center for media and democracy
This guest article was written by Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving of the Center for Media and Democracy, crossposted from PR Watch.
The fossil fuel industry has paid a hefty price for the privilege of framing the political discourse about America's energy future. Hundreds of millions have flowed into campaign coffers from energy companies attempting to purchase complete freedom to drill, frack, and burn. Huge "dark money" groups, the Koch's, Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, join dozens of oil and gas industry associations in pouring money into television ad campaigns demanding "energy independence," while trashing wind and solar.
Things were going great. Even though hurricanes had slammed into two Republican National Conventions in a row, no one seemed to notice, and Romney's only mention of climate changes was as a punchline. No reporter asked a single climate change question of Romney or Obama during the debates. Even though the U.S. now had 175,000 wind and solar jobs, pro-green energy forces were disappointed in Obama and were less active. For big oil and gas the White House and the Senate were within reach. Critically, they had to move fast before the majority of voters started to not only notice the changing climate patterns, but really started to worry about them.
Then something happened that completely scrambled the board.
Hurricane Sandy blew New Jersey out of the water and inundated New York. The massive storm threw the Romney campaign completely off-message. Not only did they have nothing to say about the serious issue of climate change and the potential for more frequent and more devastating monster storms, the Romney-Ryan message of "smaller government" and "fewer first responders" sank in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
In an unprecedented, last-minute move, Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw his support behind Obama yesterday. His statement "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change" lays out the seriousness of the situation. "In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable," Bloomberg states.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Polluting High Rollers Dominated the Airwaves
Until Sandy rolled in, the airwaves were completely dominated by the fossil fuel industry.
According to The New York Times, by mid-September there had already been a $153 million spent on TV ads that promoted the fossil fuel industry. The analysis showed that energy topics were mentioned more frequently than any other issue besides jobs and the economy. This figure is four times what clean energy advocates were spending.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the last presidential election in which the green energy industry and other forces spent $152 million compared to $109 million spent on fossil fuel interests.
Broadly, the ads promote fossil fuels in the context of jobs, domestic security, and energy prices. Combined, they try to convince Americans that "energy independence" should be the nation's top priority. Yet they neglect to point out that solar and wind also create high-wage jobs and energy independence too. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas campaign contributions are at historic highs and are more lopsided than ever before with 90 percent of the funds going to Republican candidates. Top contributors include William Koch's Oxbow Corp, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Koch Industries, who have already contributed $59 million to federal candidates. Leading coal mining corporations, such as Alliance Resource Partners, Cumberland Development, and Murray Energy, have kicked in $11.6 million to federal candidates.
But the money does not stop there. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has opened the door to unprecedented spending by "dark money" nonprofits, SuperPACs and new constellations of trade associations that are on track to spend over $1 billion to "educate" voters about the issues, including the urgent need to extract and burn every last bit of fossil fuel.
- Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, a "dark money" group and his American Crossroads SuperPAC, pledged to spend $300 million in this election, a large percentage on fossil fuel spin. There are dozens of ads in the presidential race and in Congressional races. One Crossroads ad blames Obama for higher gas prices. Another slams Obama for putting the Keystone Pipeline on hold. While Crossroads GPS does not disclose its donors, American Crossroads PAC does and it is loaded with fossil fuel contributors, including Alliance Resources Partners CEO Joe Craft who has given the group $1.25 million, Petco Petroleum which has given the group $1 million, and over $2 million from TRT holdings, which controls Tana Exploration, a Texas-based oil and gas company.
- David Koch's Americans for Prosperity "dark money" group, pledged to spend over $100 million this year in support of Republican candidates. The group's ads also attack Obama and clean energy when talking about Solyndra and the stimulus bill which allegedly sent some clean energy jobs overseas. More recently they have pushed pro-coal "Stand with Coal" ads in Ohio and Virginia.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an industry association and dark money group, has pledged to spend more than $50 million on the election and has fielded energy ads in key races such as Ohio with a messages like "Shale Works for Us," in promotion of expanding drilling for shale oil and gas.
- The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front group, has pledged to spend some $40 million on coal related ads. One ad, targeting Ohio's Sherrod Brown, criticizes the Senator for endorsing "higher energy taxes" linking him to "Washington's costly energy policies."
- The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade association, has pledged some $40 million this campaign season on efforts to push the expansion of oil and gas drilling. Two of their primary campaigns, "Vote 4 Energy" and "Energy Citizens" attempt to exert the aura of a grassroots base pushing for fossil fuel development. Their ads feature "energy voters" parroting fossil fuel talking points.
- The American Energy Alliance, a "dark money" group run by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, is spending millions alleging that Obama's policies would lead to $9 a gallon of gas and a recent ad airing in Ohio and Virginia harps on Obama for comments he made about coal industry in 2008.
Rarely are voters seeing any counter-narrative. Alternative energy forces have spent only $2 million, and some environmental groups are weighing in with modest resources. New ads by the League of Conservation Voters saying U.S. Senate Candidate Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will stop the offshoring of U.S. jobs and "will end big oil subsidies" -- with cheerful Wisconsin windmills and pumpkins in the background -- started only in the final days of the campaign. Is it any wonder that candidates have been able to ignore the serious issues?
"To ignore a global crisis that has been fully understood for over 15 years and is quickly slipping out of control shows just how far coal and oil money have drowned out constituents all the way from the Statehouse to the White House," said Greenpeace's Connor Gibson.
What Does the Fossil Fuel Industry Want?
Although environmentalists are not happy with what they perceive as Obama's timidity, the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic about the steps he did take as president. They have leveled blistering criticism about Obama's efforts to slow down the Keystone Pipeline; they don't like his new auto emissions standards; they are unhappy with new EPA mercury emissions rules for boilers; and they don't like the fact that permits for drilling and fracking on federal lands have slowed.
The industry is looking for a victory in the battle over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry heavy tar-sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, exporting some portion of the oil overseas. Construction of the pipeline was confronted by an active movement of citizens concerned about the impact that the pipeline would have on communities and on the threat burning the tar sands posed to the planet. Burning all the available tar sands would be "game over" for the climate, according to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, one of the nation's most respected climate change experts. Romney has vowed to give the project clearance on his first day in office, while Obama has approved a portion of the segment, and has allowed for further environmental impact study of the northern portion.
The industry also wants carte blanche to use federal lands for the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources and foul both air and land -- in addition to spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process.
The industry is calling for a streamline on the permitting process for fossil fuel development on all lands. While industry's ads have argued that increased drilling will decrease gas prices, global gas prices largely follow international trends.
The industry is also keen to hold onto to the billions of fossil fuel subsidies it receives each year from the federal government. According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel subsidies from the government are 12 times greater than renewable energy.
No matter who wins the presidency, there will be major battles on each of these issues. The question is, after years of fossil fuel propaganda, how engaged will the American public be in the effort to save the planet from the fossil fuel industry?
The Price of Fossil Fuel Propaganda
According to author and activist Bill McKibben, "This will be the warmest year in American history. It came with the warmest month in American history, July. It featured a statistically almost-impossible summer-in-March heat wave. It brought us a drought so deep that food prices have gone up 40 percent around the world. It brought us this completely unprecedented mega-storm, the biggest storm, as one weatherman put it yesterday, to hit New York since its founding in 1624," McKibben told Time.
The problem according to McKibben is that "there's been a 20-year bipartisan effort in Washington to accomplish nothing, and it reached its comedic height this summer when our presidential candidates, despite barnstorming through the warmest summer in American history, seemed not to notice. The reason is the incredible power of the fossil fuel industry. Until we can diminish that power, I imagine nothing very large will be done to deal with climate."
Hurricane Sandy has launched a full frontal attack on fossil fuel industry propaganda.
It is up to us to follow in her path.
Will Dooling contributed to this article.
Today Greenpeace joins a coalition of environmental, civil rights and democracy reform groups that are calling upon Duke Energy to join the 38 other companies that have left the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC -- see the letter the coalition sent to CEO Jim Rogers this morning.
Why, you ask? And WTF is ALEC??
ALEC is a corporate bill mill--it brings companies like Duke, Exxon, Koch Industries, Phillip Morris and other bad actors together with conservative state lawmakers in order to draft laws. You may have noticed how certain controversial state laws spread like wildfire across the country, including voter suppression, union-busting bills, attacks on clean energy programs, and other items you wouldn't expect the average person to ask their politicians to do. ALEC was behind all of these on behalf of its corporate members, who are eager to dodge lobbying laws and get relatively cheap access to our Statehouses.
Duke Energy in particular has deep ties to ALEC, sending it tens of thousands of dollars in support, helping ALEC oversee state operations in South Carolina and Indiana, and supporting the creation of ALEC's anti-environmental bills.
Duke Energy has distinguished itself from other polluters with rhetorical commitments to tackling global warming and implementing clean energy, but stops short of meaningful action. By dumping ALEC, Duke would take a step in the right direction toward the potential it has to become a cleaner energy company.
The full text and coalition signatories of the letter is posted in full here:
We, the undersigned, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and democracy reform groups are writing to express our concern for the extensive support provided by Duke Energy to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and request Duke Energy disassociate and stop funding ALEC immediately.
ALEC is not only responsible for drafting model state laws attacking renewable energy programs and climate policies, it is also intentionally crafting and supporting Voter ID bills and other legislation designed to suppress people from voting and participating in our democracy. We are concerned about this fundamental attack on our democracy and civil rights, and Duke Energy’s support for it.
Duke Energy has repeatedly stated concern over climate change, yet is participating in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which includes notorious climate skeptics like the Heartland Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (which we understand Duke Energy disassociated from in 2009 due to its role in obstructing national climate policy). In direct opposition to Duke Energy’s position on climate, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force continues to advance legislative efforts that attempt to deny the realities of climate change.
ALEC more broadly demonstrates an attack against state action on climate change and renewable energy, promoting laws and resolutions that undermine state’s abilities to address climate change and expand clean energy. While Jim Rogers has called for the US to “wean [itself] from the use of foreign oil,”[viii] Duke works alongside multinational oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron within ALEC, all of which are known for their heavy obstruction of U.S. climate and clean energy policies.
Perhaps most alarmingly, ALEC is spearheading attacks on our democracy and civil rights, promoting Voter ID legislation and other bills intended to make it more difficult for people to vote and participate in our democracy. These bills will most dramatically hit young people, people of color and poor people, suppressing them and their ability to vote.
Wake up and smell the frack fluid! But don't ask what's in it, at least not in Ohio, cause it's still not your right to know.
Ohio is in the final stages of making an Exxon trojan horse on hydrofracking into state law, and it appears that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) connected Exxon's lawyers with co-sponsors of Ohio Senate Bill 315: at least 33 of the 45 Ohio legislators who co-sponsored SB 315 are ALEC members, and language from portions of the state Senate bill is similar to ALEC's "Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act."
...disclosure of fracking fluids? On behalf of ExxonMobil?!
Frack fluids include unknown chemicals that gas drillers mix with sand and large amounts of water. The mixture is pumped underground at high pressure in order to retrieve gas and oil by fracturing shale formations. These are the chemicals that have caused widespread concern among residents near gas fracking operations, concerns echoed by doctors who don't know how to treat patients harmed by exposure to chemicals that oil companies keep secret. Oil companies like XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, the first company lined up to drill in Ohio's Utica shale.
Concern over unconventional energy like gas fracking may be the reason by Ohio SB 315 also addresses clean energy standards and drilling regulations. While the new law will allow doctors to obtain disclosure of fracking chemicals, it places a gag order on them...meaning some chemicals aren't disclosed to the public at all (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Instead, chemicals that subsidiaries of Big Oil use during fracking can remain exempt from public disclosure as "trade secrets," mirroring language of ALEC's model law.
What's most suspicious is that seven of the ten Ohio Senators co-sponsoring SB 315 are ALEC members, as are 26 of the 35 co-sponsoring Representatives.*
Among the co-sponsors are Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus and state Senator Troy Balderson. Senators Niehaus and Balderson are members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which approved the fracking "disclosure" bill internally sponsored by ExxonMobil, modeled after a Texas bill (see New York Times and ProPublica).**
Four of the co-sponsors of SB 315 attended ALEC's meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, although it is unclear which (if any) of them may have been inside the EEA task force meeting the day that the fracking chemical loophole bill was discussed and approved:***
- Rep. Cheryl Grossman
- Rep. Casey Kozlowski
- Rep. Louis Terhar
- Rep. Andrew Thompson
Some co-sponsors became ALEC members in the lead up to ALEC's late 2011 meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, where the fracking disclosure loophole model bill was finalized by ALEC's Energy, Environmental and Agriculture task force. Emails between representatives of ALEC, the Ohio state government and Time Warner Cable's Ed Kozelek show that last-minute recruitment of new ALEC members before the Scottsdale meeting brought in three state legislators who ended out co-sponsoring SB 315 (PDF pp. 71-76): Rep. Lou Terhar, Rep. Brian Hill and Sen. Bob Peterson (who was appointed to the Ohio Senate in 2012).
Head spinning yet? Let's summarize:
- Exxon pushed the fracking loophole bill through ALEC's [anti]environment task force,
- A couple of key Ohio legislators directly involved in that task force brought the bill back home...
- ...and then a pile of Ohio legislators used ALEC's model to mold Exxon's Ohio fracking disclosure loopholes into state law!
Beyond their involvement in these ALEC task force meetings, Exxon and API were involved in the creation of a similar fracking bill through the Council of State Governments before the ALEC model even existed. As if being a Private Empire isn't enough...
ALEC, CSG, OMG!
ALEC isn't the only group that peddles corporate-written state laws, as DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn pointed out in a blog on state fracking bills and the "Council of State Governments." With direct financial support from Exxon, API, TransCanada and others, the Council of State Governments (CSG) drafted a similar fracking chemical "disclosure" bill two months before ALEC's was internally approved, although they both appear to be modeled off of a Texas law.
While one of the co-sponsoring Senators of Ohio SB 315, Troy Balderson, is a member of CSG Midwest's Energy Committee, Ohio politicians aren't part of the Suggested State Legislature (SSL) committee that vetted the Council's version of the fracking bill. Because of that disconnect and the overwhelming influence of ALEC politicians sponsoring SB 315, ALEC appears to be the keeper of Exxon's fracking secrets in Ohio.
Regardless of the varying influence of groups like ALEC and CSG forging Big Business state laws, ExxonMobil is getting what it wants. According to Don't Frack Ohio!--a project of 350:
- Fracking companies can hide which chemicals they use in the fracking process by calling them ‘trade secrets’. That means they are exempt from telling you what they put in your water. What little they do disclose is 60 days after drilling takes place, too late for communities to test to show what was in their water before drilling, rendering the disclosure meaningless.
- The gas industry pays nothing for the mess they create. Gov. Kasich’s minor tax on individual wells is offset by new tax breaks on property taxes and other giveaways, which means the gas industry will pay less in Ohio taxes than they do in any other state in the country.
- No citizen notification or input will be allowed on any part of the fracking industry. There is no public notice, no public comment, and no right to appeal for drill sites, pipelines, or compressor stations.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has numerous ties to ALEC and was "involved with ALEC in its formative years," but he called for SB 315 to include full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Senators replaced true disclosure requirements with Exxon's loopholes and ALEC Representatives decided to leave them.
ALEC secrecy in Ohio
ALEC legislators have found ways to make their moves harder to track in light of repeated exposure of ALEC's pollution of democracy in the United States over the last year, and sometimes existing state laws don't help. Ohio's financial disclosure forms for legislators specifically mention that expenses or reimbursements from ALEC conferences do not need to be publicly disclosed. In Ohio and other states, ALEC dodges lobby laws through corporate-funded "scholarship" programs that are thoroughly documented by the Center for Media and Democracy through open records requests.
People for the American Way and Progress Ohio report that ALEC's scholarship fund in Ohio is financed donations from the American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy, Reynolds Tobacco, and other major corporations interested in buying the loyalty of Ohio lawmakers.
I'm sure you'd understand if you were in the same position. Sometimes steak and cigars are more important than energy that doesn't poison us.
*Cross-referenced between a list of ALEC legislators listed in an Aug. 9, 2011 email from the legislative aid of ALEC's Ohio State Chairman, Rep. John Adams, obtained through a public records request (see PDF pp. 82-84 and PFAW p.12).
**ALEC documents published by Common Cause show that Sen. Balderson was a member of ALEC's EEA task force throughout 2011, although Sen. Balderson did not attend the ALEC task force meeting last December in Pheonix, AZ, according to a staffer at his office over the phone, nor is he listed in emails obtained through a public records request as attending the previous meetings in New Orleans (Aug. 2011) or Cincinnati (Apr. 2011). Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus was a consistent member of ALEC's [anti]environment task force from August 2010-August 2011, the time period for which ALEC's EEA task force rosters are available. SB 315 co-sponsoring Representatives Carey, Damschroder and Derickson were all listed as members of ALEC's EEA task force as of August, 2011.
***Co-sponsors cross referenced with an email from ALEC Ohio State Chairman John Adams' legislative aid to Emily Petrovich of US Steel, dated 11/22/2011--eight days before the Scottsdale meeting (see PDF p. 138).
Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.
On January 16, the Los Angeles Times revealed that anti-science bills have been popping up over the past several years in statehouses across the U.S., mandating the teaching of climate change denial or "skepticism" as a credible "theoretical alternative" to human caused climate change came.
"Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom."
What the excellent Times coverage missed is that key language in these anti-science bills all eminated from a single source: the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
**Full Disclosure: At the time of the ALEC Exposed project's public release in mid-2011, Steve Horn was an employee of Center for Media and Democracy.