A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered close ties between a Colorado political couple and at least six oil and gas industry front groups that have been fighting state regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens and the environment.
The husband and wife team are ex-state senator and onetime Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Josh Penry and his wife, founder of republican PR and fundraising firm Starboard Group, Kristin Strohm. Colorado has emerged as a key battleground in the national debate over shale drilling and fracking. The state’s oil and gas industry has over 50,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and plans to drill many thousands more every year into the foreseeable future. These wells have caused severe water and air pollution problems, and have sparked a grassroots movement against drilling and fracking across the state. Concern over pollution from fracking culminated in a series of local laws to ban or regulate fracking, efforts that sent shockwaves through the shale industry. To combat the growing threat of local control over drilling practices, the shale industry began funding political strategies to undermine local action against drilling. Enter Penry and Strohm, who who helped develop the shale industry’s sophisticated astroturf campaign strategy that was created in concert with legal strategies to override popularly-supported local drilling restrictions. (Astroturf is a term used to describe fake “grassroots” groups that are conceived and paid for by corporations or public relations firms to advance a business or political interest.)
Josh Penry has strong connections to both Colorado politics and the oil and gas industry. He became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 2006. While a state senator, he sponsored and passed legislation designed to benefit the drilling industry by boosting the use of gas-fired electric power plants. His biggest achievement was HB 1365, a bill designed to help Xcel Energy build gas-fired power plants. The bill was called the ”Clean Air Clean Jobs Bill,” and sold as a boon for the environment because it eased the transition from coal fired power to gas fired power. However, Penry made the intentions behind the legislation clear by promising a 15% increase in gas drilling in the state if the bill was passed. Josh Penry is apparently unconcerned about the enormous contribution that gas extraction and combustion makes to climate change, explaining during a debate that it doesn’t "keep [him] up at night." However, studies of highly fracked areas in Colorado raise alarms for the climate. One recent study of the Front Range drilling area in Colorado found a methane leakage rate of 19.3 tons per hour. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 86 times as powerful as CO2 at disrupting the climate. After surprising his staff and supporters by backing out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009 and serving out his time as State Senator, Penry became Vice President of EIS Solutions, a public relations and political strategy consulting firm that specializes in “grassroots coalition building.” The group has been a key cog in the fracking industry’s pushback against community resistance and the state of Colorado’s gas regulations. EIS advertises their ability to create a “path to advocacy.” In practical terms, this means EIS will create non-profit and fake grassroots groups to give the illusion of widespread public support for oil and gas drilling. EIS has been criticized for repeatedly stepping outside of respectable practices, including one case in 2013 when they were caught faking signatures on an anti-regulation petition. EIS has long standing contracts with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the leading industry lobbying group in the state. A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered the following non-profit front groups tied to EIS solutions: Colorado Liberty Alliance - shares a phone number with EIS phone, and advocates against local control. Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale - shares an address with EIS solutions and promotes drilling. Grow Our Western Economy - has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Justin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling. The groups listed above represents only those created by EIS employees that have registered as non-profits. EIS also creates groups that have not registered as tax-exempt non-profits, thereby avoiding reporting requirements.
Vital for Colorado
One such group is Vital for Colorado, a well-funded and highly active pro-fracking front group. While the Vital for Colorado website makes no direct mention of Penry, he serves as spokesman and strategist for the group, and coordinates messaging with other anti-regulation groups through Vital for Colorado. In September, Penry attended a meeting in Denver where he spoke to an audience of State Policy Network groups from around the country about the industry’s strategy to fight oil and gas drilling restrictions in Colorado. Josh Penry’s ties to Vital for Colorado run deep. Both EIS employee Dan Haley and Penry’s wife Kristin Strohm sit on the Advisory board of Vital for Colorado. Vital for Colorado’s website is registered to Charity Meinhart, a web developer that works for both EIS Solutions and Starboard Group according to her LinkdIn account.
Kristin Strohm is the managing partner at her own pubic relations firm, Starboard Group. Strohm, who is an advisor for Vital for Colorado, has also set up other front groups that work in concert with Vital for Colorado to oppose drilling regulations. The Western Colorado Jobs Alliance and The Common Sense Policy Roundtable Forum were created by Starboard Group to oppose local control over shale drilling and fracking. Both groups also publicly support Vital for Colorado, creating a seemingly independent network of reinforcing voices that oppose fracking regulations, while being centrally coordinated by Strohm and Penry. Strohm worked for Penry in his run for State Senate in 2006. Penry and Strohm married in 2012, shortly after his divorce from his wife, whom he had married in 1999.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
The Penry and Strohm team both have connections to the national effort to reduce regulation on the oil industry through the creation of front groups, bottom-lined by oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch. Kristin Strohm has successfully solicited major funding from the Kochs. While Strohm was the finance director for Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign, Coffman benefited from ads run by Americans for Prosperity supporting his campaign. Through Strohm, he also received the maximum possible donation allowed by law from David Koch. Starboard Group’s website boasts of working for the Koch Brothers' flagship front group, Americans for Prosperity. Strohm has also hired former Koch Interns to the Starboard Group. A former director of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group created by Strohm, attended the secretive 2010 Koch strategy meeting in Aspen. Penry’s EIS Solutions also has close ties to the Koch network. The director for Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity chapter is a former EIS Solutions employee, Dustin Zvonek. Like the other front groups in Penry’s orbit, Zvonek and AFP have been consistently working against local control of drilling regulations.
10 out of 11 Tea Party spokespeople quoted in major news outlets regarding the IRS scandal have ties to the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity.
The Internal Revenue Service, not the most popular government agency to begin with, has been in the midst of a scatological squall for the past 3 weeks over their treatment of tea party groups. According to an agency spokesperson, organizations garnered additional scrutiny of their applications for non-profit status for having “Tea Party, Patriot, or 9/12” in the application materials. Non-profit status is granted by the IRS for “social welfare organizations” and federal law puts legal limits to the amount of overtly political things you can do if you are applying to be a non-profit, and thus tax-exempt.
In the coverage of this story, now a scandal, there are a couple of important facts that some of the reporting has missed.
First is the fact that the tea party is a creation of enterprising political and public relations professionals, constructed to accomplish a political purpose. A study published in the Tobacco Control Journal actually traced the origins of the tea party to “free-market” groups founded by tobacco corporations and the oil industry billionaires David and Charles Koch.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="738"] This map, created by researchers at UC San Francisco, shows the historical links between tobacco corporations, moneyed interests like the Koch brothers, and the modern tea party.[/caption]
According to researchers at UC San Francisco:
“Rather than being a grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party organizations have had connections to the tobacco companies since the 1980s. The cigarette companies funded and worked through Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), the predecessor of Tea Party organizations, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, to accomplish their economic and political agenda.”
Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), was founded in 1984 by the Koch brothers.
There is even a tea party website registered to a Koch group in 2005, long before the conservative outcry we now know as the tea party began.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the tea party is still controlled by enterprising political and public relations professionals, funded by the David and Charles Koch. In coverage of the IRS scandal, there were 11 people who were involved in tea party groups quoted about IRS scrutiny. Of those 11, 10 have substantial ties to Americans for Prosperity (AFP). As you can see from the chart above, AFP (also founded and funded by the Kochs), is the direct descendent of CSE - one of the groups who registered a tea party site in 2005. Of those 10 with ties to AFP, 2 actually work for the organization currently. All 10 have received aid from AFP which included help with messaging and communication.
The tea party groups that were scrutinized by the IRS are not just separate grassroots citizen groups unfairly accused of political shenanigans, as the Koch associated spokespeople in the media would have you believe. They are one part of a wider political strategy, funded and managed by a very wealthy few. they have uniform and coordinated messages, such as attacking climate science and opposing environmental regulations.
As this IRS scandal progresses, it is important to keep in mind that many of the tea party groups in question deserve to have their non-profit, tax-exempt status questioned. The New York Times has already found that several tea party groups investigated by the IRS were engaged in activities that are illegal for tax exempt groups.
For the record, Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network experienced expensive and debilitating audits by the IRS during George W Bush’s presidency. Those audits were most likely at the behest of an Exxon funded front group.
Tea Party Spokespeople with ties to Americans For Prosperity (AFP)
Tom Zawistowski: quoted in the Wall Street Journal and other sources
- AFP funded his tea party conference
Margie Dresher: Quoted by ABC news
- Currently works for AFP
Toby Marie Walker: Quoted by Business Insider
- earned the "Watchdog of the Month" award in March and the “Tea Party Leader of the Year -2010” from Americans for Prosperity
Jennifer Stefano: Quoted by ABC news
- currently works for Americans for Prosperity as state director of Americans for Prosperity - Pennsylvania
Carol Waddell: Quoted by ABC news
- AFP trained Waddell and her Waco tea party group
- AFP coordinated and helped fund the "Waco Tea Party’s Grassroots- Campaign, Leadership & Activist Survival School"
- Waddell and the Waco tea party joined tax day protest organized by AFP:
Tim Savaglio: Quoted by the Associated Press
- AFP trained Savaglio and his tea party group in tactics and messaging
- Radke was a key speaker at the "Smart Girl Summit", funded by AFP
- Radke, who is running for state senate in Virginia, has an "alliance" with AFP
Larry Norvig: Quoted by CNN
- Norvig's tea party group is part of AFP campaigns
- Norvig's tea party group in Virginia runs AFP funded campaigns and displays AFP messaging prominently on their website
Tim Curtis: Quoted by CNN
- Curtis is a speaker at AFP events
Susan McLaughlin: Quoted in Reuters
- AFP ran tactics and messaging strategy training for Mclaughlin's group in Liberty Township, Ohio.
- McLaughlin served on the Romney campaign's Conservative Leadership Coalition with representatives from AFP
Jay Devereaux: Quoted by Fox News
- The only tea party spokesman quoted in the media with no obvious ties to AFP
Written by Kert Davies - former Research Director of Greenpeace USA - crossposted with permission from Climate Investigations Center: Five Questions on Climate Change for Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO.
Five questions reporters might ask Lisa Nelson, ALEC CEO on climate change and energy:
1. YOUR PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING OF CLIMATE SCIENCE?
Lisa Nelson, you stated recently that you “don’t know” the science of climate change.
Q: What is your plan to further inform yourself on climate change?
Q: What sources of information will you be seeking and what questions about the science of climate change are you seeking to answer first?
Note: Nelson answered to National Journal “I don't know the science on that" when asked specifically whether human emissions are the primary driver of climate change.”
2. ALEC’s POSITION ON CLIMATE CHANGE?
Q: Will you be seeking advise and counsel from ALEC’s Board of Directors, Private Enterprise Advisory Council, Board of Scholars or Private Sector Members to clarify ALEC’s position on climate change in the wake of Google and other recent corporate departures?
Notes: ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling was recently quoted saying ALEC doesn't have a position on climate science anymore than a policy “jelly beans”, a strange analogy for a crucial issue of our times.
Lisa Nelson said on Diane Rehm: “To be clear: ALEC has no policy on climate change, and does not take positions without underlying model policy. " Yet the organization's September 24th letter to Google stated ALEC “Recognizes that climate change is an important issue...” However, the ALEC website is more direct yet equivocal on the scientific basis: “Global Climate Change is Inevitable. Climate change is a historical phenomenon and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”
Which is it?
3. ALEC SPONSORS CONTROL OF MEETING AGENDA?
There are many events (luncheons, workshops, etc.) held during ALEC conferences.
Q: How much control do sponsors have over session topics and speaker selection? Have the Heartland Institute or CFACT indeed paid ALEC to hold sessions about climate change during your meetings? Or did ALEC request that they hold these briefings?
4. BALANCED “EXCHANGE” ON CLIMATE SCIENCE?
ALEC stated in its September 24th Letter to Google that it “just hosted a roundtable conversation for a variety of companies—including Google—on this very issue.”
Q: Will you provide evidence of this “roundtable” and what companies were present?
Note: There was a Google presentation within the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force session of the July annual meeting, but specifically on the subject of Google's renewable energy goals, not climate change.
5. ALEC OPPOSITION TO SUBSIDIES FOR FOSSIL FUELS AND NUCLEAR ENERGY?
ALEC maintains positions against government mandates and subsidies which backstop the organizations opposition to renewable energy targets.
Q: Given ALEC’s emphasis on free markets and subsidies, does the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force plan to pass model legislation limiting fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidies and corporate welfare?
Click here to add your voice: tell Dominion to Dump ALEC!
- Bill Euille - Mayor of Alexandria VA
- Joe Romm - Physicist and Founder of Climate Progress
- Jonathan Lykes - Co- Chair Black Youth Project 100, D.C. Chapter
- Jorge Aguilar - Southern Region Director at Food & Water Watch
- Priscilla Lin - Recent graduate of William and Marry College and Volunteer with Oceana
- Ivy Main - Chair Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and member of Virginia Governor’s Climate Commission
- Seth Heald - Vice Chair, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Building Pressure on Dominion to Dump ALEC:
@PolluterWatch Live Tweets from the Protest:
.@climateprogress Joe Romm: @domvapower support for @ALEC_states is "immoral." 'Corps dont need livable #climate, people do.' #alecexposed — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Romm: Thomas Jefferson wouldnt support ALEC disregard 4 sustainability, #climate policy interference. #alecexposed pic.twitter.com/jdMJTBuIJw — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
.@sierraclub's ishmael buckner moderates ALEC protest calling on @domvapower to #DumpALEC! #alecexposed pic.twitter.com/tWztkOwP1s — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Creative paraphrasing of @jonathanlykes: @Domvapower - dont #StandYourGround on bad ALEC anti-person policies! pic.twitter.com/mGmOfs6k2W — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
Protest wrapping up - time for @domvapower to #ActOnClimate and dump @alec_states! #alecexposed #standuptoalec pic.twitter.com/bREoWKSfiE — Polluter Watch (@PolluterWatch) September 4, 2014
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.
SHOWTIME's Years of Living Dangerously series just aired a segment featuring James Taylor, a lawyer who has been paid to confuse the public over the reality of climate change, its causes, and its impact on humanity. The Heartland Institute, where James Taylor works, is know for alienating its corporate supporters by comparing people like you and me--assuming you recognize the reality of climate change--to the Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Osama bin Laden.
I wish I was joking, but I'm not.
The joke was on James Taylor, last night. Taylor made an easily disprovable boast to America Ferrera, claiming, "I'm a scientist by training as well," apparently in addition to his law degree. See a teaser of that interaction here:
When pushed for an explanation--since Taylor holds no degree in science--he misrepresents himself:
"I successfully completed Ivy League atmospheric science courses, so I'm a scientist by training."
Who'd would've thought? Apparently if we all want to be scientists, we just need to take a course or two in science!
That means there must be thousands, perhaps millions of people in this country who qualify as scientists in James Taylor's world. Unless, of course, you have to take your science classes at the Ivy Leagues--I'll follow up with Taylor about that and let you know what he thinks.
After trying to spin his lack of expertise as full credentials, Taylor invokes the long-debunked "Oregon Petition" as supposed proof against climate change, despite the petition's inception as a tactic of the fossil fuel industry, its lack of climate experts as signatories, and its inclusion of fictitious characters like the Spice Girls.
As Lisa Graves at the Center for Media and Democracy explains in the Years of Living Dangerously segment,
"The scientific evidence is really against them, but they say things so boldly and stridently that it makes some people believe that they must be telling the truth."
She's right. It has to take a lot effort, creativity and sheer willpower to make a career pretending the obvious does not exist.
Imagine if The Heartland Institute's staff spent their time and money working on real solutions to these problems. Imagine if people like Koch and Murray felt the inevitable need for a shift, and put their skills as businesspeople into solutions-based entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, these fossil fuel executives would rather fight against inevitable future trends, just like the Tobacco industry fought tooth and nail against scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking. In fact, The Heartland Institute continues to wage Big Tobacco's campaign. Check out this recent video of Heartland's president, Joe Bast, caught in an embarrassing contradiction of his own claims denying the health impacts of smoking:
The Heartland Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity and other fossil fuel industry front groups have united to kill incentives for wind energy in Kansas. Affiliated under the banner of the State Policy Network, these groups have also coordinated against clean energy in states like North Carolina and Ohio, where dirty energy giants may score a victory against renewable industry jobs.
So far, most of the State Policy Network attacks on clean energy have failed. As Years of Living Dangerously examines in Kansas, leasing land for wind farms has benefited farmers like Pete Ferrell, who faced impossible economic conditions from recent extreme droughts, made worse by climate change, leasing land to the wind industry has provided crucial income.
Because of farmers like Pete, and blue-collar wind workers and other citizens who are pleased with getting energy from sources that doesn't poison their air, water or climate, Kansas politicians have now defeated attacks on renewable energy incentives three times in the last two years. More are likely to come, as companies like Duke Energy and Peabody coal don't want clean energy competitors, while executives at Koch Industries and Murray Energy Corporation still combat the science of climate change with the finance of misinformation.
That means we will continue to see people like James Taylor, popping up on our TV sets and our state legislatures, lying about whatever he's paid to lie about. Keep your eyes peeled.
Heartland Institute lawyer James Taylor, as illustrated in Greenpeace's report on climate change deniers: "Dealing in Doubt"
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:
Climate Investigations Center: Craig Idso and Heartland Institute Climate Change Denial "NIPCC" Report
Crossposted from the Climate Investigations Center, written by Kert Davies (a former Greenpeace employee).
Background briefing, April 2014
Craig Idso: “Climate change is good for you”
This week the Heartland Institute will release another chapter of its NIPCC, the “not the IPCC” document that will tell you the opposite of the main message that’s been coming from the prestigious IPCC, namely that climate change is a threat to security, food and mankind and especially a threat to the world's poor, along with ecosystems worldwide including coral reefs, polar regions, and the wildlife and myriad of creatures these ecosystems support.
Heartland Institute on the other hand, in its NIPCC “Climate Change Reconsidered II: the Biological Impacts” document, will say that climate change is good for the world, will have a net benefit for both plants and human health. This is the latest line run by right wing think tanks like Heartland, the coal industry’s ACCCE coalition, Peabody Coal, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and echoed across the blogosphere by climate deniers.
This set of messaging and all 'reports' to back this line, all appear to be coming from one organization, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, and specifically from its chairman and former president, Craig Idso, one of the NIPCC’s lead authors, who has been arguing the same “C02 is beneficial” line for nearly 20 years, along with his father, Sherwood Idso.
The Center's claimed mission is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change.” Its main publication is CO2 Science, a weekly magazine that features articles questioning the science verifying man-made climate change and its impacts.
In 2012, leaked documents from the Heartland Institute revealed that they were paying Craig Idso $11,600 a month for his NIPCC work. We do not know how much Idso has been paid since that time, or prior.
The organization’s total funding peaked in 2009 at $1.5 million a year. Funders have included ExxonMobil (total, $100,000 since 1998), Donors Trust, Sarah Scaife Foundation and a number of other right wing funders. See Conservative Transparency for a recent (but not full) breakdown. The Center's IRS 990’s are here at Citizen Audit.
Publications produced by Craig Idso, with members of C02Science,org:
- In 2011 he and Sherwood wrote a book entitled “The Many Benefits of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment”.
- Idso has produced a series of video documentaries espousing his theory of C02’s beneficial effect on plant life.
- Keith and Sherwood Idso wrote a paper in 1992 about how C02 benefits plant life, referenced in the NIPCC’s Summary for Policymakers.
After founding the organisation, Idso got his PhD in geography at Arizona State University under the tutelage of one of the very early climate deniers employed by the fossil fuel industry, Robert C Balling Jr.
Idso, the Greening Earth Society and the Western Fuels Association
Robert Balling, Idso's mentor, was one of the leading scientists paid by the Greening Earth Society, the climate science-denying front group created by the Western Fuels Association, one of the first and earliest coal industry groups funding the denial of climate change. But the coal industry's line was not 'climate denial' but 'climate change is good for you'. The Western Fuels Association is a cooperative of utilities and power companies supplying coal from the Powder River Basin in the western U.S.
Robert Balling was one of the seven scientists deployed by Western Fuels in the 1990s to challenge the prevailing consensus in climate science. Other names included some who are still on the core climate denial team today: Willie Soon and Patrick Michaels.
It was the Greening Earth Society for which Craig and Keith Idso penned a paper in 1995: “The Greening of the American West: The Atmosphere’s Rising CO2 Concentration Is Stimulating Woody Plant Growth in the U.S. Forests, Grasslands, and Deserts.”
Idso, Fred Palmer and Peabody Coal
From its inception, the Chair and CEO of the Western Fuels Association and the Greening Earth Society was Fred Palmer, who was also a registered lobbyist for the Western Fuels Association, a coalition of utility and coal companies.
Palmer is now the Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Peabody Energy (Peabody Coal). (Guardian backgrounder 2011), and was in the media in 2010 leading the charge for “green coal.” He chaired the World Coal Association from 2010 to 2012. Peabody is behind the recent climate denial hub "Advanced Energy for Life" campaign, working with Burson Marsteller as revealed by Climate Investigations Center.
From 2001-2002, Craig Idso served as Director of Environmental Science at Peabody Energy in St. Louis, MO. This was to set up the long relationship with the company that continues to this day.
Idso and ACCCE Tout the Social Benefits of Carbon
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is an industry group promoting coal, of which Peabody coal is a key corporate member.
There is a major fight heating up at the State and Federal level on how we set what the government calls the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric calculated by the Government on the harm carbon (C02) does the economy, to our health and to the planet. These social costs range from the medical bills and lost workdays (when a mother has to take her asthmatic child to the hospital), all the way to the impact of sea level rise on coastal communities.
In 2013, the EPA recalculated the social cost of carbon and increased the figure to $35 per metric ton, up from $21.
ACCCE and Peabody Coal retaliated by questioning why the Obama EPA didn’t included analysis of the benefits of CO2, enhancing agriculture, for instance.
As part of this argument, ACCCE released a report in January, entitled "The Social Costs of Carbon. No, the Social Benefits of Carbon" claiming the government is vastly underestimating the social benefits of coal as well as the benefits from the carbon dioxide pollution produced by burning that coal, including enhancing photosynthesis and agricultural productivity. DeSmogBlog has more details.
Footnotes of the report reveal ACCCE commissioned Craig Idso to undertake a study that appears to be a rehash of the work he has done for 20 years. Idso's contracted study, titled “The Positive Externalities of Carbon Dioxide,” which makes up a large part of Chapter III of the ACCCE "Social Benefits" report.
Idso and ALEC
Idso’s “benefits of C02” was also a topic at the 2011 American Legislative Exchange Council Annual meeting. According to Sourcewatch, he spoke at a workshop of state legislators that was to be titled "Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2." The title was later changed to "Benefit Analysis of CO2".
ALEC has also used that same “CO2 is beneficial” line in submissions to the EPA.
Idso told the audience that we “should let CO2 rise unrestricted, without government intervention”, a very different recommendation than that emanating from the IPCC and the vast majority of the world's climate scientists.
AAAS "What We Know" Initiative: Same Denial, Different Issue - From Ozone Depletion to Climate Change
It must be like Groundhog Day for Mario Molina, the scientist who has presided over the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new report and publicity drive aimed at convincing Americans about the urgency of what’s happening on climate change.
The normally reticent AAAS has taken a highly unusual step. There’s no new science in it. Instead, it summarizes “what we know” on climate science, highlighting the 97% consensus on the issue and calling for action.
Why did they do it? The AAAS says it’s becoming alarmed at the American public’s views on climate change, stating in the opening paragraphs:
“Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement. Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real.”
They’re right: the latest Gallup Poll published this month shows that climate change is low on Americans’ priority list, with 51% saying they worry about climate change very little – or not at all. And 42% said they believe the seriousness of the issue was “generally exaggerated.”
The AAAS report also stated:
“It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred.”
That’s not their job. But I bet they’d like to. Especially Mario Molina.
The reason for that American disconnect between scientific and public views on global warming is simple: it’s the result of a 20-year campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry that profits from the very products causing it – oil, coal and gas. It’s got nothing to do with science per se.
A brief history of that campaign is outlined in a report I wrote last year: “Dealing in Doubt” that catalogues the attacks on climate science, the IPCC and on the scientists themselves.
But what’s that got to do with Mario Molina? Molina, now 70, was one of the researchers who discovered the chemistry around ozone depletion. He and two other scientists received the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work. Twenty years ago, he faced a remarkably similar campaign to what the climate scientists face today.
In 1992, Molina was at a gathering of scientists in Brazil, ahead of the Rio Earth Summit, and about to present a 30-minute talk on ozone depletion. He was dumbfounded when the presenter before him told the assembled scientists that the ozone depletion theory was a sham. He later told the AAAS’s Science magazine (full text here):
“Given enough time I could have carefully rebutted his objections. They sounded reasonable but they were only pseudoscientific.”
At the time, in the face of increasing scientific certainty, there was a (successful) push to strengthen the Montreal Protocol, to further regulate CFCs to stop ozone depletion. The fight was on.
The Science article went on to outline how talk show host Rush Limbaugh was leading the charge against the ozone science, labeling the issue a “massive conspiracy” promulgated by “dunderhead alarmists and prophets of doom.”
Limbaugh claimed the only reason scientists were working on ozone depletion was because “they always want more funding, and today that means government funding. What could be more natural than for [NASA], with the space program winding down, to say that because we have this unusual amount of chlorine in the atmosphere, we need funding.”
This is one of the main mantras of the climate science deniers today – they’re only in it for the funding. They also get labeled “alarmists” and “doomsayers” amongst other things. Same arguments, different subject.
Enter S. Fred Singer, a serial denier who cut his teeth on tobacco science, before moving on to ozone depletion and global warming. In a 1995 article, he said this on ozone depletion:
“The facts are that the scientific underpinnings are quite shaky: the data are suspect; the statistical analyses are faulty; and the theory has not been validated… The science simply does not support this premature and abrupt removal of widely used chemicals—at great cost to the economy.”
It’s telling that one of Singer’s early articles, “My adventures on the ozone layer,” can be found today on the Heartland Institute website. This is the same Heartland Institute that last year employed Singer to help work on its “NIPCC” report, designed to confuse a casual observer with the similarity to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while using debunked arguments to suggest there isn’t a problem – which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In 1996, Singer told a House Committee there was no scientific consensus on ozone depletion. He went on to use the high-cost argument, and brought in a new theme that is very much prevalent in today’s anti climate arguments: that it would hurt the developing world.
“We are flying blind on this issue, at a huge cost to the U.S. economy and ultimately to every American household. In less developed countries, absence of low-cost refrigeration--for food preservation and vaccines--could, unfortunately, exact an even higher price in human lives.”
Two years later, Singer was even advocating putting mirrors in the sky to stop ozone depletion. That article can be found on another think tank website, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The CEI set up the Cooler Heads Coalition. But its extensive ExxonMobil funding was dropped in 2007 because the company said their campaign “diverted attention” from a real conversation about how to tackle climate change.
“Scientific findings do not support an immediate ban on CFC’s. Both global and Arctic measurements point to natural factors as the main cause of recent ozone fluctuations. Ozone levels change primarily as the result of natural factors such as the ultraviolet output of the sun, oscillation of upper stratosphere winds and El Nino conditions.”
Sunspots is one of the main denialist arguments used against global warming today, notably by Baliunas’s colleague, Willie Soon. A later Marshall Institute report about global warming, ozone depletion and tobacco science was picked up and pushed by Phillip Morris.
No consensus, science unsettled, the sun, El Nino, in it for the funding, doomsayers, solutions will hurt the poor, natural variations: all these arguments are run today around global warming science by, amongst others, the Heartland Institute, the CEI, the Marshall Institute, S Fred Singer, Baliunas, Limbaugh and others.
The late climate scientist Steve Schneider described the problem as being "caught between the exaggerations of the advocates, the exploitations of political interests, the media's penchant to turn everything into a boxing match and your own colleagues saying we should be above this dirty business and stick to the bench."
The AAAS appears to have gotten off of that bench, not least because they’re worried about Americans sleepwalking into climate chaos, cheered on by industry.
But the bottom line, as the AAAS has stated in no uncertain terms, is this: “human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”
Perhaps our elected leaders might also like to spend some time reading it.
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.