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Have Money and Power Corrupted the Union of Concerned Scientists?

Since 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has been a key advocate for science-based environmental policy. This once-venerable organization founded by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided a strong voice in the debate over nuclear weapons, helped negotiate the Kyoto Protocol climate change treaty, and provided support for the establishment of the first multi-state effort to combat global warming. However, the past few years have brought with them a tectonic shift for UCS, which has abandoned its science-based agenda and instead embraced the role of “attack dog” that uses its considerable might and resources to demonize energy manufacturers.

In 2014, the word “Exxon” appeared nine times in UCS publications. In 2015, that number jumped to 42. In 2016, it was 71. This year, UCS is already at 52, and the year isn’t over yet. UCS began a “Climate Accountability Campaign,” which appears to be focused more on formulating legal theories than on science, and hired a consultant to write a report setting the stage. It then hired the consultant as a full-time employee to lead the new campaign. UCS soon found itself running with all the key players in this saga, including attorneys general, environmental groups, activist media publications and the trial bar.

What happened? For one thing, UCS received an influx of new money. From 2014 to 2016, UCS’s annual fundraising jumped a whopping 30 percent, from $22.8 million to over $29.6 million.[1]

So instead of scientific publications, this extra funding went to articles with names like “Climate Deception on Agenda at Fossil Company Annual Meetings,” and “The Climate Accountability Scorecard: Ranking Major Fossil Fuel Companies on Climate Deception, Disclosure and Action.” Because this new data purportedly came from a group of scientists, it becomes fodder for one-sided media sources seeking to create news. It becomes the foundation of lawsuits by aggressive attorneys general and by opportunist trial lawyers looking for an easy payday. Earlier this year, UCS organized over 100 scientists to urge New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to pursue investigations against energy manufacturers to the fullest extent of the law; this activity may or not have been due to increased funding, but it does demonstrate the UCS’s long-standing agenda against energy manufacturers. In addition, the UCS’s leaders were among the participants at the infamous La Jolla meeting in 2012 where the scheme against America’s energy manufacturers was first plotted.

We’re not sure how financially attacking the companies that fuel the manufacturing economy actually helps protect the environment—or how a group we have proudly stood side-by-side with to solve environmental problems has drifted so far from its mission.

When the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) was launched, we vowed to pull back the curtain to expose groups and individuals behind a campaign to disparage manufacturers in America. We’re disappointed that one of these groups is the Union of Concerned Scientists. But we will ultimately find out what their motivations are and shine a light on what’s happening behind the scenes.

[1] Internal Revenue Service (2013, 2014 and 2015). Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax: The Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from