Peabody Energy dumps retirees in to company "created to fail," then cuts their pensions and benifits
Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the US and one of the largest in the world, is once again embroiled in controversy over shady treatment of employees. In 2007, Peabody Energy created Patriot Coal, a spin-off company comprised of Peabody’s eastern US mines. According to lawsuits involving the United Mine Workers (UMW), Patriot was formed as a place to stash union mines in West Virginia and the Midwest, along with the significant pension and health-care obligations that these eastern mines held. According to UMW, Patriot was essentially a "company created to fail," to give Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (another major US coal company who sold union mines to Patriot) an easy way to avoid paying union pensions and health-care benefits, while continuing to profit from their giant, nonunion surface mines in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
Once Patriot declared bankruptcy, which it did last July, all of the pensions and medical benefits Peabody was obligated to pay their workers were put on the chopping block, just as Peabody had hoped. If Peabody succeeds, 10,000 retirees and another 10,000 dependents will lose the benefits promised them. Now, retired mine workers who labored for Peabody under the promise that they would receive health care and pensions, are outraged. Protests have forced Peabody to move its annual meeting to Wyoming, to avoid the civil disobedience by coal miners in the east. This is just the latest chapter in a long history of deceptive and exploitative practices by Peabody Energy and the coal industry in general. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group funded by Peabody claims “Coal = Jobs.” But Peabody’s callous treatment of pensioners exposes what math the coal industry really cares about.
Twenty four hours before the first presidential debate, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a front group for the coal industry, has launched a new ad as part of a $35 million dollar PR campaign.
The new ad, now playing on television stations around the country, is typical of the coal industry propaganda prominent in this year's presidential election. Candidate Mitt Romney has mirrored coal industry messaging, releasing political ads decrying President Obama's"war on coal" and announcing "I like coal" during the first presidential debate.
A Greenpeace investigation that looked in to the history of coal funded advertising has revealed that the coal industry has been using the same scare tactics designed to limit regulation since the 1970's, when the Clean Air Act and Acid Rain legislation forced the industry to invest in a modicum of environmental protection, like scrubbers for smokestacks.
In this new campaign, Big Coal’s PR flaks at ACCCE have recycled the same tactics of attacking the EPA, promoting the myth of clean coal, threatening economic catastrophe, and stoking nationalist fears that the industry has used for decades.
ACCCE’s newest ad, released October, 2:
With emotive piano riffs and sweeping shots of baseball diamonds for backdrop, the narrator in ACCCE’s latest creation praises the “proven clean coal technologies that have resulted from a can do attitude,” with all the sappy sincerity of a political ad. The ad continues with a stern warning that “heavy handed EPA regulation” and “fads” like renewable energy are “giving those countries who are wisely increasing their reliance on coal an economic advantage,” while pictures of the great Wall of China scroll over the screen.
ACCCE’s brand new $35 million dollar ad campaign relies on the myth of clean coal, attacks on EPA, and an appeal to xenophobia…sound familiar? It should.
Take this other recent ad by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) attacking the EPA:
In this 2012 ad a narrator warns that EPA regulations designed to reduce the amount of mercury released by coal fired power plants will “throw even more of us out of work.” The ad makes no mention of the dangers of mercury, a pervasive toxin that causes serious mental and physical issues, especially in children and pregnant women. However it does make one of the most common coal industry threats – that people must choose between the environment and a healthy economy.
Compare the bull riding bombast in the ad above to this 1974 ad, attacking the Clean Air Act:
The ad claims that the Clean Air Act, a seminal piece of legislation that has drastically reduced air pollution and saved countless lives, will cause “galloping unemployment.” Regulate coal – lose your job.
As you can see from these similar ads, using economic threats to scare people away from pollution regulation has been a tactic of the coal industry for a long, long time. (FYI – Gross Domestic Product has tripled since the Clean Air Act was passed.)
Are you scared yet?
Well how bout some good old fashioned xenophobia:
This 2007 ad reminds us that regulating coal makes dictators smile, because coal regulations force America to buy natural gas from unfriendly foreigners. Yep, having clean air and water plays right in to Hugo Chavez’s hand. Who knew?
But making autocrats grin seems trivial compared to the threats outlined in this 1974 ad:
According to American Electric Power, (which is now a major funder of ACCCE) legislation to stop acid rain will result in middle-eastern petro-princes buying all of America’s coal. The ad says “The middle east oil companies are fast capturing the world’s money. There isn’t much they’re incapable of buying. So it could happen.” Almost as chauvinist as it is logically incongruous, this ad underscores the coal industry’s reliance on completely baseless claims designed to scare legislators and the public into inaction.
Next they will be telling us that attempts to measure air pollution will make the lights go out and we won’t be able to watch TV!
Which they did in 1974:
This ad (right) warns us that the EPA’s plan to measure pollution at the top of coal smoke stacks would shut down power generation, causing blackouts. Terrifying! Except the EPA went ahead and measured pollution from the top of the coal stacks, and there were no blackouts due to EPA regulation in 1975, or since.
So what does that tell us about claims by pro-coal politicians that EPA regulations will cause blackouts this year in 2012? Senate republicans claim that “EPA’s train wreck of new regulations on energy providers will destroy jobs, raise electricity prices, threaten the reliability of the electric grid, and increase the chance of blackouts.” Should we believe them? Or is this just one more lie from a fear mongering industry that has been making the same idle threats for almost four decades?
If you're a coal lobbyist like Jeff Holmstead, getting stuck in an elevator with Greenpeace activists is an inconvenient occupational hazard, especially if you then can't find a cab and cars are honking at your during an uncomfortable conversation about your work to attack pollution laws. See this K Street confrontation for yourself.
If you've followed the news around EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule, which aims to reduce the U.S. power sector's large contributions to global warming, you've probably seen Jeffrey Holmstead in the news. Usually, Holmstead is presented as a "partner" at Bracewell & Giuliani, and as a former EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation under George W. Bush.
This descriptor fails to present Holmstead's current and past work as a registered lobbyist for coal companies, and leaves out the destructive decisions that Holmstead made in his stint at EPA, which directly contributed to the premature death of tens of thousands of people in this country. It leaves out the $17.5 million that coal industry clients have paid Bracewell & Giuliani for its lobbying services, where Mr. Holmstead is a prized hired gun against the EPA.
This is why I began our tense conversation with a simple question: why doesn't Jeff Holmstead use his skills, qualifications and experience to find real solutions to global warming?
Every time Mr. Holmstead has appeared in the news to discuss the EPA's proposed Clean Power Rule to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, he doesn't have much good to say. "As someone who believes in the rule of law, I think this clearly goes beyond what EPA is allowed to do under the Clean Air Act,” Holmstead said at an event yesterday at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where I asked if his naysaying is simply to help Arch coal sell coal. Notice that Holmstead doesn't respond: see minute 7:30 in bottom video posted by BPC.
Mr. Holmstead's criticisms aren't surprising for a coal lobbyist, but Holmstead rarely acknowledges his coal clients and instead uses his former EPA credentials and his legal expertise to help steer Washington DC politicians, lawyers and journalists toward the coal industry's interpretations of proposed environmental regulations.
Holmstead likes to conflate rising electricity rates with the average consumer's utility bill, ignoring the proposed rule's well-known intent to reduce consumer bills through energy efficiency targets. This deceptive talking point was called out by Susan Tierney of the Analysis Group at yesterday's event at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Holmstead knows this isn't honest--he was previously called out by NRDC's Frances Beineke during a segment on The Diane Rehm Show.
He talks about how reducing U.S. emissions won't make a dent in reducing global emissions, thanks to rising coal use in coutries like China and India, as if the U.S. first real national attempt to reduce emissions won't give us legitimacy in global climate negotiations. When I used this as an example of one of Mr. Holmstead's obstruction tactics.
With the science understood, with the financial stakes so high and with shocking estimates of the current human death toll from global warming, why does Jeffrey Holmstead make a career working for an industry that is killing people?
I don't have an answer, but I have sought one. For "someone who believes in the rule of law," Mr. Holmstead has found a lot of ways to protect coal company executives at the expense of other people, within the boundaries of law or outside of the boundaries of enforcement. Avoiding personal responsibility is nothing new for Mr. Holmstead. In 2011, I confronted him for his decisions to delaying mercury regulations at U.S. power plants for eight full years, a decision he made as head of the George W. Bush EPA's air and radiation office. That decision allowed tens of thousands of people to prematurely die from mercury's toxic effects, according to EPA estimates of the rule's health benefits.
After I was booted out, Gabe Elsner of the Energy and Policy Institute asked Mr. Holmstead about his role in delaying mercury regulations. The interaction says a lot about Holmstead's aversion to recognizing the indirect role he has played in hurting people:
For someone whose decisions have had a terrible impact on the American public, Jeff Holmstead has faced little accountability for his sooty legacy. PolluterWatch will continue to monitor and expose the coal industry's work to undermine public health and public policies designed to solve problems their business creates.
SourceWatch: Jeffrey R. Holmstead
Well, this is the most embarrassed that the Heartland Institute has been since...21 days ago when they were run in circles for their denial of climate change at the National Press Club! To get a sense of how bad a month it has been for the liars at Heartland, footage of that humiliating event is available on Stark Reports.
And now, hat tip to Lee Fang and Nick Surgey posting on Republic Report for this cringe-worthy confrontation of Heartland Institute CEO Joseph Bast's ongoing shilling for tobacco companies. Bast denied writing a 1998 opinion article dismissing the health hazards of smoking cigarettes. Watch him eat his own words, hard, as the ghosts of propaganda-past revisit him.
Rather than accept the undeniable truth about cigarettes and cancer, Bast decided to stand by his own lies from over fifteen years ago. His article, "Five Lies About Tobacco," is still on Heartland's website. Funny how Bast suddenly remembered the piece after having it read back to him, blaming an anonymous pulmonologist he has lost contact with in order to defend the ludicrous claim that smoking seven cigarettes per day won't hurt you.
Right Joe. I'm sure you remember that as of 2012, Heartland still solicited funding from tobacco giants Altria and Reynolds American for funding, according to Heartland's own fundraising plan.
The clip was filmed at a coal industry convention. In recent years, Heartland has received funding from private coal mining company Murray Energy Corporation (MEC). CEO Bob Murray is so out-of-touch on climate science that other coal interests have trouble working with MEC, much like Joe Bast's extremely dishonest views even alienate others operatives in the small world of climate change denial.
We here at PolluterWatch have confronted Mr. Bast about his denial of climate change science at the behest of companies like Murray, the Koch brothers and anonymous billionaires like Barre Seid:
The coal industry’s efforts to export huge amounts of taxpayer-owned coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia has generated unprecedented opposition in the Pacific Northwest - tens of thousands of people have rallied, attended public hearings, and called on their elected officials to oppose coal export terminals that would disrupt and pollute communities and pose one of the biggest threats to the climate of any fossil fuel project in the world.
This controversy, along with the high risk nature of these proposals, has meant that many investors have avoided backing them. A major signal of these investor concerns came in January 2014, when Goldman Sachs dropped its coal export investment, especially since it followed a report from Goldman Sachs’ own analysts titled “The window for thermal coal investment is closing.”
But one key coal export investor apparently hasn’t yet received the memo. Ross Bhappu, a partner at a Denver-based private equity firm called Resource Capital Funds, has been the main source of money for Ambre Energy, the shaky Australian company behind two of the three remaining coal export proposals in Oregon and Washington, the Millennium Bulk Terminal and Morrow Pacific Project proposals on the Columbia River. That’s why ten community and environmental groups wrote a letter to Ross Bhappu last month, calling on him and his firm to drop its investment in Ambre Energy and its controversial and risky coal export proposals.
That’s also why we’ve launched a new website, www.RossBhappu.com. The website details how Ross Bhappu has used a $110 million bet on Ambre Energy - along with the company’s difficulties attracting other outside investment - to take more control of the company at the expense of other shareholders. We want to make sure that elected officials, investors, and communities that would be impacted by coal export projects know who is bankrolling these proposals. So check out the new website, read the details about Ross Bhappu’s bet on coal exports, and help us share the information. We’ll update the site with the latest news, so if you have a tip, let us know.
crossposted from rossbhappu.com
On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of Crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.
The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed "safe to drink," though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.
Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned
So little is known about 4-MCHM that regulators didn't even know it's boiling point. Now scientists are scrambling to find out how the chemical reacts with the chlorine in the municipal water system, and whether the chemical has leached into water heaters and water pipes in people's homes. Authorities recommend that all pipes that have come in contact with the pollutant be flushed, including water heaters and outdoor faucets. However, West Virginia American Water, the company that owns the water treatment facility contaminated by the coal chemical, is only offering a 10 dollar credit (1000 gallons) to consumers. The cost of flushing homes will therefore fall on already struggling West Virginians, where poverty is rampant and Walmart is the largest single employer.
The affected intake also supplies water to 9 counties surrounding Charleston, which contain multiple rural communities, like the small community of Pratt. Pratt was added to Charleston's municipal water system only two months ago. This was initially celebrated by the residents of Pratt, because it meant relief from the extremely poor quality water from local sources, which have been contaminated by Acid Mine Drainage, coal dust, and other coal industry impacts.
Water contamination from the coal industry is nothing new to West Virginians, who have lived with poisoned wells streams for generations. This spill, the latest and most dramatic in a long history of water contamination, exposes the problems of lax and inadequate regulation coupled with politicians that prioritizes the bottom line of the coal industry over the health and safety of people. The chemical 4-MCHM was exempted from federal laws that require disclosure. The tanks that held the chemical were not required to be inspected regularly, due to a loophole that exempted above ground tanks from inspection.
West Virginian politicians with close ties to the coal industry have continued to defend coal companies from federal and state regulation, even as 300,000 of their constituents went without drinkable water. Speaking at an event hosted by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) last week, Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s junior senator and former governor continued to defend the coal industry from reglation. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” said Manchin. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?” Manchin has significant financial ties to the coal industry.
The current governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, was also quick to defend the coal industry. In a press conference days after the spill, he said "“This was not a coal company. This was a chemical supplier where the leak occurred. As far as I know, there are no coal mines within miles of this particular incident.” Governor Tomblin's remarks ignore the fact that many communities affected by this spill are only using municipal water because local sources have already been poisoned by coal extraction and use. Tomblin also ignored the fact that Freedom Industries' product is a necessary part of the coal extraction and burning process.
To donate water to West Virginians, please visit the Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.
To volunteer or request clean water, visit the West Virginia Clean Water Hub.
Written by Greenpeace's Bonnie Barclay with input from Connor Gibson.
It might surprise quite a few who know me, but I'm actually quite a shy and introverted person. So what exactly moved me to show up at a Congressional hearing and put on a tin foil hat? Two words: Climate Deniers.
Denying climate change is as bizarre and out-of-touch as tin foil hat conspiracies. Congressional climate deniers need to accept the science and bolster the President's actions with a tax on carbon pollution. That's why we brought our tin foil hats to yesterday's hearing, called together by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Power subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). It focused on the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz testifying.
Whenever the members of Congress started saying false things about climate change, we tossed on the tin foil hats. By the end of the three-hour hearing, the silly tin hats were on our heads for almost half of the entire event.
Of all the politicians in yesterday's hearing who are known climate change deniers, West Virginia Rep. David McKinley gets the tin foil hat award for his completely false assertions about climate change science. Check out this CSPAN clip, starting at 2:01:26.
First, Rep. McKinley said, "Over the last forty years, there's been almost no increase in temperature." He was attempting to undermine the reliability of climate models, which in reality have underestimated climate change.
Worse, my jaw dropped when I heard Rep. McKinley claim that Arctic sea ice increased by 60% from last year to this year, a false figure he apparently got from a typo in a bad newspaper article! H/T @RLMiller--see NASA for the facts on how consistently and rapidly the ice cap has melted in recent years.
Finally, McKinley completely misrepresented the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), saying, "Most experts believe by 2083--in 70 years--the benefits of climate change could outweigh will still outweigh the harm."
Ummm...that is completely wrong. The IPCC has made it crystal clear that global warming is a very serious problem that demands immediate policy action if we have any chance of solving it. Perhaps the $391,000 McKinley has received from the coal industry explains some of his scientifically-irrelevant opinions--McKinley wrapped his speech up by promoting the coal industry.
My first Congressional hearing....
- Climate deniers in Congress make their points not by stating factual information from peer-reviewed studies, but by quoting newspaper headlines. I'm pretty sure those were meant to sell newspapers, not settle a debate.
- The hearing was packed. People do care about what Congress is OR isn't doing on climate change.
- It's actually not the "do-nothing Congress," as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) pointed out, it's much worse! "On Climate we're doing worse than nothing--we are affirmatively obstructing progress." [CSPAN, 38:25].
Luckily there were a few members of Congress who seem to get it, including these three:
Representative Waxman called out his elected peers for their obstruction and no serious proposals to solve the problems posed by global warming:
- "What's your plan? It's easy to criticize other people's solutions, but if all you did is criticize you're either a climate denier because you don't think anything needs to be done--'the science doesn't warrent it, it's not happening'--or, they're [sic] ignoring the warning of scientists." [CSPAN, 42:35]
Representative Eliot Engle (D-NY):
- "It's time for us to act and Congress has been ducking this issue, even going so far as to deny the basic science behind climate change. I've seen the devastating effects right in my area when hurricane Sandy hit New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. My district suffered huge devastation. Rising seas, stronger storms and flooding will only increase if we choose to do nothing[...]." [CSPAN, 2:55:35]
Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) pointed out the key logical disconnect with the naysayers who try to scare us into inaction:
- "My Republican colleagues are quick to argue that tackling climate change will hurt the economy. But in reality, climate change itself poses an enormous economic risk and failure to address it could be disaster to the global economy." [CSPAN, 1:59:43]
Climate Change Denial and Extreme Weather
In a week where we're seeing people's lives lost and communities devastated in Colorado by extreme flooding, the type of disaster we can expect more frequently thanks to climate change, one would think the urgency to act to avoid future economic devastation and loss of life would become crystal clear to those who we elected to represent us. Unfortunately, nothing seems to cause Congress to take action. It's like they missed the last year of weather events!
You can see the distortion of climate denial in Greenpeace's recent report, "Dealing in Doubt", which summarized how industrialists like the Koch brothers have funding fake science and sheer misinformation to make us question the hard truth about climate change. So it comes as no surprise that Koch Industries is the second highest donor this election cycle to the chairman of yesterday's hearing, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), as well as other Representatives on the subcommittee, like Koch's hometown favorite Mike Pompeo, and Texas politicians Joe Barton and Pete Olson.
I'm tired of seeing members of Congress put their head in the sand and deny climate change. It's an appalling manipulation of our future potential by people who are meant to represent us and do the right thing.
So why'd I show up for the hearing yesterday? People's lives and livelihoods are on the line. The strength and future resilience of our country and our communities and all we've built as a nation are at risk if we don't do anything. We're not do-nothing people. We're Americans. We lead. We work. We improve. We build. We innovate.
Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.
Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?
Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?
In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway
For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.
Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.
We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.
Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.
More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.
In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.
As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.
They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.
Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.
What we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.
They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.
This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.
The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.
Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.
Crossposted from Greenpeace's The Witness.
Shenanigans at the front door of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday reveal that the Chamber has dropped its lawsuit against the Yes Men, the activist duo famous for their elaborate prime-time pranks against Dow Chemical, Chevron, the World Trade Organization, and other giant entities known for putting their profit margins before people and the planet.
The Yes Men went to the Chamber yesterday morning in attempts to convince the business front group not to drop the lawsuit. Here's some footage of the announcement and confusion over who does and doesn't work for the Chamber:
That's right. The Yes Men want to be sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to their press release:
"Just as their case against us was finally heating up again, the Chamber decided to drop it," said former defendant Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men. "The Chamber knew this was our chance to challenge their silly claims and, since they claimed we had 'damaged' them, investigate the details of their finances through the discovery process. It's the height of rudeness to deprive us of this great opportunity." "The Chamber's lawsuit represented the only time in 17 years that anyone has been stupid enough to sue us," said former defendant Mike Bonanno. "This was the chance of a lifetime, and we profoundly deplore the Chamber's about-face."
Apparently, revenge isn't a strong enough reason for the Chamber to to cough up information on their secret financial backers or their obstruction on solving the critical issue of global climate change, the issue which sparked the original Yes Men parody press event and ensuing lawsuit. The Chamber sued the Yes Men in 2009 for holding a press conference at the National Press Club on the Chamber's behalf, announcing a reversal on the Chamber's efforts to block climate change legislation. The false event was interrupted by an actual Chamber official named Eric Wohlschlegal, who told attending press, "This guy is a fake! He's lying!" See this video:
The stunt threw the Chamber off balance as it had to clarify it would not stop obstructing national climate change policy. The following lawsuit was unprecedented for Yes Men hijinks. Even Dow Chemical didn't sue them, despite losing $2 billion worth of stock when Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum posed as a Dow official on a live BBC interview and took responsibility for the Bhopal chemical disaster (which Dow still won't own up to despite the death of 20,000 people). Yes Lab has a summary of the announcement at the Chamber's front steps in Washington, DC, including a list of questions the Yes Men wish the lawsuit's discovery process could have answered:
Some of the things we could have asked in court had they not withdrawn their lawsuit:
- Why does the U.S. Chamber lie even more than the American Petroleum Institute about the number of jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline?
- Why did the U.S. Chamber design a teaching program for US schools that favors coal over clean energy sources?
- And who pays them to lie to children... and adults?
- Why does the U.S. Chamber expend so much money to call into doubt the most mainstream climate science, and insult the most respected scientific bodies?
- Why does the U.S. Chamber fight not only unions, but even just shareholder activists?
- Why do they fight even tiny increases in the federal minimum wage?
- Why has the U.S. Chamber's law firm hired spies in try to discredit anti-Chamber activists?
- And finally, why is the U.S. Chamber fighting so hard to keep corporations from having to reveal their political spending?
PolluterWatch has more on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its anti-environmental practices.
Rarely do we meet those who have made careers selling us lies. Consider the oddball doctors who took tobacco money to deny a link between cigarette smoking and cancer, or the handful of scientists who take oil and coal money to discredit global warming science, or the people who have done both.
Last week, students in Wisconsin and Michigan stepped up to such an opportunity when CFACT Campus, the student arm of a well-known cabal of fossil fuel apologists, hosted climate change denier Willie Soon at several campus events around the country.
Dr. Willie Soon is a Smithsonian Institution astrophysicist paid by Charles Koch, ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and coal utility Southern Company to write papers dismissing climate change, publish op-eds saying coal pollution won't affect our health, refute the seriousness of ocean acidification, and apparently anything else he can be paid to deny. Dr. Soon has misrepresented himself by repeatedly claiming affiliation with Harvard University and using his credentials as an astrophysicist to make people believe he's a climate expert, and he shows no sign of stopping. Indeed, he told students in Madison, "I am as as qualified as anyone on the planet on this topic."
In both Madison, Wisconsin and East Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Soon was caught with his pants down. As the Michigan State News documented in its article and accompanying audio interview, Soon claims that all the scientists around the world who study and recognize the seriousness of climate change are motivated by money, yet somehow his funding from coal and oil companies for his extremely marginalized viewpoints doesn't matter.
Here is the dialog with Willie Soon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with direct links to key clips below:
1) Willie Soon insinuates ExxonMobil will no longer fund him (emphasis added):
"I have been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil will no longer give me any money for a long time. American Petroleum Institute, anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies. I write proposal and let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I'm happy to receive it." Click to watch (starts @ 1:52).
2) Dr. Soon stands behind his attempts to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with help from ExxonMobil lobbyists:
"I was trying to bring down IPCC--is that what you imply?! [...] Let it be known that I do not like IPCC, because IPCC does not stand for science, it is corrupting science." Click to watch (starts @ 3:32).
After a question referencing emails with ExxonMobil lobbyists to undermine climate research at the United Nations before it even hit publication, Dr. Soon quickly loses his cool over his record of global warming denial, peppering the student with mild insults before owning up to his actions.
3) Dr. Soon thanks anyone who uses petroleum products or electricity from coal for supporting his work:
"I really want to thank her, because she's receiving the electricity used for her house, she's driving cars, she's doing all of these things because you are funding me. It's not an oil or coal company. They are a company that provides a service to humanity--to people who want to use electricity." Click to watch (starts @ 5:14)
Anyone looking at Southern Company's record of pollution and political interference would be skeptical about its commitment to serve humanity. Soon continues with an aggressive rant claiming that the student isn't qualified to question his fossil fuel payments until she stops driving, using electricity, and wearing nylon.
4) Willie Soon states "I don't like to claim that I am an expert on anything," despite listing himself as an "expert in mercury and public health" for a discredited Wall Street Journal op-ed dismissing health concerns over mercury pollution from coal plants. Soon invented similar credentials for another opinion piece in the Washington Times, before he swapped back to being a 22-year veteran of "researching the relationship of solar radiation and the Earth's climate," research Dr. Soon did on the dime of oil and coal companies.
Basically, Willie Soon is an expert in whatever problems vested industries will pay him to deny. Michigan State students note how Willie Soon now refutes research indicating adverse impacts from ocean acidification, a global crisis that is married to climate change (both problems stem from humans burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).
That's effed up. This man makes a career lying to the public, not to mention our lawmakers, about some of the most serious issues of our time. Climate change is already contributing to the deaths of 400,000 people each year and costing global GDP about $1.2 trillion, according to a report commissioned by multiple nations. 98% of actual climate scientists (a distinction Dr. Willie Soon does not earn) agree that global warming is real and primarily drive by humans burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Not only has Dr. Soon lied to us and our lawmakers about the seriousness of global warming--he even lied directly to Congress in 2003 about his sources of funding at a time when he was promoting his study funded by the American Petroleum Institute, the $200 million/year oil and gas lobbying group. The Guardian wrote last year:
"In 2003 Soon said at a US senate hearing that he had "not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any organisation that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."
This is why it's crucial to demand accountability of people like Willie Soon. He is a public relations tool of oil and coal companies, and as a scientist attempting to publish in fields well outside of his expertise, that oil and coal money is crucial to recognize.
Here are some of the best examples of Soon's pseudo-science paid for by Big Oil and King Coal:
- 2003: An American Petroleum Institute-funded study claiming that the earth's global temperature hasn't risen. Three editors of the publishing journal resigned in protest over low scientific standards demonstrated by publishing Soon's work.
- 2005: A paper mis-attributing arctic temperature changes to solar variability, a thoroughly debunked notion that was funded by the American Petroleum Institute (API).
- 2007: A non-peer-reviewed paper refuting concerns over global warming's impact on polar bears, funded by API and the Charles G. Koch Foundation.
- 2009: A paper building upon Soon's 2005 research attempting to claim the sun is mostly responsible for temperature changes. This work was funded by API, ExxonMobil and Southern Company.
- 2013: Soon's ongoing "research" funding is now hidden through Donors Trust, a network used by the Kochs and other secretive interests who don't want their financial influence to be traced. Donors Trust is the sole source of almost half of recent budgets for CFACT, which paid for Soon's campus tour.
Dr. Soon's work is like a joke, but not the type you'd laugh at. While he cracks these fossil-funded zingers, reputable scientists warn that humanity is running out of time to stop climate change from self-reinforcing to the point that it spirals out of human control. As quoted by the Michigan State News, young conservatives on campus had trouble taking Dr. Willie Soon's presentation seriously:
“I’m not a science major, but I think (Soon’s presentation) has got valid points, but also other scientists who disagree with him have valid points,” Sobecki said. “I’m not crazy enough to think that six billion people don’t have an effect on climate in the world we live in.”
Science majors attending the MSU event didn't agree that Soon's points were particularly valid. See this account from a MSU Greenpeace student activist on PolluterWatch for more details.