(Crossposted from FossilAgenda.com)
I just finished reading a recent post authored by Meteor Blades, a Daily Kos editor who frequently writes about climate and the environment.
He expounded upon this much-ballyhooed video released by Organizing For America:
The video raised eyebrows because OFA is a direct outgrowth of Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. This is new. In contrast, in 2009, when many supporters believed they would be called upon to provide grass roots support for Obama's governing priorities, the call never came.
Many climate activists are particularly encouraged because they interpret the video as a signalling that seriously addressing atmospheric carbon ranks high on Obama's list of second term priorities.
Finally, the video is not timid. That suggests Obama is prepared to fight, and, indeed, to throw a punch.
All of that is good news, obviously.
I decided to pivot off the Meteor Blades post because it (and the OFA video) oversimplify the politics by assigning all the blame for blocking reasonable climate change legislation to Republicans. (That said, I note that in this subsequent post, MB expands the blame field.)
That's a mistake. Republicans are not to blame for climate inaction... Bad people are. And there are plenty of bad people on both sides of the political divide.
Let me be clear: There are, of course, millions of Republican voters captivated by rhetoric peddled by Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party, and/or Fox News. Similarly, there are millions of Democratic voters that know nothing of climate science, but recognize an obligation to line up against Republicans. None of these rank and file partisans are relevant to the discussion because none of them are in a position to influence policy or public opinion.
The cynical and destructive contributions of Republican/conservative influence peddlers is fairly well documented. Googling "climate change" in tandem with "Republican" or "Koch brothers" or "Inhofe" or "CEI" will yield page after page of results describing their hostility to science and the environment. But if you put google "climate change" in tandem with "Democrats" the picture is much less clear.
A more nuanced understanding can be achieved by tugging at one thread on the Democratic side of climate obstructionism. Let's see what unravels.
By the early 1990's, climate change had begun to register as a global threat. As one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases (GHGs), Big Coal saw the threat differently from most; for them, a global effort to mitigate climate change could very well translate to increased restrictions and regulations imposed upon industries that buy coal.
Of course, Big Coal had run this gauntlet before. Most recently, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 were taken as a frontal assault on the industry.
Acid rain (a by-product of burning high-sulfur coal) had ravaged lakes and forests across the north-east; the Amendments forced upwind coal burning power-plants to clean up their emissions. Some installed scrubbers (devices that extract pollutants from exhaust before it's released from the smokestack), and others decided to burn coal with less sulfur. (Coal from Appalachia is laced with sulfur, which is ultimately converted to sulfuric acid - acid rain; coal from other parts of the country contains much less sulfur).
In 1992, John Snow, CEO of CSX (a railroad corporation that, at the time, derived a huge portion of its profits from transporting Appalachian coal) created The Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) as a lobby shop for the coal industry. Led by a Democratic operative from Kentucky, Stephen L. Miller, CEED, in its formative years, concentrated its efforts on helping coal-fired electricity plants navigate the permitting process. By 1997, the Kyoto climate-change efforts were gaining steam, and Miller saw the writing on the wall. Coal was certain to be a primary target of any global CO2 reduction efforts.
Miller hired Joe Lucas, a Democratic communications specialist and former spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Mines, in 1997. Together, the two decided to engage in the climate war by launching a public relations effort on behalf of Big Coal.
Public relations? Yes, I'm using the term very loosely. A more accurate description would be "astroturf." (Astroturf, for the uninitiated, simulates "grass roots". The difference is that true grass roots campaigns emerge organically and are self-sustaining by the commitment of the "regular folks" that animate it. Astroturf, on the other hand, does its best to take on the appearances of grassroots, but is largely sustained by the money provided by a shadow interest.)
From the beginning, Miller and Lucas realized that they did not want to step directly into the climate change debate. Rush Limbaugh, Fred Singer and other assorted charlatans had already staked out that territory and, while their work had value, it lacked the sophisticated nuance that was more likely to appeal to the majority of environment-conscious Americans.
Their solution was tried and true. "Clean coal" allowed Big Coal to defend its interests while seemingly allying itself with "middle of the road" Americans concerned about the planet they'd leave for their children. And "clean coal" had been peddled before.
Miller and Lucas formed "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices" (ABEC) in 2000 as a vessel to build membership in America's Power Army. CEED and ABEC were two heads of the same monster. Miller served as CEO of both organizations until 2012. Lucas signed on as VP of Communications for CEED in 1997 and became Executive Director of ABEC upon its formation.
The Hawthorn Group, led by former Democratic Senate staffer John Ashford, consulted on ABEC's formation and was retained to plan, build, and manage the group's membership. (Worth noting: In 1989, Ashford was arrested by Virginia police and charged with solicitation to commit indecent liberties involving a minor - he allegedly asked a pimp to provide him with a 13 year old girl.)
For eight years, CEED/ABEC remained fairly quiet. George Bush was in the White House and no industry, let alone Big Coal, felt any real heat from Washington.
In 2007, CEED/ABEC began to prepare for a new, presumably less friendly, Democratic administration. ABEC dissolved into CEED and the unified organization changed its name to "American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity" (ACCCE) to launch the "clean coal" astroturf campaign in a big way. ACCCE and Hawthorn appear to have decided that ABEC membership had grown large enough to begin the new PR push. The ABEC member organization was rebranded America's Power Army in 2008.
At around this time, ACCCE's budget grew from $8M/yr. to over $35M/yr. At the same time, both ACCCE and Hawthorn went on a hiring spree. Many of the new hires at both firms had responsibilities related to the new America's Power Army campaign.
One of the most important new hires was Jeremy Bailey. Already a powerful energy lobbyist, Bailey joined ACCCE as Senior Vice President for government affairs. A search of campaign contribution data reveals that Bailey and his wife, Suzanne Hammelman (more on her soon), are both heavy contributors to Democratic campaigns and PACs. Bailey arrived with a well-developed record of anti-science advocacy on behalf of hydrocarbons.
ACCCE's America's Power Army campaign involved leveraging âfoundâ publicity inherent to the 2008 election cycle. Operatives deployed to candidate and campaign events. They distributed tee-shirts, hats and other assorted coal-branded gear, took pictures with luminaries and candidates, and made "experts" available to local media.
The poll numbers they cite as indicia of their success are sobering. Public support of coal rose 26 points, and opposition was cut in half.
At the end of 2008, Susan Hammelman, the Hawthorne executive responsible for managing the ACCCE account (and aforementioned Democratic donor), wrote a public letter to Friends and Family detailing the successes of Hawthorn's ACCCE Astroturf operation and many of the tactics and strategies used in its execution. If detailing the firm's astroturf efforts in such a flagrant way is not sufficiently galling, the fact that this letter remains publicly accessible through Hawthorn's website should be. Some excerpts:
This campaign was focused in key states during the 2008 primary and general election campaign. 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.ACCCE's Vice President for Program Services, Ned Leonard, was hired by Steve Miller in 2005. His webpage reveals:
Even in a communication-saturated environment we achieved, even exceeded, our wildest expectations (and we believe those of our client!). Not only did we raise the awareness of the issue, but we got the major candidates on both sides of the aisle talking about the issue in the debates, at campaign rallies and in interviews.
The presidential campaign concluded with both candidates, their running mates and surrogates talking about and supporting clean coal technology. The issue was mentioned in all four general election debates. This was a 180-degree turn from earlier in the campaign when none of the candidates were focused on this issue.
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. Attendees at the candidate events wore these items into the events.
We nearly turned candidate events into clean coal rallies.
The sea of supporters cheering their candidate while wearing the ACCCE message was a game changer. We watched as our message was transmitted by shirts and hats waved by thousands of excited supporters from the stands of high school gyms, floors of hotel ballrooms and tables of crowded coffee shops. The pictures of our supporters were caught and broadcast by local and national media, including USA Today and Fox News. Soon our message was repeated back to us from the podium by the candidates themselves.
...as election day nears, both candidates are competing over who will do more to support clean coal initiatives. For that, some credit belongs to [ACCCE President] Stephen Miller.
(Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2008)
His background includes twenty-four years managing communications and advocacy programs for the Western Fuels Association, a national fuel supply cooperative for consumer-owned electric utilities. Prior to that, he was responsible for energy, environmental, and natural resource issues in the office of Senator George McGovern (D-SD) from 1977 through 1980.Leonard's bio page leaves a few things out. For example, it's silent with regards to Leonard's leadership role at the denialist propaganda shop, the "Greening Earth Society." For years, GES argued that increased CO2 emissions would help the environment because CO2 is good for plants (hence "Greening"). According to Eric Pooley's The Climate Wars, Leonard told a reporter, "If you want continue to construe Greening Earth Society as a front for anything, you might try 'coal-fired electricity generation interests'". It also neglect mention that Leonard's twenty-four years in communications at WFA were spent at the knee of his mentor, Fred Palmer.
Until assuming the top government relations post at Peabody Coal, Palmer (formerly a staff assistant to Democratic Rep. Morris K. Udall) served as CEO of the Western Fuels Association. There, in addition to creating Greening Earth Society in 1998, he joined other fossil interests in launching the Information Council on the Environment (ICE, get it?). More from Pooley's Climate Wars:
The ICE's goal, according to a strategy paper written by its pollster, was to "reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)" by targeting "older, less-educated males" and "younger, lower-income women" in congressional districts that get their electricity from coal. With a mix of paid advertising ("How much are you willing to pay to solve a problem that may not exist?") and paid scientists...ICE was created in 1991. For over 20 years, Fred Palmer has been a key leader and funder within the denialist movement.
As mentioned above, Palmer is now a key executive at Peabody Coal, responsible for government relations. An inventory of publicly available documents suggests he's got his hands full. From the department of farce, we find Palmer has assumed responsible for Peabody's participation in carbon capture and sequestration programs. Palmer's involvement strongly supports what anti-coal activists have been saying all along: that CC&S is little more than legalized fraud... a money-sink providing a mature (but dying) industry with wasteful government handouts in the form of research grants.
Palmer may have a much larger problem on his hands. To wit, this one:
The details are complicated, but the short of it is that Peabody announced they had received a subpoena from the SEC regarding their involvement in the development and subsequent sale of the Prairie State Energy Campus. Peabody proposed the project, secured purchasers (scores of municipalities stretching across the heartland), built the plant, and sold all but a fraction of their interest. As it turns out, the municipalities left holding the bag are seeing bills that aren't sustainable. Some of these small towns may be forced into bankruptcy. Already, several have seen their bond ratings lowered due to their Prairie State obligations.
By now, it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that convicted Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich provided key support to the project.
This is just a tiny slice of the Democratic anti-climate science pie. There are plenty of Democratic politicians at all levels of government standing in the way of sanity. Senators Joe Manchin (who famously ran an ad in which he fired a bullet into a stack of documents labeled "Cap & Trade"), Mark Begich, and Mary Landrieu are all captive to hydrocarbons and reluctant to address climate change. House members like Nick Rahall (who jumped out of an airplane to draw attention to his vote against cap and trade, and his support for West Virginia's coal industry) are similarly hostile to carbon limits.
The bottom line is this: Partisan affiliation is, at best, only loosely correlated to an influential's inclination to addressing climate change. A much better predictor of someone's position is the answer to this age-old question: To what extent does their paycheck derive from the hydrocarbon industry?