Fossil Fuel Astroturf
Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) , (now America's Power) was formed in 2000 to increase public support for coal-fired electricity generation—in the face of global warming measures likely to restrict it—on behalf of railroads, coal producers and users, and electric utilities. It spent over $8 million on a national television advertising campaign to this end in 2001/2.
In 2008 alone ABEC was reported to have spent $35 million on PR, including grassroots organising. As part of its campaign about 50 people have been employed to walk the streets in Nevada as human billboards handing out leaflets before a Democrat debate. ABEC argues that coal power plants produce cheaper electricity and new power plants are less polluting, producing less nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide.
A 2007 invitation to PR firms from AABEC to implement a PR cmapaign in Nevada stated that the goal was to:
- Inform citizens and public officials in Nevada about the importance of coal-fueled electricity as it relates to Nevada’s energy affordability and security
- Influence public opinion and public policy at the state level
The campaign was to include newspaper editorials, press releases, media tours and roundtables, advertisements, grassroots assistance, presidential outreach and issues management.
In April 2008 ABEC became the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), 'which is a partnership of the industries involved in producing electricity from coal' (list of members) and set up a new front: America's Power.
ACCCE now promotes the idea of 'clean coal' through the use of technological innovation. ACCCE president, Steven Miller, noted in a memo to the CEO of Peabody Energy in 2004:
Our belief is that, on climate change like other issues, you must be for something rather than against everything. The combination of carbon sequestration and technology is what we preach and we are looking for more members in the choir.
The ACCCE spent $38 million in 2008 promoting clean coal and engaged public relations consultants, The Hawthorn Group, to run a grassroots campaign for that purpose. A Hawthorn newsletter stated:
Our challenge was to get the candidates, media, and opinion "influencers" to start talking about the importance of American coal to our energy future and the need to fund clean coal technology. Even in a communication-saturated environment we achieved, even exceeded, our wildest expectations (and we believe those of our client!)
The newsletter claimed that the campaign resulted in presidential candidates supporting clean coal technology and increased the percentage of people supporting coal-fired power stations from 46 percent in September 2007 to 72 percent in September 2008 with opposition dropping from 50 percent to 22 percent.
Building on our existing 200,000-strong grassroots citizen army, we leveraged the presidential candidates' own supporters, finding advocates for clean coal among the crowd to carry our message. We got these on-the-spot advocates to show strong public support to the candidates and to the media, and enhanced that visibility by integrating online media that created even more of a buzz. We did this by sending "clean coal" branded teams to hundreds of presidential candidate events, carrying a positive message (we can be part of the solution to climate change) which was reinforced by giving away free t-shirts and hats emblazoned with our branding: Clean Coal.
As part of its PR efforts, the Hawthorn group hired Bonner & Associates to identify minority and senior citizen groups who would write to their local representatives opposing global warming legislation. Bonner & Associates were subsequently caught sending fake letters to members of Congress. (see Bonner & Associates - Climate Change Legislation)
In 2009 ACCCE again hired the Hawthorne group to utilise America's Power Army to attend town hall meetings, fairs and other gatherings in a million dollar campaign to influence Democrat Senators not to pass emissions trading legislation.
Energy Citizensis a group funded by the American Petroleum Institute to oppose climate change legislation. Its stated aims are to 'voice concerns' about the impact that global warming legislation 'would have on American jobs, families and businesses'. Participating organisations are many, including various state chambers of commerce, farming, mining and chemical associations.
The group claims that the proposed emissions trading scheme would raise the price of petrol to $4 per gallon. However the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the price rise would be just a few cents (starting at 13c in 2015 and rising to 69c in 2050). This compares to a price rise of $2.59 during the Bush administration (2001-2008).
The group has a YouTube channel where 'citizens' express their concerns about the impacts of the proposed emissions trading legislation as well as a Twitter site, a Facebook site and a Flickr photostream.
In 2009 Greenpeace revealed an internal memo from the American Petroleum Institute to its members which outlines API's astroturf campaign opposing global warming legislation in the US 'to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy'. The memo asked that member companies 'provide significant attendance' at Energy Citizen rallies and enrol 'vendors, suppliers, contractors, retirees' as well as employees in this effort. It stated:
We have identified 11 states with a significant industry presence and 10 other states where we have assets on the ground. We also have attracted allies from a broad range of interests: the Chamber of Commerce and NAM [National Association of Manufacturers], the trucking industry, the agricultural sector, small business, and many others, including a significant number of consumer groups, which have pledged to have their membership join in the events in states where they have a strong presence. We also are collaborating closely with the allied oil and natural gas industry associations on these events.
In Houston Chevron was amongst those companies sending their employees to the Energy Citizens rally. It provided buses for 250-350 employees. Chevron similarly encouraged its employees to attend rallies in other states where it is based.
Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal) was established in 2009. It calls itself 'an alliance of people from all walks of life who are joining forces to educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies and to our nation’s energy security'.
Supporters include various chambers of commerce, manufacturers, bankers, truckers and marketers associations.
The faces featured on the website are actually photo stock rather than individual supporters. The website was apparently registered by the Adfero Group, a Washington PR company that specialises in mobilising grassroots coalitions as well as alliance building and coalition management). Adfero claims:
We’ll help you assemble the right players to help you accomplish your mission. Sometimes we’ll recruit affinity groups who are like minded in purpose or philosophy. Other times, we’ll think outside the box to identify and recruit allies from non-traditional networks. In many cases, we’ll combine the two... If you don’t have a coalition, but need one, we can create an alliance that fulfills your purposes... When you need friends, Adfero will be there to rally support.
- 'American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity', SourceWatch
- 'Energy Citizens', SourceWatch
- 'Americans for Balanced Energy Choices', SourceWatch
- 'Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security', SourceWatch
- Marianne Lavelle, 'The ‘Clean Coal’ Lobbying Blitz', The Center for Public Integrity, 20 April, 2009.