Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma may have called global warming a “hoax,” but those who oppose him, and would like to see the United States enact climate legislation, have also suffered from foot-in-mouth disease.


Last September, Grist columnist David Roberts likened global warming deniers to holocaust deniers when he wrote that they are “bastards” who should face a “Nuremburg”-style tribunal for trying to derail climate science and policy. In January, The Weather Channel’s Heidi Cullen suggested that television weather personalities who denied the existence of man-made global warming should be stripped of their meteorological credentials. And most recently, at the Live Earth concert in New Jersey last month, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of the National Resources Defense Council, accused energy giants ExxonMobil and Southern Company of “treason” and suggested we start treating them as “traitors.”


On each occasion, some supporters rushed to defend Roberts, Cullen, and Kennedy, but many, especially the climate skeptics in the crowd, argued that their statements reeked of attempts to suppress free speech. Each of the squabbles drew ample media coverage, but now, another intriguing episode in the environmental bite-your-tongue saga is getting no press at all, although in the blogosphere Newsbusters carried a good summary of events.


On July 13, the president of the country’s largest trade association for renewable energy companies threatened to “destroy” the career of an analyst at a preeminent free market think tank that opposes global warming legislation. In an e-mail, Michael A. Eckhart, of the American Council on Renewable Energy, or ACORE, called Marlo Lewis, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a “liar” and a “charlatan,” and warned that he would “launch a campaign against [Lewis’s] professional integrity” if Lewis produced “one more editorial against climate change.”


Lewis is often quoted in the media and frequently contributes op-ed pieces to numerous national publications. An adherent to principles of limited government, Lewis has argued that attempts to mitigate man-made climate change-such as stricter carbon emissions standards-will deliver a serious blow to the national economy, and little else. Eckhart’s e-mail to Lewis quickly leaked to National Review’s blog, forcing Eckhart to post an explanation on ACORE’s blog on July 15, two days after he sent it:


I apologize to all in the public who were offended by the e-mail, because it was not intended for public display. You could not be aware of the two-year context of it, nor the choice of words in it - words that were only significant to Dr. Lewis and myself. Now that it is in the public, however, everyone deserves to understand the context.


Eckhart claims that his e-mail was part of a protracted “jousting” between himself and Lewis that had begun two years earlier when the two struck up a conversation in a greenroom before doing a television debate. During the course of that discussion, Eckhart wrote in his explanatory blog post, Lewis admitted that his anti-global warming arguments were merely a “tactic” in a larger battle that Lewis was “waging against big government.”


Lewis denies he said this. But since that meeting, Eckhart wrote, he has had numerous follow-up conversations with Lewis and Fred Smith, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s president. Eckhart accused them of “hijacking” global warming to support their opinions about limited government, and he intended to stop it.


Last September, when Lewis made headlines with his “Skeptic’s Guide to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth,” Eckhart wrote an e-mail to Smith stating that the institute’s work was delaying American policy on climate change. Eckhart demanded that Smith reverse course “loudly and publicly” within thirty days. If not, he would file two complaints-the first would go to the IRS, urging it to revoke the institute’s non-profit, tax-exempt status on the grounds that it was lobbying for the energy industry; the second would go to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, asking it to revoke Smith’s membership for “using mathematical skills to do the world harm.”

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.