Environmental Protection Agency
Written by Sue Sturgis. Crossposted with permission from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
Last week Fortune magazine named the Southern Company a top utility for the sixth year in a row, citing its "wise use of corporate assets" and "social responsibility." The nation's fourth-largest electric utility is headquartered in Atlanta and serves more than 4.4 million customers in the South through its subsidiaries Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.
But the good press was soon followed by bad: Two days after Southern received Fortune's honor, the news broke that Greenpeace and the Virginia-based Climate Investigations Center obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the company was the leading funder of a controversial scientist whose work has been used to raise doubts about the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change in order to stall regulatory action. The Southern Company is the top carbon polluter among U.S. utilities and the eighth-biggest in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action.
The documents show Southern provided more than $400,000 between 2006 and 2015 to fund research by and part of the salary of Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics -- more than a third of Soon's total funding. In return, Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the utility the right to review his scientific papers before publication while promising not to disclose the company's funding without its permission. Other contributors to Soon's work revealed in the documents include oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute -- corporate funding sources that in some cases Soon failed to disclose in violation of journal policy.
The Smithsonian has asked its inspector general to review Soon's ethical conduct. In addition, three U.S. senators -- Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies including Southern, trade groups and other industry organizations seeking to unearth the extent of what they call "climate denial-for-hire programs."
"We've known for many years that the tobacco industry supported phony science claiming that smoking does not cause cancer," said Boxer, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "Now it's time for the fossil fuel industry to come clean about funding climate change deniers."
Soon, an aerospace engineer whose work has depended heavily on funding from fossil-fuel interests, has promoted the hypothesis that the sun causes climate change, making him a favorite of the climate change denial crowd. He has served as an adviser to various denialist think tanks and has spoken at denialist conferences.
Soon's scientific work has long been controversial, with a widely criticized 2003 study he co-authored with astronomer and fellow climate change denier Sallie Baliunas leading to theresignations of several editors who were involved in the journal's peer-review process. The publisher eventually admitted that the flawed study should not have been published.
Scientists have pointed out various weaknesses in Soon's work, such as misinterpreting other scientists' data and relying on obsolete information for analyses. Some have noted an even more fundamental problem: Soon's claim that any evidence of a sun effect means carbon dioxide is not driving climate change. For example, in a 2009 article titled "It's the Sun, Stupid!," Soon wrote that because he has assembled evidence supporting the hypothesis that the sun causes climatic change in the Arctic it "invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change."
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Earth Institute at Columbia University, critiqued Soon's claim at Real Climate:
But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.
Paying to turn doubt into 'conventional wisdom'
The Southern Company has long been involved in efforts to mislead the public about climate change and to block regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1998, as the United States was considering signing the international Kyoto Protocol treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions, Southern was part of an initiative called the Global Science Communications Team that brought together industry, public relations and think tank leaders to devise a plan to confuse the public about the state of climate science.
The company's representative on the team was research specialist Robert Gehri, who was also Soon's contact at the utility.
Though the Kyoto-era communications effort was supposed to be secret, a memo from the group written by an American Petroleum Institute representative became public. It said "victory" would be "achieved" when industry leaders, the media and average citizens "understand" uncertainties in climate science, and when recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom."
The draft plan called for spending $5 million over two years to "maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences," the New York Times reported:
It would measure progress by counting, among other things, the percentage of news articles that raise questions about climate science and the number of radio talk show appearances by scientists questioning the prevailing views.
While the United States signed the treaty that November, the Clinton administration did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. The Bush administration rejected it altogether three years later.
A decade after its efforts to block U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, the Southern Company had become the nation's top lobbyist on federal legislation to address climate change by creating an emissions trading plan, which it opposed. A 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found the utility had nearly twice as many climate lobbyists as any other company or organization. While the House of Representatives approved the bill, it was defeated in the Senate.
More recently, Southern deployed its lobbying power to block carbon emission limits for power plants proposed by the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the carbon regulations this summer, but they're now being challenged in court by 12 states and a coal mining company.
In 2013, as the administration was preparing to roll out the rules, a lobbyist with a utility consortium told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Southern Company devotes more resources to lobbying than most utility companies and is "very active in pushing its point of view." Indeed, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics classifies the company as a "heavy hitter" for its generous spending on lobbying (over $12 million in the 2014 cycle alone) and campaign contributions (over $1.4 million in 2014, with most of that benefiting Republicans).
Southern's campaign contributions have helped promote climate science denial in Congress. The top recipient of contributions from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 campaign cycle was Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is part of what Climate Progress has dubbed the "Climate Denier Caucus." Perdue has accused the EPA of "overreaching" in its efforts to address climate change and has echoed the line Southern has pushed, saying that "in science, there's an active debate going on."
And Perdue's not the only leading recipient of Southern's political support to help spread the questionable scientific talking points the utility has paid for: Rep. Gary Palmer, an Alabama Republican who received $18,000 from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 cycle, last year told WATE that science "says global climate change is more a function of nature and solar activity than it is anything man does."
Chalk it up as yet another "victory" for a company that last year raked in $2 billion in profits.
Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.
In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, "alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed "multiple conflicts of interest." Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):
"Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible." [...] "By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.
This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability. An anonymous source "familiar" with this case, likely one of Holmstead's colleagues at Bracewell & Guiliani, has been attempting to spin this embarrassing dismissal to reporters at Bloomberg and E&E Publishing. Ameren claims the judge has no proof that Holmstead would use privileged information, ignoring the judge's reference that Holmstead himself said he would use information from "internal meetings" during his time at EPA.
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Guiliani who represents coal mining and utility clients like Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Southern Company, spent four years as EPA's assistant administrator for Air and Radiation under President George W. Bush. His career is a dirty legacy of work against the public interest.
Holmstead's tenure at EPA was controversial all the way from his appointment, protested by U.S. Senators for his previous lobbying for coal companies, until his departure. He was caught censoring science within his office and single-handedly derailed a mercury pollution regulation that would have prevented thousands of premature deaths every year. Holmstead's interference blocked mercury pollution controls at U.S. coal plants for eight full years, as Greenpeace has documented, and confronted Holmstead directly for explanation.
While Ameren from his former government employer, Jeff Holmstead has been working to undermine the nation's first ever attempt to limit carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, misleading the public with fears that these rules will increase their utility bills. Holmstead has been repeatedly fact-checked on his conflation of electricity rates with people's bills, ignoring how energy efficiency measures are expected to lower bills over the long term, and also ignoring the immense costs of coal pollution to the public. Holmstead's office runs a front group called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC) to advocate for these polluters against climate and clean air rules, and representing ERCC, he has personally accompanied an Arch Coal lobbyist to the White House to undermine climate regulations.
Again, Greenpeace has directly sought answers from Mr. Holmstead on why he has dedicated his life to protecting companies that not only undermine science, but quite literally kill people as a regular part of their business operations:
It's nice to see a judge finally toss the fox out of the hen house. Jeff Holmstead says what he's paid to, and his clients make that money by polluting for free.
If you're John Stossel and you want to host a segment to rail against the US Environmental Protection Agency, who ought you call?
It turns out, a man who was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for defrauding the EPA!
Stossel's guest last night, Jay Lehr, was sentenced to six months--serving three--in a minimum security federal prison back in 1991, and his organization at the time was fined $200,000. So Jay Lehr knows about EPA corruption better than anyone: he was the guy caught "falsifying employee time sheets on a government contract" for EPA, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ironically, Lehr told Stossel that EPA is "fraudulent" in estimates of amounts of pollution that pose hazards to people's health, such as particulate matter in coal pollution, estimated to prematurely kill 13,000 Americans every year, according to the American Lung Association.
John Stossel did not mention Lehr's fraud conviction. Perhaps he didn't know his guest defrauded US taxpayers, but Stossel and Lehr share a flair for denial of global warming for polluting corporations like Koch Industries, which has financial ties to both men. Heartland is part of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network--the massive apparatus of state-based and national front groups that push political agendas that are favorable to billionaire executives like Charles Koch. Heartland itself has received money from Koch foundations.
Stossel hosts "Stossel in the Classroom," a product of the Koch-funded Center for Independent Thought. When Stossel ran a TV segment in 2009 that was intended to mislead students about the scientific reality of climate change, Koch's Claude Lambe Foundation gave CIT $35,000. The Center for Independent Thought has continued to receive money from Koch foundations every year since, according to IRS tax filings.
According to a Heartland Institute email advertising Lehr's attendance on Stossel's show, Mr. Lehr's relevance in attacking the EPA comes from a Heartland report he wrote urging the agency to be "systematically dismantled." This coming from a group soliciting money from coal company Murray Energy, former ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol and the Charles Koch Foundation.
This all fits into the framework that is becoming nauseatingly familiar to American voters: billionaires pull the strings, and our voices don't matter. Stossel is just one of many Koch-funded or Koch friendly media personalities that wrap Charles Koch's values in patriotic rhetoric and un-factual packaging. Meanwhile, people like Jay Lehr at groups like Heartland continue to carry Koch's water into the policy arena, influencing politicians to do things like undermine enforcement of laws to reduce air and water pollution or mitigate dangerous climate change.
USA V. LEHR, ET AL, Case Number: 2:91-CR-00068, Charges Filed 04/26/1991, U.S. District Court Southern District of Ohio.
Amid a dump of leaked American Legislative Exchange Council documents published by The Guardian last week, North Carolina is asking Duke Energy: Have you finally dumped ALEC?
NC WARN and ProgressNC have both raised the question, based on Duke Energy's inclusion in a list of "Lapsed" private sector ALEC members featured in The Guardian and an article in the Raleigh News & Observer.
ALEC's notes for Duke Energy's lapsed membership, as of April 22, 2013, only say "Merged with Progress Energy, new contacts," indicating that Duke's absence was only temporary as new personnel were assigned to participate in ALEC's work. Duke and Progress merged into the largest U.S. utility company last year.
Duke Energy, North Carolina's monopoly utility company, has long been a member of ALEC. Last year, Duke Energy refused to leave ALEC even after being petitioned, emailed and called by over 150,000 people to defect. ALEC's controversial legacy includes blocking climate change policies as part of Big Oil's 1998 master plan, the NRA's Stand Your Ground laws, which increase homicide rates, and "Voter ID" bills that suppress legitimate American voters, especially students, the elderly and people with brown skin.
While Duke Energy has resisted calls to dump ALEC, it has responded to the pressure by distancing itself from several items on ALEC's dirty lobbying laundry list:
- Duke has repeatedly pushed back on any association with ALEC's Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws.
- Duke's call for action to address global warming clash with ALEC's legacy of climate change denial, including new draft policies to interfere with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas rules, and a bill that forces teachers to misrepresent climate change science to their students, now law in at least four states, thanks to state legislators implementing ALEC's model bills.
- Duke has explicitly denounced ALEC's attacks on state Renewable Portfolio Standards-laws to increase utility electricity generation from cleaner sources. Duke takes credit for helping create North Carolina's RPS.
So why has Duke Energy resisted popular pressure to leave ALEC, including from its own ratepayers? If Duke doesn't like ALEC's history shilling for climate change deniers, nor the National Rifle Association, nor the Republican party's voter disenfranchisement strategies, what is making Duke stay?
ALEC's new attacks on rooftop solar electricity producer are right in line with Duke Energy's attempt to pay back 29% less to homeowners whose solar panels feed extra electricity back into the grid, despite the fact that these homeowners fronted the costs of installing and maintaining solar panels themselves.
Duke is terrified of the prospect of rooftop solar energy, which threatens its century-old monopoly business model. Duke is used to being the dominant company providing power to North Carolina residents, and they can basically charge customers as much as they want. More customers are choosing to install their own solar panels as the technology rapidly becomes cheaper, keeping money in the pockets of ratepayers rather than Duke's executives.
ALEC's Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution, discussed last week at its States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington, DC, would complement dirty utilities like Duke Energy that are working to make it more costly for people to feed their own solar power into the electrical grid. See here for ALEC's new anti-environmental resolutions.
Which Utilities will be Using ALEC's State Lawmakers to Attack Solar Energy?
The new ALEC resolution was crafted with help from lobbyists at Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade association for Duke and most other large U.S. utility companies.
EEI's roster also includes Arizona Public Service (APS), the utility that tried to force Arizona's residential solar electricity producers to pay $50 per month for feeding unused electricity back into the grid. In the end, the monthly fee was reduced to $5 per month, which still serves as a disincentive for homeowners to install their own solar panels.
As it sought to make net metering more expensive for small-scale solar producers, APS lied to the public, denying its funding of anti-solar TV advertisements run by Koch brothers front groups.
APS recently rejoined ALEC after disassociating for a short year. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force includes APS and presumably Duke Energy, among other dirty energy giants. The EEA task force is governed by American Electric Power's Paul Loeffelman and Wyoming state Representative Thomas Lockhart, friend of the coal industry.
Duke Can Still Do the Right Thing
Duke Energy needs to make its intentions clear.
The company can go with the Koch brothers, ALEC, and companies like APS, and financially punish North Carolinians who choose to produce their own electricity. Or, it can finally dump ALEC, its bad policies and anti-democratic processes and shift to a business model that embraces the power of the sun. It can continue to plan around a cost on carbon emissions and phase out dirty coal that aggravates everything from climate change to water pollution to asthma.
We hope to get the right answer from Duke Energy soon.
Last week, six Greenpeace activists attended a U.S. House Energy & Power Subcommittee hearing on President Obama's climate change action plan. We stood out--we wore tin foil hats to highlight the insanity of denying global warming, as some members of Congress continue to do here in 2013.
Last night, Rachel Maddow asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the tin hats and the significance of policymakers that deny a top priority problem for the EPA:
Here's the teaser that led into that clip:
The U.S. public is increasingly wising up to the reality of global warming. We're being hit by more and more multi-billion dollar climate & weather disasters like hurricane Sandy, the recent Great Plains heat waves and (most likely) ongoing "unprecedented" flooding in Colorado--disasters pushed beyond their natural variability by the changing conditions of our new climate. The latest science tells us to expect more of this, and to expect things to get worse.
The people who are paid to professionally deny climate change need to be continually exposed. The politicians who prioritize their fossil fuel donors over their constitutents need to be exposed.
The tin foil hats were one portion of Greenpeace's ongoing effort to hold climate deniers accountable for their wildly irresponsible behavior. Stay tuned for more.
Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.
The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.
That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.
It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO.
This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.
It's the second study that got him in trouble.
"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."
From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link
The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky.
"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote.
AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."
The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP.
As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.
Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP.
Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources.
It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,
Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.
Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."
"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.
"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study
Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process.
Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."
Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision
Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:
It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.
There's also a tragic human side to this tale.
"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."
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.
Today at a well-attended energy forum hosted by Politico, I shed some light on the role of coal lobbyist Jeffrey Holmstead in blocking pollution reductions for his coal utility and mining clients after he said we can't "regulate our way to clean energy." Here's the video:
UPDATE 11/16: Holmstead was later confronted on camera by Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project after the disruption at the Politico forum. Watch Holmstead re-write the history of his attacks on mercury pollution laws:
As I waited inside for Mr. Holmstead to step on stage, members of Greenpeace's Climate Crime Unit stood outside handing out WANTED posters of both Holmstead and chief oil lobbyist Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute, who was also present.
Jeff Holmstead, who is often quoted in newspapers as a former Air and Radiation Administrator for the George W. Bush Environmental Protection Agency or a "partner" (read: lobbyist) at Bracewell & Giuliani's corporate law firm here in DC, is rarely credited as an influence peddler for some of the most notorious polluters in the country.
Polluters like Duke Energy, Southern Company, and Arch coal are paying Holmstead's bills. These laggard coal-reliant companies are responsible for ecologically destructive coal mining and the carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change, not to mention a litany of dangerous pollutants.
Jeff Holmstead's job as their lobbyist is to delay any clean air rules, clean water rules or climate change laws that threaten the billions in profit these companies make by getting to pollute for free. Since he started officially working for them, his firm has been paid over $13.7 million dollars for the dirty work of Holmstead and his partners at Bracewell & Giuliani. He is the perfect example of the political revolving door: he was a coal lobbyist who was placed at the head of our government's clean air department before jumping back on the payroll of coal companies to dismantle the rules he was supposed to uphold. Here are some of
Holmstead's greatest polluter hits:
- Eight years of delay for mercury pollution controls at US power plants. As part of the George W. Bush EPA, Holmstead swapped out a technology-based solution to mercury emissions from coal plants with a rule that was later declared illegal by a US District Court. This bait-and-switch happened in December, 2003; it took the US EPA until Dec. 2011 to put the effective mercury rule back in place. EPA currently estimates that up to 11,000 people's lives could be saved each year by controlling mercury pollution--see EPA Factsheet.
- Led the Bush administration's "Clear Skies Initiative," a deceptively-titled name for a series of proposed air pollution laws that actually allowed for more coal pollution.
- Attacks on greenhouse gas regulations through the Clean Air Act: Holmstead was the infamous co-author behind the scenes of Senator Lisa Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act" in 2010.
- Ongoing attacks on pollution controls through ERCC front group: the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" is a coal industry front group run out of Holmstead's office. They have worked to block any regulation of poisonous coal ash, greenhouse gas emissions from coal and the mercury pollution controls that Holmstead already delayed for eight years.
- Work for a Koch front group that denied the existence of acid rain: "Citizens for the Environment" was a spinoff of the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which eventually became David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. Citizens for the Environment had no actual citizen membership, according to the New Yorker.
FOR MORE: See Jeff Holmstead's PolluterWatch profile.
“Mr. Holmstead, Southern Company and Duke Energy pay you to block those regulations. They pay you to block climate legislation. They don’t want clean energy. You need to be reported as the coal lobbyist that you are. When you were in the George W. Bush EPA you blocked mercury controls on power plants for eight years. Eight years—do you know how many thousands of people may have died as a result of that decision, Mr. Holmstead? You need to be held accountable for that. You need to be held accountable as a lobbyist for coal interests.” (click to return to top)
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.