When the oil and gas industry gets to write the rules supposed to govern them, public health and the public good are left by the wayside. Unfortunately that is exactly what is happening with the regulation of hydraulic fracturing in New York and other states.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has been accused of conspiring with the fracking industry to develop regulations that limit the states ability to oversee fracking.
Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives were given drafts of the state’s proposed regulations before they were released to the public. Industry representatives then used the privileged information to lobby against commonsense rules, like testing for radioactivity in waste-water.
Currently, the major federal environmental laws regulating hazardous waste, air pollution and water pollution all have significant loopholes and exemptions for fracking. This is because the fracking industry has fought hard to keep regulation at the state level, where it is easier to influence and harder to enforce. As a recent report by the OMB Watch illustrates, state laws, many of which may have been written by the fracking industry, have failed to protect public health.
For more on the environmental, public health, and community impacts of fracking, see Greenpeace’s recently updated fracking page.
We don’t want the oil and gas industry writing the laws that are supposed to regulate them.
The fracking industry does not have the health of the public in mind. As Josh Fox’s latest video discusses, the oil and gas industry continues to publicly deny that fracking leads to poisoned water wells, though internal industry documents show that they have acknowledged and attempted to address the problem (unsuccessfully). The industry has even deployed military personnel and tactics against Pennsylvanians, which one company executive referred to as “insurgents.” Frackers want cheap access to the hydrocarbons in the shale, which means externalizing environmental, public health, and community impacts.
The frackers don’t care about American jobs, the economy, or “energy independence.” One of the most popular talking points used by the oil and gas industry is summed up by the bumper sticker “drill here, drill now, pay less.” The idea being if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices, reducing independence of “foreign” energy supplies, etc. This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. Companies involved in fracking want to increase the price of natural gas by exporting it out of the country. They want to sell it on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is.
The fracking industry’s short-sightedness hurts everyone involved, including themselves. When the fracking boom took off a few years ago, the oil and gas industry treated it like a gold rush. Companies like Chesapeake Energy put every dime they had into acquiring land and drilling wells, while taking out massive loans to finance the expansion. The frackers produced so much gas that gas prices dropped through the floor, to historically low prices. Right now, these companies are losing money and can’t even afford complete the wells they have already drilled. In Pennsylvania there are 5,000 wells awaiting completion, sitting idle, as their well casings deteriorate. Like the bankers responsible for the financial collapse, the fracking industry’s ravenous approach to drilling created a bubble, which the public will pay for with toxic water and a landscape ravaged by heavy industry.
Written by Sue Sturgis. Crossposted with permission from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
Last week Fortune magazine named the Southern Company a top utility for the sixth year in a row, citing its "wise use of corporate assets" and "social responsibility." The nation's fourth-largest electric utility is headquartered in Atlanta and serves more than 4.4 million customers in the South through its subsidiaries Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.
But the good press was soon followed by bad: Two days after Southern received Fortune's honor, the news broke that Greenpeace and the Virginia-based Climate Investigations Center obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the company was the leading funder of a controversial scientist whose work has been used to raise doubts about the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change in order to stall regulatory action. The Southern Company is the top carbon polluter among U.S. utilities and the eighth-biggest in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action.
The documents show Southern provided more than $400,000 between 2006 and 2015 to fund research by and part of the salary of Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics -- more than a third of Soon's total funding. In return, Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the utility the right to review his scientific papers before publication while promising not to disclose the company's funding without its permission. Other contributors to Soon's work revealed in the documents include oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute -- corporate funding sources that in some cases Soon failed to disclose in violation of journal policy.
The Smithsonian has asked its inspector general to review Soon's ethical conduct. In addition, three U.S. senators -- Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies including Southern, trade groups and other industry organizations seeking to unearth the extent of what they call "climate denial-for-hire programs."
"We've known for many years that the tobacco industry supported phony science claiming that smoking does not cause cancer," said Boxer, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "Now it's time for the fossil fuel industry to come clean about funding climate change deniers."
Soon, an aerospace engineer whose work has depended heavily on funding from fossil-fuel interests, has promoted the hypothesis that the sun causes climate change, making him a favorite of the climate change denial crowd. He has served as an adviser to various denialist think tanks and has spoken at denialist conferences.
Soon's scientific work has long been controversial, with a widely criticized 2003 study he co-authored with astronomer and fellow climate change denier Sallie Baliunas leading to theresignations of several editors who were involved in the journal's peer-review process. The publisher eventually admitted that the flawed study should not have been published.
Scientists have pointed out various weaknesses in Soon's work, such as misinterpreting other scientists' data and relying on obsolete information for analyses. Some have noted an even more fundamental problem: Soon's claim that any evidence of a sun effect means carbon dioxide is not driving climate change. For example, in a 2009 article titled "It's the Sun, Stupid!," Soon wrote that because he has assembled evidence supporting the hypothesis that the sun causes climatic change in the Arctic it "invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change."
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Earth Institute at Columbia University, critiqued Soon's claim at Real Climate:
But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.
Paying to turn doubt into 'conventional wisdom'
The Southern Company has long been involved in efforts to mislead the public about climate change and to block regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1998, as the United States was considering signing the international Kyoto Protocol treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions, Southern was part of an initiative called the Global Science Communications Team that brought together industry, public relations and think tank leaders to devise a plan to confuse the public about the state of climate science.
The company's representative on the team was research specialist Robert Gehri, who was also Soon's contact at the utility.
Though the Kyoto-era communications effort was supposed to be secret, a memo from the group written by an American Petroleum Institute representative became public. It said "victory" would be "achieved" when industry leaders, the media and average citizens "understand" uncertainties in climate science, and when recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom."
The draft plan called for spending $5 million over two years to "maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences," the New York Times reported:
It would measure progress by counting, among other things, the percentage of news articles that raise questions about climate science and the number of radio talk show appearances by scientists questioning the prevailing views.
While the United States signed the treaty that November, the Clinton administration did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. The Bush administration rejected it altogether three years later.
A decade after its efforts to block U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, the Southern Company had become the nation's top lobbyist on federal legislation to address climate change by creating an emissions trading plan, which it opposed. A 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found the utility had nearly twice as many climate lobbyists as any other company or organization. While the House of Representatives approved the bill, it was defeated in the Senate.
More recently, Southern deployed its lobbying power to block carbon emission limits for power plants proposed by the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the carbon regulations this summer, but they're now being challenged in court by 12 states and a coal mining company.
In 2013, as the administration was preparing to roll out the rules, a lobbyist with a utility consortium told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Southern Company devotes more resources to lobbying than most utility companies and is "very active in pushing its point of view." Indeed, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics classifies the company as a "heavy hitter" for its generous spending on lobbying (over $12 million in the 2014 cycle alone) and campaign contributions (over $1.4 million in 2014, with most of that benefiting Republicans).
Southern's campaign contributions have helped promote climate science denial in Congress. The top recipient of contributions from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 campaign cycle was Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is part of what Climate Progress has dubbed the "Climate Denier Caucus." Perdue has accused the EPA of "overreaching" in its efforts to address climate change and has echoed the line Southern has pushed, saying that "in science, there's an active debate going on."
And Perdue's not the only leading recipient of Southern's political support to help spread the questionable scientific talking points the utility has paid for: Rep. Gary Palmer, an Alabama Republican who received $18,000 from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 cycle, last year told WATE that science "says global climate change is more a function of nature and solar activity than it is anything man does."
Chalk it up as yet another "victory" for a company that last year raked in $2 billion in profits.
Remember that controversial law last year, legalizing fracking in North Carolina after being vetoed by the state's governor? The law bears tell-tale signs of being written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate front group with ties to the fracking industry.
Like the Exxon-backed fracking loopholes in Ohio and numerous other states, the new North Carolina law contains the same "trade secrets" provisions that ensure the public will not have the right to know which chemicals gas frackers are pumping underground to retrieve shale oil and gas. The "trade secrets" provisions are key to ALEC's model bill in order to allow Exxon, Shell, Duke Energy and other ALEC member companies to more quickly extract, pipe and burn gas without having to bother with pesky transparency laws.
Here's a list of NC ALEC legislators who co-sponsored the bill legalizing fracking: S820 or HB1052 -- the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act"
- Sen. Tom Apodaca
- Sen. David Rouzer -- member of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which created the frack fluid disclosure loophole bill with internal sponsorship by ExxonMobil.
- Rep. Mike Hager
- Rep. Tim Moffitt
- Rep. Fred Steen -- ALEC's State Chairman in NC
Rep. Fred Steen co-sponsored the House version of the so-called "Clean Energy and Economic Security Act." Steen was ALEC's State Chair in North Carolina, and his job is to ensure ALEC models are introduced and, ideally for ALEC, passed. Rep. Steen was the only state legislator serving as State Chair in North Carolina (other states often have multiple legislators serving as co-chairs), and according to ALEC's tax forms, his position implies the following responsibilities (emphasis mine):
State Chairmen duties shall include recruiting new members, working to ensure introduction of model legislation, suggesting task force membership, establishing state steering committees, planning issue events, and working with the Private Enterprise State Chairman to raise and oversee expenditures of legislative 'scholarship' funds.
As ALEC's state chairman in NC at the time of this vote, Rep. Steen appointed a "Private Sector Co-Chairman" to help oversee ALEC activity in NC. In this case, Rep. Steen worked with North Dakota lobbyist Joel Gilbertson, who represents clients like AIG, PhRMA, and Crop Life America (a front group for pesticide and chemical fertilizer interests). Rep. Steen was listed on ALEC's website as its State Chairman since at least late 2008, suggesting that he has been re-appointed to that position at least once--a term lasts two years.
Ironically, co-sponsoring Rep. Mike Hager has been asked about his role in ALEC before, telling the Charlotte Business Journal that, "I'm not a big fan of model legislation." Apparently, keeping toxic chemicals secret from constituents is something Rep. Hager is a big fan of, in which case ALEC models are pretty useful. Rep. Hager has received $15,500 from oil, gas and electric utility interests in this election cycle, on top of $3,250 from his first successful election bid in 2010. One of the utilities donating to Rep. Hager is Duke Energy, his former employer, which operates natural gas pipelines that deliver to over 500,000 customers and is expanding gas generation at its power plants.
North Carolina's fracking loophole law has drawn attention from around the country, including a statement of support from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The new NC law barely overturned a veto by former Gov. Beverly Perdue, in a heartbreaking twist involving one Democratic legislator being bought out at the last minute and another accidentally voting in favor of the bill and refused the opportunity to correct her vote, something that is commonly acceptable when such a mistake is made. The Charlotte Observer explains:
Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Wake County Republican Paul “Skip” Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake,” Carney said afterward. “I take full responsibility.” Democrats denounced Stam’s quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. [...] Carney said it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state legislature.
This local news clip posted by the Voter's Legislative Transparency Project, which tracks ALEC activity in North Carolina, includes more on Rep. Carney's error:
A new report in the peer-reviewed academic journal Tobacco Control offers a deeper look at the history of the Tea Party. Commonly thought to be a grassroots uprising spurred by a TV rant in 2009, the report documents how tobacco companies and a front group established by Charles and David Koch were attempting to begin the revolt years earlier.
The study, titled "‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party," shows that the Koch front, Citizens for a Sound Economy, set up a website in 2002 for the "U.S. Tea Party." Here is an archived image from that website, which is now owned by FreedomWorks.
As previously reported by DeSmogBlog's Brendan DeMelle on Huffington Post:
The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now "supporting the tobacco companies' political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws." Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.
The ties between the Koch brothers' Citizens for a Sound Economy and tobacco are extensive, with Charles Koch's right hand man, Richard Fink, getting direct praise from the Tobacco Institute for his leadership in urging the U.S. Surgeon General to avoid foreign trade restrictions on tobacco products. The Checks and Balances Project has a report on Koch Industries executive Richard Fink and tobacco:
In 1988, Fink wrote to the Surgeon General to express concern about the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health’s inquiries into the subject of tobacco and U.S. trade policy. He warned that it would be unwise to suggest any foreign trade barriers, ending, “we hope that you will keep these thoughts in mind as your department discusses U.S. trade policy toward tobacco.” This letter was tracked down by the Checks & Balances Project in the Tobacco Archives, with an addendum from Samuel Chilcote – President of The Tobacco Institute – urging others to follow Fink’s lead and support.
For Fink’s efforts, Chilcote thanked Fink in a hand-signed letter on behalf of the tobacco industry, writing, “When an advisory body such as the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health ventures into the field of U.S. trade policy, it is vitally important that the public record be balanced by the sound economic views and sensible business judgments that you provided.”
In summarizing the significance of the Koch-Tobacco-Tea Party insight from the report, DeSmogBlog's DeMelle hits the nail on the head:
Finally, this report might serve as a wake-up call to some people in the Tea Party itself, who would find it a little disturbing that the "grassroots" movement they are so emotionally attached to, is in fact a pawn created by billionaires and large corporations with little interest in fighting for the rights of the common person, but instead using the common person to fight for their own unfettered profits.
Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks have been successful in co-opting the Tea Party, directing millions in corporate and wealthy donor funding to steer the "grassroots" agenda of Tea Party activists.
Grassroots? Try astroturf.
For the second time today, Mitt Romney dodged a question about Hurricane Sandy and climate change.
After standing by as his supporters drowned out a question about climate change with chants of “USA! USA!”, Mitt Romney was confronted again at a rally today in Virginia about his climate silence. An audience member on the rope line asked Mitt Romney “Given Hurricane Sandy, how would you address climate change as president?”
The opportunity to connect the dots was there for the second time today, but once again Romney dodged.
“Take a look at my book,” he said, “there’s a whole section on it.”
He then makes a gesture as if he’s writing a book (or asking for the check at a restaurant) and moves on to shake more hands.
What does his book have to say about climate change?
In No Apology, Romney lays out, in very careful language, the case both for and against human-caused global climate change. Some believe in it, he writes, some don’t. And then, in what has become his go-to move, the former governor comes to this fork in the road and takes it:
“Whether or not you agree that the climate is changing and that human beings have something to do with it, assume for the sake of argument that both positions are accurate.”
Which he has done, saying the expedient thing at different times: In New Hampshire, he is open to human beings having something to do with climate change: “Do I think the world is getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is. I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans. . . “
In Pittsburgh, he isn’t: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
In both cases, he says he won’t change his energy policy based on climate change. He dodges.
Hurricane Sandy has shown that the time for taking both sides of this issue is over. Climate change is real. It’s here. We need our leaders to address it, not dodge it.
New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg knows this. Just today, Bloomberg cast his lot with Barack Obama in an op-ed with the headline, “A Vote For A President to Lead on Climate Change”: "Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
Sandy didn’t dodge New York, and Romney can’t dodge climate change.
Earlier this year internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a major hub of climate change denial and right-wing extremism, were publicly leaked. The documents exposed the Heartland Institute's funders and strategies for attacking climate science, and led to a mass exodus of Heartland's corporate funders.
Today, a newly updated report based in large part on Heartland's internal documents has revealed two new insights into the way in which the anti-climate science movement has been supported and financed over the last decade.
- A billionaire named Barre Seid is the Heartland Institute's main sugar daddy. He is the "Anonymous Donor" listed in Heartland's fundraising plan who finances climate science denial operations to confuse children, the general public and policymakers over global warming. Seid has been the biggest booster behind Heartland's attacks on climate science, donating millions of dollars to keep the Heartland Institute's anti-science work afloat.
- The Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues are now hiding much of their donations to conservative political outlets through an obscure group of foundations that specialize in secrecy.
In total over $311 million has been put through twin organizations known as Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund which share an address in Alexandria, Virginia. The people running these organizations are close to the Kochs and have numerous ties to the groups that the DONORS network funds, such as the Koch-founded Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Independent Women's Forum and the Manhattan Institute. The Kochs have a little-known foundation that only donates to these "DONORS" groups called the Knowledge & Progress Fund, according to the report detailing this network.
The report, written by a silicon Valley scientist turned public interest watchdog John Mashey, is titled "Fakexperts," and details how right-wing foundations associated with the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Bradley family, and others have been using a secret finance network to support extremist right-wing groups. Most of these groups are associated with the State Policy Network, a band of corporate apologists who have made careers denying everything from the dangers of smoking cigarettes to the existence of climate change.
Some of the sketchy groups that have received big chunks of their 2010 budgets through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, including top climate change science deniers:
- Americans For Prosperity Foundation got $7.6 million from DONORS groups in 2010, 43% of its budget. AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch and has received millions in direct funding from Koch foundations since the Koch brothers founded it.
- Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) got $1.3 million from DONORS in 2010, 45% of its budget.
- Cornwall Alliance (through the James Partnership) got $339,500 from DONORS in 2010, 75% of its budget.
- Heartland Institute got $1.6 million from DONORS in 2010, 27% of it's budget, which came from Chicago billionaire Barre Seid (see p. 67).
- State Policy Network got 36% of its 2010 budget ($4.8 million) from DONORS. SPN members include just about every climate-denying organization and every conservative think tank in the country, including AFP and Heartland.
The twin DONORS organizations are advertised as a way for very wealthy people and corporations to remain hidden when "funding sensitive or controversial issues groups," which creates a lack of accountability that is troubling. DONORS also promises to only funnel money to groups with an extreme anti-environmental bend, so industrial billionaires need not worry about their money winding up here at Greenpeace, as Donor's Trust co-founder Whitney Ball explains:
"...if a donor names his child a successor advisor, and she wants to give to Greenpeace, we’re not going to be able to do that."
Expect to hear more about Donor's Trust and Donor's Capital Fund as we continue to track the dirty money of Koch Industries and their allies. For more, check out PBS FRONTLINE's recent dig on climate deniers in a special called Climate of Doubt, which includes descriptions of the DONORS groups from Drexel University's Robert Brulle.
Similarly deceptive is an upcoming junk study from a Koch-funded think tank that has taken on the format and appearance of a truly scientific report from the US Government, but is loaded with lies and misrepresentation of actual climate change science. The false report is a tentacle of the Kochtopus--with oil and industrial billionaires Charles and David Koch at the head.
UPDATE: Climate scientists at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science lambast the counterfeit Cato report for mimicking the scientific report they authored:
"As authors of that report, we are dismayed that the report of the Cato Institute, ADDENDUM: Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, expropriates the title and style of our report in such a deceptive and misleading way. The Cato report is in no way an addendum to our 2009 report. It is not an update, explanation, or supplement by the authors of the original report. Rather, it is a completely separate document lacking rigorous scientific analysis and review."
The report's disgraced author, Patrick Michaels, has made his largely undistinguished career shilling for fossil fuel interests, including his stay at the Cato Institute, which published the counterfeit report. After admitting to CNN that 40% of his funding is from the oil industry alone, even Cato was embarrassed enough to clarify that "Pat works for Cato on a contract basis, not as a full-time employee. Funding that Pat receives for work done outside the Cato Institute does not come through our organization."
The Kochs' combined $62 billion in wealth comes from Koch Industries operations in oil refining, pipelines, tar sands exploration, chemical production, deforestation and fossil fuel commodity trading, all of which contribute to global climate change and the types of extreme weather Americans are now starting to recognize as symptoms of global warming.
Wary of how public concern over climate change could drop demand for fossil fuel products, the Kochs have spent the last 15 years dumping over $61 million to front groups telling us that global warming doesn't exist, or that it would destroy our economy to stop runaway climate change. Other billionaire families like the Scaifes and companies like ExxonMobil have funneled tens of millions more to the same groups to bury climate science in public relations schemes designed to delay solutions to global warming. While Cato got over $5.5 million from the Kochs since 1997, it received over $1 million from the Scaifes, $125,000 from ExxonMobil and tens of millions more from other fossil fuel interests and ideologues in the top 1%.
In a highly public battle earlier this year between the Koch brothers and libertarians at the Cato Institute, some Cato employees didn't want their work to become what David Koch calls "intellectual ammunition" for other Koch fronts like Americans for Prosperity. Cato's deceptive climate report is exactly the type of fake science that AFP needs in order to continue lying to the American public about the reality of global warming.
Cato's counterfeit report is classic global warming denial that is clearly designed to be confused for actual science. Its author, its publisher and its billionaire supporters have all been key to the coordinated public relations effort that has blocked climate policy in this country by making climate science a partisan issue in this country and rallying the American public behind the very lies they themselves fabricated. The junk report has already been circulated by other climate science deniers and even cited in a Congressional presentation.
With climate change already contributing to 400,000 deaths each year and costing $1.2 trillion to economies worldwide, such dubious doubt-peddling should be considered criminal. If you are an elected official or a journalist and spot the Cato Institute's bogus new report, call it for what it is: malarkey!
For more on the Koch brothers' climate denial machine, check out this illustrative video and keep your eyes out for Cato:
Mitt Romney released new TV ads this week about Obama “ruining” the coal industry, conveniently timed with a sudden House Republican push for the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.”
A Greenpeace investigation released last week highlights the recurring themes of Big Coal advertising, with decades of ads from coal mining companies, coal-burning utilities, and industry front groups. The Big Coal industry advertising machine has been working for decades to “keep America stupid,” as Rolling Stone put it.
This week’s political messaging about a supposed “war on coal” illustrates a troubling trend that the Big Coal public relations machine is co-opting America's elected leaders.
New Romney TV ads on coal mirror the industry’s old and new ads
One of Big Coal’s main advertising themes since the 1970s has been abundance of coal and energy security. Romney's new TV ad highlights this theme, featuring a stump speech clip with Romney declaring “We have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?”
The 250-year coal supply figure is an extreme overestimate, since US coal reserves can only be confirmed to last about 100 years, according to a National Academy of Sciences report five years ago. So, where did Romney get that number?
Maybe Romney got it from this coal industry front group advertisement, claiming that using less coal will make dictators smile. Check out the ad up close.
Or maybe Romney got the 250-year claim out of this internet ad from ACCCE, the coal industry’s public relations association.
Coal industry estimates of incredible abundance are notoriously incorrect. At least Romney’s estimate was slightly more accurate compared to this National Coal Association ad from 1977, claiming coal would last 500 years. In 1976, an American Electric Power ad used the 500-year coal supply along with an estimate that America would run out of oil and natural gas by 1988. People say hindsight is always 20/20.
Not only does the coal industry provide talking points for Romney’s stump speeches and TV ads, but it also provides the human props. The Romney TV ad features shots of the candidate speaking with a crowd of coal miners behind him. Murray Energy Company forced these miners to miss a day of work without pay, and told them that attendance was mandatory at the Romney event.
Obama also influenced by Big Coal advertising
Unfortunately, the Republican candidate is not the only one susceptible to coal industry public relations. The Obama campaign aired radio ads criticizing Romney for saying a dirty coal plant “kills people” when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Obama has made so-called “clean coal” and CCS technology part of his energy platform. As a way to keep their industry alive, Big Coal invests heavily in “clean coal” advertising, even though the touted CCS technology that captures carbon dioxide is unproven at scale and exorbitantly expensive. Check out this nonchalant Peabody Energy ad from 2009.
The clean coal advertising theme existed decades before CCS technology, when simply “washing” coal meant that it was now “clean,” like in this AEP ad from 1979.
Congress is another vehicle for coal industry public relations
The coal industry advertising doesn’t only influence presidential politics. Republicans in the House Friday morning passed the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.” The Act is several coal-friendly bills packaged into one big wish list for the coal industry, including stripping EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, restricting EPA from regulating coal ash and delaying the EPA mercury rule. The bill package will be dead-on-arrival in the Senate.
The Act provided Republicans with the opportunity to lambast the EPA for protecting public health from coal pollution. As two Republicans wrote in a Sept 20th op-ed, “President Obama and his extreme EPA have issued new rules and regulations that are crippling the coal industry” and “this ‘Train Wreck’ of new EPA regulations is already…costing jobs in places where unemployment is staggering.”
Considering that energy experts will tell you that competition from renewable energy and natural gas are actually causing the decline in coal, why are these Republicans so focused on EPA regulations? One could list several political reasons but, coincidentally, blaming the EPA has been a regular theme for Big Coal advertising since Nixon established the EPA in the 1970s.
In this 1974 ad, EPA is blamed for blocking the use of coal which somehow, in a bizarre twist of logic, would result in Middle Eastern oil moguls buying American coal fields from under our noses.
Another 1974 American Electric Power ad criticized EPA for encouraging the use of pollution scrubbers on coal plants. In comparison, the coal industry now celebrates scrubber technology for making coal “clean" while still attacking the EPA for new clean air rules. This ACCCE internet ad claims the EPA will cost 1.65 million jobs.
Coal advertising themes like "coal is abundant," "coal is clean," and "EPA kills jobs" are completely integrated now into Presidential and Congressional debates. After decades of Big Coal advertising efforts, some of our elected officials have mutated into Big Coal spokespeople.
UPDATE: Student activist Ben Wiley details his question to Duke Energy's Vincent Davis about support for ALEC, which was ignored.
Yesterday, members of Greenpeace, Energy Action Coalition, and other groups sent a message loud and clear to Duke Energy that we want them to dump ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) before the end of the Democratic National Convention.
ALEC is a rightwing bill mill group that connects corporations with our elected officials to draft model legislation in support of corporate profits over the welfare of people and our planet. ALEC has written legislation including Arizona’s racist immigration law SB1070, Stand Your Ground Laws relating to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and many voter suppression laws such as Voter ID here in North Carolina. But that’s not all, ALEC also has an Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force which is working on legislation to stop regulation of coal fired power plants and to prevent laws from being passed that support renewable energy.
Duke Energy, headquartered in the heart of Charlotte and at the center stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention this week, is a major contributor to this dirty front group. Last May, Duke Energy spent $50,000 to bring ALEC’s annual meeting to Charlotte. Especially in South Carolina and Indiana, Duke representatives work very closely with ALEC to draft such legislation.
This is why yesterday, dozens of activists gathered in Charlotte to ask Duke Energy’s CEO Jim Rogers to make the call and dump ALEC! We gathered in front of the Knight Theater where Rogers was speaking on a panel and urged passersby to make a phone call into the Duke Headquarters. Then we hand delivered 150,000 petition signatures that have been collected in the past week. At the same time in Ohio, local activists gathered to deliver the message to Duke’s Midwest corporate headquarters. And all throughout the day yesterday activists took action online on Facebook and Twitter sending their messages directly to Duke Energy.
We know that it’s working. We ran into Jim Rogers at an event and he said that he’s listening. The question remains, will Duke act?
I spoke with Duke Energy's Jim Rogers at the DNC. He's hearing from us! And 150k people. And Senators.
Written by Whit Jones, Energy Action Coalition Campaign Director, crossposted from We Are Powershift