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)
We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:
This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.
Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.
That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder, the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.
If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.
In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?
Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle
Posted on behalf of Phil Radford, Greenpeace's Executive Director in the U.S.
TransCanada has some explaining to do.
Greenpeace just sent a letter to TransCanada's CEO, Russ Girling, as well as the company's board of directors asking for complete documentation of how it came to its inflated conclusions on Keystone XL pipeline jobs here in the U.S. That letter is posted in full below (click here to see it).
We are following up on a letter Greenpeace sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week noting that TransCanada's job claims per mile of U.S. pipeline are 67 times higher than the estimates they provided to the Canadian government for its portion of Keystone XL. SEC notified us that our complaint was sent to their enforcement division.
TransCanada has already bit back at our complaint, insinuating that Greenpeace doesn't know anything about pipelines. Perhaps TransCanada can explain why its existing Keystone pipeline leaked 14 times in less than 18 months when it anticipated a rate of 1.4 leaks per decade -- check out this infographic for descriptions of the first twelve leaks. Nebraska's ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and the Ogallala aquifer cannot be subject to TransCanada's insufficient pipeline safety standards, especially when that pipeline carries corrosive tar sands for almost 2,000 miles. And with well over 1,000 miles of pipeline proposed in our country, it's alarming that as little as 50 people may be employed to monitor and maintain it, as Cornell's Global Labor Institute suggests. Read the independent Cornell report yourself.
TransCanada has also boosted its employment statistics by equating one job to one full year of employment for one person. This is part of how TransCanada and its allies inflated State Department estimates of less than 7,000 jobs, while the Cornell assessment concludes that Keystone XL could kill more jobs than it would create. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others are paying big for advertising campaigns that re-hash TransCanada's flawed 20,000 jobs claim, and from there claim hundreds of thousands of jobs from indirect employment. By indirect employment I mean services the oil industry isn't actually providing, which would would dry up after pipeline construction ends.
Unfortunately, the media is buying TransCanada's lies despite some reporting from the Washington Post and others that have already called the jobs numbers into serious question. According to Media Matters, 0% of broadcasters covering Keystone XL were critical of the jobs claims. Things weren't much better in coverage on cable news (11%) or print news (5%) either. Excluding USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, all major media outlets quoted more Keystone XL pipeline supporters than opponents. That's pretty bogus--Jack Gerard must have been popping the champagne over at the American Petroleum Institute headquarters as he put millions of dirty dollars to work through advertising campaigns like "Vote 4 Energy."
It's ridiculous although unsurprising that TransCanada and Big Oil act as if pipeline jobs are the only ones that exist. Why mention that any dollar invested in a polluting, outdated, climate-destroying industry is better invested in creating jobs in the clean energy sector? Big Oil would never be that forthcoming. They'd rather keep Americans fenced within the Kingdom of Crude, where not only are they the most profitable industry on earth, but taxpayers still pay handouts for their multi-billion dollar operations.
Dear Mr. Girling:
I read with considerable interest your company’s response to our request to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it investigate the possible illegal use of misleading and deceptive job claims to win approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would boost your company’s bottom line considerably:
“These groups have never built or operated a pipeline,” said company spokesman, Terry Cunha, to Politico.
Mr. Cunha is correct; Greenpeace has never built a pipeline funneling corrosive tar sands crude oil across the heartland of the United States, endangering America’s groundwater, and then selling the oil overseas. What we do have experience in, however, is examining facts. Your claims just don’t add up. How will your pipeline create 67 times more jobs in the U.S. than your company told Canadian officials it would in Canada?
Greenpeace calls for an end to destructive tar sands mining, which you must be aware is fueling global climate disruption and poisoning indigenous people in northern Alberta. Our opposition extends to projects like Keystone XL that aim to solidify continued decades of carbon pollution. I must admit that we probably won’t ever try to build something that will spill oil, threaten aquifers and create a several thousand mile-long terrorist target.
However, you clearly do have such expertise, both in building pipelines and watching them spill, as demonstrated by 12 reported leaks in the first year of your existing Keystone pipeline’s operation. That’s why I’m inviting you to (possibly) head off SEC action and significant public embarrassment by explaining how TransCanada created such contradictory job creation claims.
I invite you to provide a detailed, plain-language explanation of this remarkable difference in job creation rates. Several groups of people await this important explanation, including investors, dozens of politicians and pundits who have recycled your company’s fictitious job creation numbers, and SEC enforcement officials eyeing SEC Rule 10b(5) – Employment of Manipulative and Deceptive Practices.
Greenpeace also would appreciate it if you could direct your contractor, Ray Perryman, to give a detailed accounting of the assumptions and methodology of the calculations he performed for your company on the pipeline’s supposed benefits.
We’ll gladly post any detailed, credible explanation of this wide discrepancy in job creation numbers on our website.
Cc: TransCanada Corporation Board of Directors
Sent by email, fax and direct mail.
The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
Vote 4 Energy mock commercial:
Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.
Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech -- see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:
Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world.
Today, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled its 2012 Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign, centered around a major election-linked CNN advertising package that PolluterWatch helped expose last month with audio recordings from inside the studio. Vote 4 Energy attempts to show 'real Americans' who are 'energy voters,' meaning they are committing to vote for whichever politicians support Big Oil's dirty agenda in this election year. Typical. API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote 4 Energy ad, space that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to normal people.
Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock commercial to show how API and it's oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) have to fake citizen support for the oil industry:
The American Petroleum Institute (API) is Big Oil's top lobbying firm, using a $200 million budget to push dirty energy incentives and tax handouts for oil companies into our national laws. They have been caught in the past staging rallies for their Energy Citizens astroturf campaign, as revealed by Greenpeace in a confidential API memo to oil executives. Why do they fake citizen support? Probably because Americans overwhelmingly support clean energy over dirty oil development.
Knowing that API is rolling out the astroturf on cable TV, we decided to roll out actual astroturf at the location of their press conference today, literally making attendees walk down a long astroturf 'green carpet' shrouded by Big Oil logos as they entered the event. The K St lobbyists seemed downright confused by seeing the corporate logos that are normally invisible at API events.
Inside, API CEO Jack Gerard announced the campaign and promoted dirty energy development like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in his "State of American Energy" address. Apparently Jack thinks he's the President of United States of Energy, I thought he was just an oil lobbyist. Reporters leaving the session spoke about how bogus the event was--same old same old from Jack.
Jack Gerard may want to trick Americans into his Vote 4 Energy nonsense, but he demonstrates the same predictable rhetoric that oil companies always use to make themselves sound somewhat responsible, when everyone knows they aren't--see our profiles for ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, all multi-billion dollar corporations, making record profits even in a global recession, and looking for more tax breaks and handouts. If you are watching election coverage on CNN and spot API's astroturf ad, don't buy the lie. Vote for yourself, not oil executives.
In response to the American Petroleum Institute's "Energy Tomorrow" advertisements, which push the familiar threats of lost jobs and a dead economy if the government ups accountability measures on Big Oil, NRDC has released their own advertisement in response.
"How are we supposed to pollute the air and water if we're being watched all the time?" complains one mock oil baron.
API has clearly dumped a lot of money into creating and distributing these ads--they've spent millions in the past--and Energy Tomorrow is but one of API's efforts to influence public opinion. The Institute is also heavily invested in public education, creating energy curricula for teachers that lean heavily on the importance of their own industry, and even sponsoring the Boy Scouts Energy Merit badge!
Why spend so much money on such indoctrination? According to a leaked API memo:
"Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."
Hey Jack Gerard: you're a lobbyist, not a teacher, and certainly not a scientist. If you really want to be either, Halloween is next month, and you can probably afford a fancy costume.
The American Petroleum Institute is so bent on protecting the pollution industry that it is willing to cast public health aside in favor of saving a buck.
Politico's Morning Energy today reported that API and the Manufacturers Alliance are complaining about EPA moves to strengthen the Clean Air Act's standards, which must be based solely on heath considerations, according to the Supreme Court. For API to speak out against an improved Clean Air Act shows a callous disregard for those who have been sickened or killed from pollution-induced health problems, such as asthma or heart failure.
Politico's Josh Voorhees wrote,
"The Manufacturers Alliance’s Donald Norman and API’s Howard Feldman will warn that the agency’s regulations would be too expensive for industry and put almost the entire country into nonattainment for federal air quality limits, including rural areas where no one lives. EPA’s rules are due in mid- to late October."
In a blog response, the National Resources Defense Council notes that the industry's typical "economic disaster" prophesy is likely blown out of proportion, as such economic scare-claims [pdf] over environmental regulation have historically been.
In typical form, Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute released a video claiming that holding oil companies accountable during offshore drilling operations and after oil spills will have the usual dire economic consequences: job loss, higher taxes, and "driving small-and mid-sized firms out of business and shutting down access to domestic energy resources."
This follows common scare-talk any time an industry giant faces new regulations in the public interest--ballooning the price tag of improving worker safety conditions or environmental precautions and predicting economic apocalypse. As if the oil industry isn't making enough money, or spending enough money, buying Congress to prevent ever-dreaded accountability legislation.
Keep in mind, Jack, that history shows how frequently cost estimates of environmental regulations are blown way out of proportion beforehand, while it is actually cleanup costs that are grossly underestimated. Kindly send a memo to BP, Halliburton, and your other members as well on that one.
While Gerard will never admit it, an Energy [R]evolution is possible, and calling out those who value green paper over a green planet is a vital part of getting the public behind real solutions: energy conservation and efficiency, a decentralized renewable energy economy, and a phase-out of the dirty fossil fuels that have led to global warming.
Stalling and obstructing are not coveted American values, but innovation is. It's time to go beyond oil, where the fortune of dirty influence peddlars like Jack will just be a stain on history.