You're probably familiar with the old "fox in the hen house" story, but what about when a hen joins the fox den?
This is the case with the recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Washington, DC. Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace reveal that ALEC's anti-environmental jamboree was inundated with coal money and featured an Indiana regulator advising coal utilities on delaying US Environmental Protection Agency rules to control greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollution.
At ALEC's coal-sponsored meeting, where state legislators and corporate representatives meet to create template state laws ranging from attacks on clean energy to privatization of public schools, Indiana's Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management Tom Easterly laid out a plan to stall the US EPA global warming action in a power point clearly addressed to coal industry representatives at ALEC's meeting.
In a USB drive branded with the logo of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a folder labeled "Easterly" contains a presentation titled "Easterly ALEC presentation 11 28 12" explaining current EPA air pollution rules and how Tom Easterly has worked to obstruct them. The power points is branded with the Indiana Department of Environmental Protection seal. In the latter presentation, Easterly ended his briefing to ALEC's dirty energy members with suggestions for delaying EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions at coal plants.
Easterly's presentation, which is posted on his Indiana Dept. of Environmental Mgmt commissioner webpage, even offered a template state resolution that would burden EPA with conducting a number of unnecessary cost benefit analyses (which the federal government has done through the Social Cost of Carbon analysis) in the process of controlling GHG emissions.
The template resolution Easterly presented to ALEC was created by the Environmental Council of States (ECOS), a group of state regulators that create template state resolutions similar to ALEC, often with overlapping agendas that benefit coal companies. ECOS has some questionable template state resolutions for an "Environmental" organization, including a resolution urging EPA not to classify coal ash as "hazardous." Although its less regulated than household trash, coal ash contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements and is stored in dangerous slurry "ponds" that can leak these dangerous toxins into our waterways.
Almost too predictably, ECOS' work is sponsored by the coal fronts like ACCCE and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), both sponsors of the ALEC meeting where Easterly presented the ECOS model resolution. See clean air watchdog Frank O'Donnell's blog on ECOS for more.
Commissioner Tom Easterly's suggestion of burdening EPA with tasks beyond its responsibility is concerning, as is his ongoing campaign to discredit the science of global warming--something he doesn't have the scientific qualifications to do. To this end, the Indiana regulator fits nicely into the coal industry's long history of denying problems they don't want to be held accountable for and delaying solutions to those problems. The same processes applied to acid rain, a problem the coal industry also denied for years--check out Greenpeace's collection of Coal Ads: Decades of Deception.
Climate Science Denial at Indiana's Department of Environmental Management
Even before Indiana's top enforcer of federal and state environmental regulations was advising coal companies on how to continuing polluting our air and water, it appears that denial of basic climate science is the state's official position on global warming--Indiana's 2011 "State of the Environment" report rehashes tired climate denier arguments such as global temperature records having "no appreciable change since about 1998." (see why this is a lie) and referencing the "medieval warm period" as false proof that current temperature anomalies are normal (they aren't, see Skeptical Science for a proper debunking). Similar arguments have apparently been presented by the Indiana government to ALEC since 2008--the ACCCE USB drive contains another Indiana power point created in 2008 full of junk climate "science." This level of scientific illiteracy is concerning, especially for the regulatory body responsible for overseeing pollution controls for the coal industry.
Remember, this isn't the Heartland Institute. It's the State of Indiana....working with the Heartland Institute, a member of ALEC's anti-environmental task force that has been central in coordinating campaigns to deny global warming. See Commissioner Easterly's full presentation to ALEC on climate "science."
ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit 2012: brought to you by King Coal
- American Electric Power (AEP): the second largest coal utility in the U.S. now that Duke Energy and Progress Energy have merged.
- Peabody Energy: the world's largest private-sector coal mining company, known for its legacy of pollution and aggressive finance of climate change denial.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE): a coal public relations front whose members include AEP, Peabody and other ALEC-member coal interests. ACCCE's new president is Mike Duncan, former Republican National Committee chairman and founding chairman of Karl Rove's American Crossroads. ACCCE spent over $12 million on advertising during the 2012 election to promote the fantasy of "clean coal." ACCCE reportedly spent $40 million on TV and radio ads during the 2008 election and over $16 million around the 2010 election. ACCCE was caught up in a scandal when a subcontractor forged letters on behalf of senior and civil rights groups urging members of Congress to oppose national climate legislation. For more, see ACCCE on PolluterWatch.
- Political spending since 2007: ACCCE spent over $22.3 million on federal lobbying, $10 million of which was spent in 2008 alone.
- Edison Electric Institute (EEI): the primary trade association for electric utility companies, whose members include AEP, Duke Energy and numerous other members of ALEC's energy/environment task force.
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): NRECA is the top dirty energy money contributor to federal politicians, above heavyweights like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Composed of over 900 rural coal interests, NRECA is known for its staunch opposition to climate change policy.
$194 million: total federal lobbying expenditures from these groups since 2007
The collective millions spent on federal lobbying and politicians went a long way for these five coal interest groups. Their lobbying goals included weakening 2009 climate legislation and working to interfere with US EPA rules to reduce coal pollution or greenhouse gases.
All five of these groups have recently lobbied to prevent US EPA from controlling greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. These five interests only represent a slice of the coal interests spending money in politics, and just a few players among many in the coal, oil, gas and chemical industries that dump millions of dollars into public relations campaigns telling us that climate change is not a problem.
Last week, Greenpeace posted a comparison of Romney’s new “War on Coal” TV ads with coal industry advertising. Our analysis shows that Romney’s ads mirror four decades of coal industry advertising.
It turns out that the coal industry is not only providing Romney with talking points for his TV ads, but also with human props. The Romney “War on Coal” TV ad features the candidate speaking in front of a crowd of coal miners. 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. On Tuesday, Progress Ohio filed an FEC complaint over the use of coal miners in the Romney TV ad. "Clearly the [Romney] campaign should have thought better of exploiting the forced support of these workers,” said Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director of ProgressOhio.
The TV ad is running in coal states, including Ohio and West Virginia. In the ad, Romney declares “we have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?” Greenpeace analysis revealed that this estimate is frequently used in coal advertising, even though the National Academy of Sciences shows it to be vastly overestimated.
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.
This year, the oil, gas and coal industries combined have spent more than $153 million on ads promoting fossil fuels and attacking renewables, according to the New York Times. That’s almost four times the amount spent on clean energy advertising in the same time frame.
It’s also a third more than was spent by the fossil fuels industries in 2008.
So what message is worth the record amounts of advertising dollars?
Well, as it turns out, the fossil fuel industries really don’t like regulation, the EPA, or president Obama, and they want the voting public behind them.
Though the dirty energy industries’ dislike of Obama seems a bit misplaced, (between allowing widespread fracking and his support of drilling offshore and in the arctic, Obama has given the fossil fuel lobby plenty) it does make sense that they would support Mitt Romney. After all, Romney is not concerned with “healing the planet,” and neither are the oil and coal corporations of America. It’s a natural fit.
However, the majority of the fossil fuel funded commercials are actually repeats of the same messages that the Big Coal and Big Oil have been trumpeting for years.
A recent Greenpeace investigation in to coal advertising over the last 40 years has found that the fear mongering and hysterical accusations made today by coal companies – that regulations kill jobs or coal can be “clean” for instance – are literally decades old.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group, has spent $12 million dollars so far this year on ads that, except for being in color and on youtube, could have been straight from 1970.
“The stakes are high,” said Steve Miller, the recently retired president of ACCCE. Well, hopefully Mr. Miller is high if he thinks people will buy the same tired deceptions that the coal industry has been threatening us with for years.
[See more advertisements at www.quitcoal.org/coalads]
“Can coal be cleaned before it’s burned? Of course it can!
Although this language comes from a 1970s advertisement from coal giant American Electric Power, this claim would be right at home with today’s “clean coal” advertising.
When someone sent us some old 1970’s newspaper advertisements from coal-burning giant American Electric Power, questioning proposed regulations to stop coal pollution, the language had a familiar ring to it. How long had the industry been telling us that coal was clean? Has the industry been using the same deceptive advertising campaigns to scrub its image (and delay important regulations to protect public health) for decades? So we went back through the archives to review the record.
We found that the coal industry has spent at least four decades spinning lies to convince us coal is clean, and any scientific evidence on pollution is crooked. The industry further claims that any pollution regulation will cost jobs and cripple the economy.
The origins of truth spinning by the coal industry dates back to the birth of public relations in the first part of the twentieth century. The coal industry claimed they had cleaned up dirty coal eliminating the “black froth” on streams so that nearby waterways would remain “pristine.”
The 70’s and the Clean Air Act
The real spin from the coal industry began in the 1970’s when the Clean Air Act introduced air quality guidelines to curb sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that come from burning coal.
AEP also ran ads warning that scrubbers designed to remove life-threatening pollutants from smokestack emissions wouldn't work, but would create large quantities of “oozy gook.”
In contrast, today AEP’s subsidiary, Appalachian Power has quite a different take on scrubbers. The company states on its website that the sludge from scrubbers is harmless: “…. This harmless substance then is sent to a landfill. The scrubber captures almost all of the SO2 produced from burning coal. That makes our air cleaner. It also gives plants the flexibility to use locally-available high-sulfur coal, which helps keep fuel costs low.”
To get around the local pollution problems and to adhere to the new air quality regulations, the industry started building tall stacks to disperse the pollution instead of reducing it. When the EPA targeted tall stacks, AEP again fought them tooth and nail.
When the Middle East oil embargo sent gas prices skyrocketing, the industry tried to use concerns about the crisis to support its agenda. The Saudis would buy US coal, screamed one advertisement. “What time is the electricity on today?” asked another. “Fanatical Environmentalists” were threatening America’s future, according to one ad.
What acid rain?
In 1980 the U.S. government began what would be a decades-long effort to grapple with the problem of acid rain caused by sulfur emissions from coal-fired power stations.
The coal industry attacked the emerging scientific consensus on acid rain. Edison Electric Institute, funded by the utility industry and member of the Coalition for Energy Environment Balance, published “Facts About Acid Rain.” The author, Alan Katzenstein, later worked for the Tobacco Institute and claimed that second hand smoke was harmless.
1990 Clean Air Act Amendments
When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 despite a barrage of industry-launched court cases, scrubbers became mandatory for all new power plants. Yet the coal industry still argued that regulation would “short circuit America’s electricity system”
But the lights stayed on.
In fact, the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments have saved billions of dollars spent on human health and worker days, according to a 2011 EPA analysis. A 2009 EPA report states that acid rain deposits over the US have decreased by 43 percent.
Enter the Greenwash
Once the coal industry had to comply with new standards, it began scrubbing the record of its resistance to public health standards. The industry claimed that its state of the art technology cleaned up the emissions and pollution from coal plants that they had furiously spurned the previous decade. “A cleaner environment is on everyone’s agenda” said the EEI.
Enter climate science denial
By the early 1990’s, there was a new threat to Big Coal. After years of scientists' warnings about the impacts of greenhouse gases from burning coal and other fossils fuels, climate change began to emerge as a widespread concern. Once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first report, the coal industry rolled out the same attacks on the scientific evidence.
A new industry front group, Information Council on the Environment, ran a test series of advertisements challenging climate science. The objective was to “reposition global warming as theory, not fact.” This strategy formed the beginnings of a decades-long, industry-funded campaign of climate science denial that continues to this day.
An economic argument was also used against climate action, with claims that a treaty like the Kyoto Protocol would ruin the economy. The “not global, won’t work” mantra of these ad campaigns has been a consistent excuse from U.S. officials in international climate talks for the last 12 years.
The new “clean coal”
By the 2000’s, the coal industry increasingly relied on its “coal is clean” mantra.
Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, the coal industry coalition, argued that coal was “better for the economy and cleaner for our environment.”
Industry convinced federal agencies to pour taxpayer subsidies into a search for new coal emissions technologies including “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS.
CCS would bury C02 in underground aquifers. Despite being a prohibitively expensive and unproven technology, it has become the new poster child for clean coal.
By 2007, ABEC was claiming that they were going “beyond clean”. CCS was portrayed as being just around the corner, and pollutants like SO2 and NOX were now reduced to “near zero.”
In 2008, ABEC morphed into the “American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity” (ACCCE) that mobilized industry supporters across the country before the elections. ACCCE now claims “clean coal technology is real – and it is deployed across the U.S. and around the world to the benefit of people and our planet.”
The coal industry has spent decades trying to convince Americans that protecting our health and the environment will destroy the economy and leave us in the dark.
Yet our country has continually improved public health and environmental protections without the economic disasters hyped by the coal industry.
We couldn’t believe them then. Why should we believe them now?
We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:
This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.
Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.
That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder, the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.
If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.
In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?
Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle
In coordination with the launch of a new Chevron ad campaign aimed at boosting public approval of their perceived corporate responsibility, the Yes Men, Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch carried out an elaborate public relations jam in which Chevron appeared to be owning up to its environmental and human rights crimes around the world. Yeah, right.
The fake webpage and press release that the Yes Men published fooled several media outlets before they realized they were a juxtaposition of Chevron's continued corporate offenses. Chevron released a reaction to the press, but the Yes Men countered with their own statement on behalf of the oil giant through another fake webpage, causing further confusion. The fake response drew more attention to Chevron's multi-million dollar advertising budget and the ongoing lawsuit in Ecuador over Chevron's role in cleaning up after Texaco, which it purchased in 2001. The merger was steered by current Chevron CEO John Watson.
-Washington Post, Sept 28, 2007