Written by Sue Sturgis. Crossposted with permission from Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.
Last week Fortune magazine named the Southern Company a top utility for the sixth year in a row, citing its "wise use of corporate assets" and "social responsibility." The nation's fourth-largest electric utility is headquartered in Atlanta and serves more than 4.4 million customers in the South through its subsidiaries Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.
But the good press was soon followed by bad: Two days after Southern received Fortune's honor, the news broke that Greenpeace and the Virginia-based Climate Investigations Center obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request revealing that the company was the leading funder of a controversial scientist whose work has been used to raise doubts about the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change in order to stall regulatory action. The Southern Company is the top carbon polluter among U.S. utilities and the eighth-biggest in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action.
The documents show Southern provided more than $400,000 between 2006 and 2015 to fund research by and part of the salary of Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics -- more than a third of Soon's total funding. In return, Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the utility the right to review his scientific papers before publication while promising not to disclose the company's funding without its permission. Other contributors to Soon's work revealed in the documents include oil and gas giant ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute -- corporate funding sources that in some cases Soon failed to disclose in violation of journal policy.
The Smithsonian has asked its inspector general to review Soon's ethical conduct. In addition, three U.S. senators -- Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies including Southern, trade groups and other industry organizations seeking to unearth the extent of what they call "climate denial-for-hire programs."
"We've known for many years that the tobacco industry supported phony science claiming that smoking does not cause cancer," said Boxer, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "Now it's time for the fossil fuel industry to come clean about funding climate change deniers."
Soon, an aerospace engineer whose work has depended heavily on funding from fossil-fuel interests, has promoted the hypothesis that the sun causes climate change, making him a favorite of the climate change denial crowd. He has served as an adviser to various denialist think tanks and has spoken at denialist conferences.
Soon's scientific work has long been controversial, with a widely criticized 2003 study he co-authored with astronomer and fellow climate change denier Sallie Baliunas leading to theresignations of several editors who were involved in the journal's peer-review process. The publisher eventually admitted that the flawed study should not have been published.
Scientists have pointed out various weaknesses in Soon's work, such as misinterpreting other scientists' data and relying on obsolete information for analyses. Some have noted an even more fundamental problem: Soon's claim that any evidence of a sun effect means carbon dioxide is not driving climate change. For example, in a 2009 article titled "It's the Sun, Stupid!," Soon wrote that because he has assembled evidence supporting the hypothesis that the sun causes climatic change in the Arctic it "invalidates the hypothesis that CO2 is a major cause of observed climate change."
Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Earth Institute at Columbia University, critiqued Soon's claim at Real Climate:
But this is a fallacy. It is equivalent to arguing that if total caloric intake correlates to weight, that exercise can have no effect, or that if cloudiness correlates to incident solar radiation at the ground, then seasonal variations in sunshine are zero. The existence of one physical factor affecting a variable in a complex system says nothing whatsoever about the potential for another physical factor to affect that same variable.
Paying to turn doubt into 'conventional wisdom'
The Southern Company has long been involved in efforts to mislead the public about climate change and to block regulatory action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1998, as the United States was considering signing the international Kyoto Protocol treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions, Southern was part of an initiative called the Global Science Communications Team that brought together industry, public relations and think tank leaders to devise a plan to confuse the public about the state of climate science.
The company's representative on the team was research specialist Robert Gehri, who was also Soon's contact at the utility.
Though the Kyoto-era communications effort was supposed to be secret, a memo from the group written by an American Petroleum Institute representative became public. It said "victory" would be "achieved" when industry leaders, the media and average citizens "understand" uncertainties in climate science, and when recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom."
The draft plan called for spending $5 million over two years to "maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences," the New York Times reported:
It would measure progress by counting, among other things, the percentage of news articles that raise questions about climate science and the number of radio talk show appearances by scientists questioning the prevailing views.
While the United States signed the treaty that November, the Clinton administration did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. The Bush administration rejected it altogether three years later.
A decade after its efforts to block U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, the Southern Company had become the nation's top lobbyist on federal legislation to address climate change by creating an emissions trading plan, which it opposed. A 2009 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found the utility had nearly twice as many climate lobbyists as any other company or organization. While the House of Representatives approved the bill, it was defeated in the Senate.
More recently, Southern deployed its lobbying power to block carbon emission limits for power plants proposed by the Obama administration. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the carbon regulations this summer, but they're now being challenged in court by 12 states and a coal mining company.
In 2013, as the administration was preparing to roll out the rules, a lobbyist with a utility consortium told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Southern Company devotes more resources to lobbying than most utility companies and is "very active in pushing its point of view." Indeed, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics classifies the company as a "heavy hitter" for its generous spending on lobbying (over $12 million in the 2014 cycle alone) and campaign contributions (over $1.4 million in 2014, with most of that benefiting Republicans).
Southern's campaign contributions have helped promote climate science denial in Congress. The top recipient of contributions from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 campaign cycle was Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is part of what Climate Progress has dubbed the "Climate Denier Caucus." Perdue has accused the EPA of "overreaching" in its efforts to address climate change and has echoed the line Southern has pushed, saying that "in science, there's an active debate going on."
And Perdue's not the only leading recipient of Southern's political support to help spread the questionable scientific talking points the utility has paid for: Rep. Gary Palmer, an Alabama Republican who received $18,000 from the company's PAC and employees in the 2014 cycle, last year told WATE that science "says global climate change is more a function of nature and solar activity than it is anything man does."
Chalk it up as yet another "victory" for a company that last year raked in $2 billion in profits.
Crossposted from Greenpeace.org: Statement from Greenpeace US Executive Director, Annie Leonard, on Nazca Lines Situation
I am deeply disappointed that Greenpeace engaged in an action at the sacred Nazca Lines in Peru.
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?
Is a “billionaire’s club” conspiring to help the environment? A new report by the Senate minority’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee called “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA” says yes. The report was ostensibly commissioned by David Vitter, the ranking republican in EPW. Despite a lack of good grammar, the Vitter’s "Billionaire’s club" report represents a significant amount of government time and energy. It tracks donations from major environmental foundations to various non-profits, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. It has tables and graphs. But as Lee Fang points out, it is missing some important context:
“Though the report scolds the nonprofits as untrustworthy and elite, there’s virtually no information in the report that details anything they have done wrong. Rather, Vitter and his staff appear to disagree with the shared policy goals of these nonprofits, which include combating global warming as well as reducing cancer-causing pollutants from the air and water.”
Rather than a tool for open government, Vitter's Billionaire's Club report seems more like a distraction from the real billionaires in politics, major corporations and industrialists, with whose agenda David Vitter is strongly aligned.
David Vitter and The Koch Brothers
Interestingly, Vitter has ties to his own billionaires club, specifically the billionaire Koch Brothers. Sen. Vitter has vociferously supported the Billionaires, and was caught on camera saying: "I think the Koch Brothers are two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth… I’ll be honest with you, God bless the Koch brothers." According to ThinkProgress, the Koch brothers have blessed Senator Vitter right back. A review of campaign contributions finds that he and his leadership PAC have received at least $57,500 from the Koch brothers’ corporate political action committee - the same PAC that has been repeatedly accused of breaking elections laws surrounding money contributions. Besides the Koch brothers, Senator Vitter's largest political contributors are billionaire oil and gas interests.
David Vitter and the environment
Vitter is not usually a friend of environmental legislation. Oil Change International has Vitter siding with billionaire fossil fuel interests 94% of the time. For example, David Vitter was instrumental in delaying EPA ‘s assessment of the health risks of formaldehyde, while being lauded by companies that use or manufacture the chemical, like Koch Industries. Formaldehyde, which has been conclusively linked to cancer by the National Cancer Institute, is still only a “probable” carcinogen according to the EPA. Furthermore, as Steve Horn points out, Vitter's green Billionaire's club report may have an ulterior motive in blocking environmentalists:
What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.
We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recentU.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.
Should there be less money in politics and more disclosure? Yup. Just funny to hear that from David Vitter. In fact there is a bill that Sen. Vitter could support, that would help reduce the influence of secret money in politics. Called the DISCLOSE Act, it seeks to reduce the torrent of dark money unleashed by the Citizens United v. FEC supreme court decision. However, the DISCLOSE Act would also force transparency on the Koch political giving machine, well known for obscuring the origin of political contributions. In spite of EPW's focus on Vitter's billionaire's club and political spending by environmental groups, Senator Vitter has refused to support campaign finance reform, or efforts aimed at reducing the wealthy's influence in politics, like the DISCLOSE Act.
If the Senate was interested in uncovering secretive funding apparatus bent on twisting government policy to the detriment of people and their future, perhaps a look into climate change denial organizations would be a better use of tax dollars. A report by Drexel University's Robert Brulle found that 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010. This dwarfs most of the numbers used in Vitter's Billionaire's club report. However, Vitter has called climate change science “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage.” Perhaps Vitter and his staff should read Greenpeace's report on Koch funding of climate change denial, if he is so interested in secretive manipulations of politics. Billionaire's club.
Last week in Washington DC, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political dark money group met with corporate funders at the DC headquarters of the American Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). ANGA is the lead lobby group for the fracking and shale industry, with a budget of $69 million in 2012. O’Malley’s group is called newDEAL, which describes itself as a “national network searching the country for state and local elected leaders who are pro-growth progressives to help them share their innovative ideas.” I found out about the meeting when I was forwarded an invitation. When I replied to a RSVP, I was initially sent a welcoming “see ya there” from Lauren Wessler, the organizer for the event. Wessler works for Helen Milby, who runs HM&CO, a fundraising group that connects corporations with legislators. Her work has been described as “To communicate behind the scenes with power brokers in government and in the corporate world, and create events so that they can come together to make exchanges of money and influence.” O’Malley created newDEAL with Alaska Senator Mark Begich, and the group is co-chaired by democratic politicians Cory Booker, and CO Governor John Hickenlooper. They bill themselves as “pro-growth” democrats, but an expose by Lee Fang in Vice revealed that newDEAL was funded by some of the largest corporations in the US, the same corporations that provide the majority of funding to republican politicians. newDEAL funders include Comcast, Fluor, Merck, Microsoft, New York Life, Pfizer, Qualcomm, Verizon, Wal-Mart, the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, among others, including, of course, the host of Tuesday's event, ANGA. Given the corporate connection, the newDEAL is an attempt to grow O’Malley and company’s political war chests with corporate dollars, more “deal” than “new.” A few hours after receiving confirmation of my RSVP, another email buzzed into my inbox from Lauren. Apparently she had made a mistake. “The room seats less people than I originally thought…So sorry,” read her retraction of my RSVP. Sounds fishy, but OK. Maybe there just isn’t enough space at the largest fracking lobbyists’ headquarters for a researcher from Greenpeace. But there are always those people who RSVP and don’t show, so I went to ANGA the day of the event, just in case they could squeeze me in. The O’Malley connection to ANGA is particularly interesting given the battle the gas industry is waging in his state. Fracking is still being studied in Maryland, and drillers have not yet started exploiting the shale that lies under parts of the state. Maryland is also home to Cove Point, a proposed Liquified Natural Gas export plant. The plant will be the 3rd LNG export plant fully permitted in the US according to most analysis. Cove Point was just conditionally approved by FERC, which just released an Environmental Impact Statement. FERC’s statement has been roundly criticized for missing key elements, such as climate impacts, community safety, marine impacts, and fracking.
Cove Point has been particularly controversial because it would be located in a populated, residential area on the coast of Maryland. Assistant fire chief for the area Mickey Shymansky resigned after calling attention to the fire department’s inability to control a disaster at the plant. So, what does O’Malley’s financial relationship with ANGA change about the future of fracking and gas exports in Maryland? Alas, we were unable to find out. When I arrived at ANGA’s headquarters I told them my name and showed them my RSVP. The front desk person gave me a leery eye, and within minutes a large man named Pablo came out of an elevator bank and walked up to me. “You have to leave the premises.” he said. Why? I asked “They said that if you come in we aren’t allowed to let you up” He said. “Who is they?” I asked. “You know who” he said. “America’s Natural Gas Alliance?” “Yes” Pablo said “But I have an RSVP, did they say my name specifically” “yes” he said. O’Malley and company plan on using newDEAL to fund campaigns of like minded politicians, basically creating a money laundering dark money pipeline from corporate interests to campaign coffers. As Ruth Marcus said in her Washington Post editorial last week:
Big money is troubling; secret money is toxic. Having millions of dollars from outside groups pumped into elections distorts the democratic process. Not knowing what interests are behind those millions magnifies that distortion.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the 2012 election saw more than $250 million in political spending by nonprofit groups organized under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, up from $86 million in 2008 and $3 million in 2004. Wonder how many of those millions was from the shale industry, looking to open Maryland for drilling? Or Wal-Mart, trying to erode minimum wage? Or Wall Street making sure limits on risky banking will not be enforced?
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.
The coal industry’s efforts to export huge amounts of taxpayer-owned coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia has generated unprecedented opposition in the Pacific Northwest - tens of thousands of people have rallied, attended public hearings, and called on their elected officials to oppose coal export terminals that would disrupt and pollute communities and pose one of the biggest threats to the climate of any fossil fuel project in the world.
This controversy, along with the high risk nature of these proposals, has meant that many investors have avoided backing them. A major signal of these investor concerns came in January 2014, when Goldman Sachs dropped its coal export investment, especially since it followed a report from Goldman Sachs’ own analysts titled “The window for thermal coal investment is closing.”
But one key coal export investor apparently hasn’t yet received the memo. Ross Bhappu, a partner at a Denver-based private equity firm called Resource Capital Funds, has been the main source of money for Ambre Energy, the shaky Australian company behind two of the three remaining coal export proposals in Oregon and Washington, the Millennium Bulk Terminal and Morrow Pacific Project proposals on the Columbia River. That’s why ten community and environmental groups wrote a letter to Ross Bhappu last month, calling on him and his firm to drop its investment in Ambre Energy and its controversial and risky coal export proposals.
That’s also why we’ve launched a new website, www.RossBhappu.com. The website details how Ross Bhappu has used a $110 million bet on Ambre Energy - along with the company’s difficulties attracting other outside investment - to take more control of the company at the expense of other shareholders. We want to make sure that elected officials, investors, and communities that would be impacted by coal export projects know who is bankrolling these proposals. So check out the new website, read the details about Ross Bhappu’s bet on coal exports, and help us share the information. We’ll update the site with the latest news, so if you have a tip, let us know.
crossposted from rossbhappu.com
Test your BS meter with this one question quiz:
Which part of Obama's State of the Union was written by the oil industry?
a) “America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades”
b) “natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
c) fracking for oil and gas can be "sustainable"
d) all of the above
The answer is literally, "all of the above."
During his State of The Union speech, President Obama said:
"The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades."
The phrase “all of the above,” which the president used in his 2012 State of the Union address as well, is the creation of the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying and public relations arm, the American Petroleum Institute (API). According to the New York Times, the phrase was introduced in 2000 by API to advocate for oil drilling. API’s position at the time was “that an effective national energy policy must, at a minimum, allow for all of the above.” API, proud of the hegemony of their ideas, actually predicted the president would champion the pro-fossil fuel message in this most recent State of the Union address, the day before the speech was given.
After The American Petroleum Institute debuted the phrase in 2000, it was quickly picked up by republicans with wells to drill. John Mccain made it a central part of his 2008 campaign for president. Republicans in the house and senate used it to promote offshore drilling. The former governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, now under federal indictment for corruption, listed the phrase on his campaign website.
ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in world history, continues to use the phrase in advertisements today.
This isn't just etymological trivia. The use of oil industry talking points by the president indicates how ingrained and powerful the fossil fuel industry is in the U.S’s energy conversation.
It also casts a revealing light on other pro-fossil energy comments made by President Obama in the speech, like promoting “Energy Independence.” The idea is, if we allow oil and gas corporations to exploit our land and water to extract fossil fuels, it will benefit the average citizen by lowering energy prices and reducing dependence of “foreign” energy supplies. This is completely false, as Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil will tell you. The oil industry wants to sell it's product on an open market, to the highest bidder, no matter who that is. Currently there are plans for 25 Liquified Natural Gas export terminals in the US, and the American Petroleum Institute is spending millions of dollars to undo a decades old law that prohibits the export of crude oil. As more oil and gas is drilled from American soil and water, more gas and oil will be exported. We will continue to import oil and other goods from around the world, regardless of how much drilling happens in the U.S.
Another energy myth promoted by the Obama administration and the fossil fuel industry is natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewable energy.
The truth is that gas is primarily comprised of methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Some scientists believe that methane could be up to 105 times as destabilizing to the global climate as carbon dioxide. When fully burned, gas releases less CO2 than coal or oil, but currently huge amounts of methane are escaping unburned into the atmosphere. An increase in spending on gas infrastructure, like pipelines, Liquified Natural Gas export terminals, or vehicle refueling stations, is not a bridge to renewable energy. It is the same old fossil fuel infrastructure that poses serious threats to the earth’s climate and local environments. The U.S doesn’t need more spending on fossil fuels, it needs a real commitment to renewable energy, efficiency, and cutting carbon pollution.
Written by David Pomerantz, crossposted from Greenpeace USA's blog, the EnvironmentaLIST.
The new hot spot for solar energy in the US is North Carolina. The state was second in the nation in solar growth in 2013, behind only California. In fact, if US states were considered as countries, North Carolina would have been among the top 10 countries in the world for solar growth last year.
All of that solar growth, driven by policies like the state’s renewable energy portfolio law, has been great for the NC economy, generating $1.7 billion in revenue for the state. At the end of 2012, 137 solar companies employed 1,400 people in NC - a number that increased during solar’s record 2013 year.
But while North Carolina’s solar sector shines brighter, a cloud is approaching on the horizon that places all of the benefits of solar power at risk of disappearing: Duke Energy, the state’s monopoly utility and the largest power company in the country, is about to launch a major attack on solar energy.
On Jan. 7, Duke’s president of North Carolina operations, Paul Newton, fired the first shots of the war. Speaking in front of a joint energy committee of the state’s legislature, Newton attacked net metering, one of the key policies to North Carolina’s solar growth.
Net metering allows customers with rooftop solar panels to get credit for any extra electricity that they send back to the grid, like rollover minutes on a cell phone bill.
Newton argued that solar customers aren’t “paying their fair share” to Duke, and that his company would thus be forced to charge higher rates to all of its other customers in response.
Those allegations are false. A study conducted last year showed that the benefits of rooftop solar in North Carolina - even for customers who don’t have the panels - would outweigh any costs by 30%. That’s because as more homes and businesses go solar, Duke wouldn’t have to keep building expensive gas and coal plants and raising rates on its customers to finance them. Those rate benefits are aside from the job creation, climate, and public health positives of solar power.
But Duke’s shareholders profit by building those gas and coal plants, which is exactly why rooftop solar is in the crosshairs.
Duke’s key ally in its war on solar: ALEC
Duke isn’t the first utility in the country to attack net metering; utilities in California, Arizona and Colorado began similar campaigns in 2013, and others are forming battle plans now.
In December, The Guardian newspaper revealed that these power companies have been coordinating their efforts under the guise of the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), a group that lets corporations like Duke ghostwrite laws for right-wing state legislators.
Many utilities are ALEC members, and they have made it ALEC’s top priority to attack net metering laws around the country. Forty percent of NC state lawmakers are ALEC members, and Duke will rely on them to do their bidding.
So far, Duke and ALEC’s communications strategy has been to stigmatize solar energy as being only for the wealthy. Their argument is that we shouldn’t be letting rich families with solar panels get even richer on the backs of non-solar households.
It wouldn’t be surprising if early adopters of solar do have higher incomes, since buying the panels involves an upfront cost. But recent research shows that solar penetration is increasingly happening in middle class neighborhoods. In any case, if ALEC and utilities are so worried about the poor, they should be trying to give more solar access to working and middle class communities, since it will help them save money, not take away their chance to go solar by attacking policies like net metering.
The idea that the nation’s power companies, which have raised rates on customers to pad corporate profits and sited coal plants in the nation’s poorest communities for decades, suddenly want to act as champions for social justice doesn’t pass the smell test.
Duke will eventually learn to bask in the sun.
— Duke Energy (@DukeEnergy) January 16, 2014
It’s not the only public display of support for solar power Duke has shown in recent months. Previous CEO Jim Rogers said that he saw rooftop solar as an opportunity as much as a threat, and in March, Duke bought a stake of a distributed solar power financing company, Clean Power Finance.
Were these moves signs that Duke is embracing the solar revolution, or just greenwashing? Both answers may be true: Duke is feeling its way around the edges of solar opportunities while it mostly stalls for time by attacking net metering. One thing that would hasten Duke’s solar transition is if it loses on net metering, since that would force the company to more quickly come to terms with the inevitability of rooftop solar.
A Duke loss on net metering is far from a given, considering Duke and ALEC’s almost unlimited influence in North Carolina politics. But for all of Duke’s money and political power, it can’t change a simple reality: Rooftop solar is immensely popular. A 2013 poll showed that 88 percent of North Carolinians support solar energy. Last year, when ALEC attacked North Carolina’s renewable energy law, the effort failed because Republicans in the legislature recognized solar power as a job creator. In fact, ALEC’s efforts to attack renewable energy laws failed in every state where it tried in 2013.
Now, solar advocates will gear up to bat away the next attack wave in 2014. The sooner they win, the sooner utilities like Duke will have to face the music and realize that they need to join their customers in the sun.
Yet another Google-funded organization is out promoting conspiracy theories about the threat of man-made global warming. On Monday, September 23, the Google-financed Heritage Foundation hosted hosted Heartland Institute president Joseph Bast, Willie Soon, and Bob Carter to present “Climate Change Reconsidered II,” in which they argued that the world’s scientific community have systematically overstated the dangers to humanity of unregulated carbon pollution.
Like the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, Soon, and Carter have significant funding from the fossil-fuel industry and a long record of questioning not only the economics of regulating climate pollution but the underlying science itself, as explained in our new Dealing in Doubt report
Greenpeace activists confronted Bast at Heritage after the event, asking him to reveal whether Chicago magnate Barre Seid funded the multimillion-dollar climate-denial initiative. Bast refused to answer the question.
Since Google’s selection of former Republican representative Susan Molinari as their chief lobbyist, the Internet giant has embraced key players in the climate-denial machine. In the last few months, Google was the top funder of the annual dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, famed for its “CO2: We Call It Life” ads, held a fundraiser for the re-election of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who penned the book “The Greatest Hoax,” and was revealed to be a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has argued that “substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States.”
Google’s support of the Heritage Foundation elicited new criticism from climate scientists associated with the company.
“Their motto may be ‘don’t be evil,’ but they apparently don’t have any problem with giving it money,” climate scientist Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, told Hill Heat in an e-mail interview.
“If you want to be a corporate leader on climate change or science education, you should fund groups to combat the anti-science garbage produced by Heritage, not the other way around,” said climate scientist Simon Donner, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, when asked for comment.
Dr. Dessler and Dr. Donner were Google Climate Science Communication Fellows in 2011. They and 15 other Fellows recently sent an open letter to the company criticizing its fundraiser for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), writing that “in the face of urgent threats like climate change, there are times where companies like Google must display moral leadership and carefully evaluate their political bedfellows.”
In a campaign led by climate accountability organization Forecast the Facts, over 150,000 people have signed petitions challenging Google’s support for climate deniers, and have staged protests in Washington DC, New York City, and Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.