MIT Scientist: Republicans Misusing My Climate Change Paper

April 2, 2009 6:53 a.m.

I just got off the phone with John Reilly–the M.I.T. scientist whose study of the costs of cap-and-trade legislation has been badly abused by House Republicans–and he gave me a complete rundown of his unfortunate involvement in climate change politics.

Here’s a brief timeline of events:

  • April, 2007: Reilly and several coauthors release a paper titled “Assessment of U.S. Cap-and-Trade Proposals, which estimates early annual revenues from such legislation would run $366 billion
  • Sometime between April, 2007 and March, 2009: House Republicans get a hold of his paper, divide $366 billion by the number of households in America, and conclude, erroneously, that the quotient ($3,128) will be the average cost per home.
  • March, 2009: Republicans begin using this number in press releases, citing Reilly’s study
  • Shortly thereafter: The Obama administration gets in touch with Dr. Reilly and asks him to explain his study and the number–he corrects the record.
  • A week or so ago: Independently, a woman who says she’s with the House Republicans calls Reilly–aware of the number, she invites him to come testify against cap and trade legislation. Reilly informs her that her number is probably wrong, and that he supports cap and trade legislation.
  • A couple days ago: A group contacts Reilly to inform him that a large number of press releases were being issued, still trumpeting the false cost.

That brings us to yesterday. Now, Reilly can’t say for certain that word ever went out from the woman who called him to party leaders letting them know they’d gotten the math badly wrong. It’s possible, according to Reilly, that “she didn’t find the speaker she wanted so she went about her work.” At the same time, he adds, “they could certainly have called us at any time and checked their facts.” But, of course, they didn’t.

So Reilly isn’t taking any more chances. Yesterday he sent letters to Rep. Ed Markey–author, along with Henry Waxman, of House climate change legislation–and House Minority Leader John Boehner explaining the error and seeking to “clear up any misunderstanding created by this press release and to avoid further confusion.” The question is, will House Republicans correct the record or, at the very least, stop citing the number from this point forward. We’ll put the question to them and keep an eye on their public statements, press releases, and other documents.

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