia has sided with the University of Virginia's effort to restrict the release of personal emails from one of its former faculty members. The decision late Wednesday would allow the university to alter an agreement it had reached with the American Tradition Institute, which was seeking communications between Michael Mann, a physicist and climate scientist, and other scientists from 1999 to 2005, when Mann was employed by the university. The American Tradition Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and Colorado, is a nonprofit policy research and education group that has close ties to energy interests that have opposed climate legislation, including the Koch Brothers.”
  9. ATI v. UVA, support memorandum
  10. ATI v. UVA, Kast affidavit
  11. Timeline: Legal Harassment of Climate Scientist Michael Mann. Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved on 2011-11-03. “October 18: UVA files a petition with the court to alter the protective order, agreeing that it would be inappropriate to disclose exempt emails to ATI. In a supporting memorandum and a more extensive affidavit, UVA attorney Richard Kast outlines two concerns: first, regarding statements that ATI attorneys made on their website and in the press, and second, regarding how ATI attorney David Schnare represented his employment with the United States Environmental Protection Agency.”
  12. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Rightwing US thinktank uses FoI laws to pursue climate scientists," The Guardian, July 10, 2012.
  13. U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Exempt Organizations Select Check, government agency website, accessed March 10, 2014.
  14. American Tradition Institute, 2010 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing obtained by the Institute for Southern Studies, October 17, 2011.
  15. Atlas Economic Research Foundation, 2011 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 1, 2012.
  16. (David Schnare replied that he's not.)
  17. Guidestar.org, 2011-12-02
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 American Tradition Institute, 2012 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 21, 2013.
  19. About. American Tradition Institute. Retrieved on 2011-11-05.
  20. Institute for Southern Studies, ATI 2010 990
  21. 21.0 21.1 George Mason Environmental Law Clinic, 2012 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, May 11, 2013.
  22. Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, Donations, organizational website, accessed March 11, 2014.
  23. 23.0 23.1 American Tradition Institute, Fellows & Advisors, organizational website, accessed March 10, 2014.
  24. American Tradition Institute, "Senior Staff & Board", organizational website, accessed June 2013
  25. 25.0 25.1 Staff & Board of Directors. American Tradition Institute. Retrieved on 2011-11-05.
  26. American Tradition Institute, Senior Leadership, organizational website, accessed March 10, 2014.
  27. American Tradition Institute, 2011 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 15, 2012.
  28. 28.0 28.1 American Tradition Institute, 2010 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, May 25, 2011.