* Funding came from Koch Foundation, Southern, Exxon, API
* Private science funding gets close look amid budget cuts
* Soon says never motivated by financial reward
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - Willie Soon, a U.S. climate change skeptic who has also discounted the health risks of mercury emissions from coal, has received more than $1 million in funding in recent years from large energy companies and an oil industry group, according to Greenpeace.
Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has also gotten funding from scientific sources including NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But starting early in the last decade, Soon began receiving more funding from the energy companies, Greenpeace reported.
Last year, the foundation of Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of privately held Koch Industries, gave Soon $65,000 to study how variations in the Sun are related to climate change.
Koch is co-owned by David Koch, founder of Americans for Prosperity, a group aligned with the Tea Party movement, which opposes new air pollution regulations.
Beginning in 2002, Soon's funding mostly came from oil companies, including Southern Co (SO.N: Quote), one of the largest coal burners in the United States, and the American Petroleum Institute, according to documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace and seen by Reuters.
"A campaign of climate change denial has been waged for over twenty years by Big Oil and Big Coal," said Kert Davies, a research director at Greenpeace US.
"Scientists like Dr. Soon who take fossil fuel money and pretend to be independent scientists are pawns."
Soon was criticized by many climate scientists for a 2003 paper he co-wrote, concluding that 20th century warming was not unusual compared to that of centuries past. About 5 percent of the study's funding, or $53,000, came from the API, they said.
Soon, who says global warming is mostly caused by changes in the Sun, not emissions from burning oil, gas and coal, has written some peer-reviewed studies on global climate change.
More recently, he has written non-peer reviewed papers. In 2007 he co-wrote a paper that concluded polar bears are not threatened by human-caused climate change, which was also funded partially by grants from the oil industry.
While corporate funding of science is not new, the focus on the ethics of such aid is growing as state and federal science grants are reduced amid budget cuts.
Soon co-wrote a May 25 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called "The Myth of Killer Mercury." In the piece, Soon was identified as a natural scientist from Harvard, but the newspaper did not disclose that he receives most of his funding from the energy industry. The Journal did not return a request for comment.
Soon wrote that the EPA, which is under court order to finalize rules on the pollution from power plants, wants to discipline the energy industry. "To build its case against mercury, the EPA systematically ignored evidence and clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use," the piece said.
...Soon agreed he had received funding from all of the groups and companies, but denied any group would have influenced his studies....