PolluterWatch Blog

Call Hurricane Sandy a freak storm. Or call it what it is-climate change.

Written by Cassady Sharp, crossposted from Greenpeace blogs.

Climate change is now changing the weather. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be [1]. The past few years have been marked by unusually severe extreme weather characteristic of climate change [2].

Hurricane Sandy grew to record size as it headed north eastwards along the US coast. Less than 48 hours before it was due to make landfall Sandy's tropical storm-force winds extended north eastwards 520 miles from the centre. Since records of storm size began in 1988, only one tropical storm or hurricane has been larger--Tropical Storm Olga of 2001 [3] . New York and New Jersey suffer the brunt of the damage and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has certainly noticed the pattern in his state giving the below statement in press conference today.

"There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement. Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality."

September 2012 saw the second highest global ocean temperatures on record. During the same month, ocean temperatures off the mid-Atlantic coast were 1.3°C above average. These unusually warm ocean temperatures have carried on into October, enabling Sandy to pull more energy from the ocean than a typical October hurricane.

Hurricane Sandy could have been just some coincidental freak storm. A rare occurrence with impacts few infrastructures are prepared to handle. The same coincidence that caused the East Coast derecho this summer or the simultaneous Midwest drought. But aren't coincidences and freak storms supposed to be rare?

2012 has been packed with extreme weather, and the aftermath of these events has been devastating not only to individuals, but to the operation of our country. Although mum's been the word on climate change during this year's election overshadowed by a debate on which candidate is a better friend to coal, the issue is now at the feet of President Obama and Governor Romney. The latest reports claim Hurricane Sandy caused 16 U.S. deaths, 7 million without power and $10 billion in damages. That could make Hurricane Sandy the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. What would Hurricane Sandy be beating out for that prestigious title? Hurricane Katrina whose devastation was so grave, it nearly led to the condemning of one of America's greatest cities.

Our country cannot afford the impact of climate change any longer.

The global scientific consensus makes it clear that the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change and its impacts. It is up to our leaders in government and business to protect us from this growing threat. 

President Obama and Mitt Romney must articulate the scale of the global warming problem to the American public, and offer real plans to not only enhance US preparedness for extreme weather caused by climate change, but also to dramatically reduce the fossil-fuel emissions that are driving the worst effects of catastrophic climate change. 

American citizens are paying for climate change when they're left to clean up the mess after extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. President Obama and Governor Romney have indicated a willingness to address taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel companies that are driving climate change. Both candidates should commit to prioritizing an end to these subsidies in the first days of their administration.

And we can all take part in an energy revolution.

take action
 

A satellite image provided by NASA of Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 11 a.m. EDT churns off the east coast as it moves north on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean

EXPOSED: How Koch Bros Secretly Launder Donations to Dirty Front Groups

Earlier this year internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a major hub of climate change denial and right-wing extremism, were publicly leaked. The documents exposed the Heartland Institute's funders and strategies for attacking climate science, and led to a mass exodus of Heartland's corporate funders.

Today, a newly updated report based in large part on Heartland's internal documents has revealed two new insights into the way in which the anti-climate science movement has been supported and financed over the last decade.

  1. A billionaire named Barre Seid is the Heartland Institute's main sugar daddy. He is the "Anonymous Donor" listed in Heartland's fundraising plan who finances climate science denial operations to confuse children, the general public and policymakers over global warming. Seid has been the biggest booster behind Heartland's attacks on climate science, donating millions of dollars to keep the Heartland Institute's anti-science work afloat.
  2. The Koch brothers and other ultra-wealthy industrial ideologues are now hiding much of their donations to conservative political outlets through an obscure group of foundations that specialize in secrecy.

In total over $311 million has been put through twin organizations known as Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund which share an address in Alexandria, Virginia. The people running these organizations are close to the Kochs and have numerous ties to the groups that the DONORS network funds, such as the Koch-founded Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Independent Women's Forum and the Manhattan Institute. The Kochs have a little-known foundation that only donates to these "DONORS" groups called the Knowledge & Progress Fund, according to the report detailing this network.

The report, written by a silicon Valley scientist turned public interest watchdog John Mashey, is titled "Fakexperts," and details how right-wing foundations associated with the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Bradley family, and others have been using a secret finance network to support extremist right-wing groups. Most of these groups are associated with the State Policy Network, a band of corporate apologists who have made careers denying everything from the dangers of smoking cigarettes to the existence of climate change.

Some of the sketchy groups that have received big chunks of their 2010 budgets through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, including top climate change science deniers:

  • Americans For Prosperity Foundation got $7.6 million from DONORS groups in 2010, 43% of its budget. AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch and has received millions in direct funding from Koch foundations since the Koch brothers founded it.
  • Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) got $1.3 million from DONORS in 2010, 45% of its budget.
  • Cornwall Alliance (through the James Partnership) got $339,500 from DONORS in 2010, 75% of its budget.
  • Heartland Institute got $1.6 million from DONORS in 2010, 27% of it's budget, which came from Chicago billionaire Barre Seid (see p. 67).
  • State Policy Network got 36% of its 2010 budget ($4.8 million) from DONORS. SPN members include just about every climate-denying organization and every conservative think tank in the country, including AFP and Heartland.

The twin DONORS organizations are advertised as a way for very wealthy people and corporations to remain hidden when "funding sensitive or controversial issues groups," which creates a lack of accountability that is troubling. DONORS also promises to only funnel money to groups with an extreme anti-environmental bend, so industrial billionaires need not worry about their money winding up here at Greenpeace, as Donor's Trust co-founder Whitney Ball explains:

"...if a donor names his child a successor advisor, and she wants to give to Greenpeace, we’re not going to be able to do that."

Expect to hear more about Donor's Trust and Donor's Capital Fund as we continue to track the dirty money of Koch Industries and their allies. For more, check out PBS FRONTLINE's recent dig on climate deniers in a special called Climate of Doubt, which includes descriptions of the DONORS groups from Drexel University's Robert Brulle.

Koch’ed up: Petcoke’s political pollution

Bill Koch, CEO of Oxbow Carbon and billionaire brother of Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries

Written by David Turnbull, crossposted from Oil Change International

If there is a statistical correlation between dirty oil and dirty politics, we have yet to fully quantify it – but you can add this to the growing pile of anecdotal evidence that the dirtiest political players are responsible for some of the dirtiest energy on the planet.

William Koch – the “other” Koch brother along with David and Charles – was recently sued by a former senior executive at his Oxbow Carbon & Minerals Inc. for false imprisonment.  The allegations are that Koch lured the former executive to his Colorado ranch and then held him against his will to intimidate him.  The executive was allegedly being pressured not to go public with concerns over an illegal tax avoidance scheme being pursued by Oxbow.

Of course, Koch denies that such an event took place and, rather, claims that the lawsuit is intended to draw attention away from another scandal at the corporation involving the executive in question.  Koch claims that the executive was part of a scheme to defraud Oxbow, by taking bribes from competitors and participating in various other unsavory business practices.

So let’s get this straight:  Either William Koch held an executive hostage in order to intimidate him from exposing an illegal tax scheme…OR…a substantial number of Oxbow executives were taking bribes and colluding with competitors.  Or, perhaps both stories are true.  Either way, there’s some shady business going on at Oxbow.

Now, other than being shady, what kind of business is Oxbow in, you might ask?  Well, it’s about as dirty as it gets. Oxbow hails itself as “the largest distributor of petroleum coke in the world with annual shipments of nearly 11 million tons.” What is this petroleum coke (or “petcoke”) that Oxbow is distributing all around the world?  Petcoke is a byproduct produced through the oil refining process that is coal-like in composition, yet dirtier and more carbon heavy than coal. In other words, when you refine really dirty oil such as tar sands oil (aka bitumen), what’s left over is petcoke. And it’s extremely dirty.

As the tar sands industry in Alberta, Canada has heated up in recent years, many citizens, communities, and advocacy groups have raised strong concerns about the intensive nature of its extraction and the dirty oil that comes from the tar sands.  Tar sands extraction is destroying huge swaths of pristine and sacred land, and the oil that is produced from the tar sands is as dirty as it gets.  Meanwhile communities in both Canada and the United States are standing up to try to stop the transport of dirty tar sands oil through their backyards and waterways.

But that’s actually only part of the tar sands story – with tar sands oil also comes petcoke, and this stuff is ugly. When it is burned in power plants or factories, it emits 38% more carbon by weight than conventional coal and significantly more toxic pollutants as well.  Essentially, wherever petcoke is used as fuel it generally is making a dirty process even dirtier.  And Oxbow makes its millions in moving this dirty fuel around the world.

Aside from dealing in dirty fuels, Oxbow also deals in dirty politics as well. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Oxbow and its executives have contributed over $3 million this election season – the second most of any energy company, more than $1 million more than even Exxon.  Add that to the $1.6 million in lobbying this Congress, and Oxbow is clearly one of the Beltway heavyweights buying votes and favors left and right.

While David and Charles Koch have received much of the notoriety in recent years due to their overt attempts at co-opting our democratic process, the other brother, William, is no saint either.  For years, he’s been standing in the way of progress up in Massachusetts as one of the key financiers of anti-Cape Wind efforts, to the tune of several million dollars.  It’s no surprise, really, given his stake in dirty energy.

So, what does this all come down to?  Unfortunately it’s the much of the same old story that we’ve seen time and again in the fossil fuel business. We see a picture of a corporation that is profiting from both the destruction of the planet and also our political system.  The product it sells is the dirtiest of the dirty; its business practices are unsavory at best, dangerous and illegal at worst; and they use their money to buy politicians to allow them keep making obscene profits doing all of the above.

It’s time for a cleaner future – one that takes us off of these dirty fuels and separates dirty energy money from our politics.

Jim Rogers Questioned over Duke Energy ties to ALEC, again

Written by Madhura Deshpande of Greenpeace's Frontline program.

On September 27th I had the opportunity to attend Jim Rogers’ first public appearance as CEO of Duke Energy Corp--which just completed a messy takeover of Progress Energy--and listen to his keynote speech about their future energy policy. The most surprising portion of this event was when Jim Rogers stated Duke’s mission is to provide clean, sustainable energy to its ratepayers. What a fantastic statement to make when comparing words to actions: Duke’s true, actionable mission is and has been to minimize the percentage of renewable energy in our portfolio and maximize funding for more coal, unregulated natural gas, and nuclear energy plants.

At the end of the event we asked Mr. Rogers why Duke Energy continues to support climate science denial (an obviously global and critical issue facing us today) and voter suppression by funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), especially since Duke’s policies seem to oppose such efforts. Conveniently, Mr. Rogers declined to answer on the grounds that he was leaving the event and did not have any more time. 

The truth is, we don’t have any more time to wait on you, Jim Rogers. The time to drop ALEC is now. 

ALEC is a group of big industry leaders (oil, coal, gas, tobacco, healthcare, etc) that help create state bills that limit the responsibility of their companies, and thus make more money. How can they do this? It’s easy: they use the massive profits from their respective industries to rub elbows with State lawmakers and ‘ghostwrite’ bills to be passed. Through these meetings, ALEC has helped disseminate state laws that disenfranchise voters and policies that deny climate science and solutions to global warming.

Although he declined to comment, Mr. Rogers is no stranger to the policies of ALEC or the pressure from his own ratepayers for Duke to cut ties with the toxic political bill mill. Over 150,000 individuals have demanded that Duke Energy stop funding ALEC; is the plan to simply ignore these residents that continue to pay rates for dirty energy, like he ignored our question? 
 

It’s time for Duke Energy and Jim Rogers to commit: drop ALEC and match your rhetoric with your actions. This nation and our environment cannot afford to wait any longer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coal front group ACCCE launches ad campaign ahead of presidential debates

Twenty four hours before the first presidential debate, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a front group for the coal industry, has launched a new ad as part of a $35 million dollar PR campaign.

The new ad, now playing on television stations around the country, is typical of the coal industry propaganda prominent in this year's presidential election.  Candidate Mitt Romney has mirrored coal industry messaging, releasing political ads decrying President Obama's"war on coal" and announcing "I like coal" during the first presidential debate.

A Greenpeace investigation that looked in to the history of coal funded advertising has revealed that the coal industry has been using the same scare tactics designed to limit regulation since the 1970's, when the Clean Air Act and Acid Rain legislation forced the industry to invest in a modicum of environmental protection, like scrubbers for smokestacks.

In this new campaign, Big Coal’s PR flaks at ACCCE have recycled the same tactics of attacking the EPA, promoting the myth of clean coal, threatening economic catastrophe, and stoking nationalist fears that the industry has used for decades.

ACCCE’s newest ad, released October, 2:

With emotive piano riffs and sweeping shots of baseball diamonds for backdrop, the narrator in ACCCE’s latest creation praises the “proven clean coal technologies that have resulted from a can do attitude,” with all the sappy sincerity of a political ad. The ad continues with a stern warning that “heavy handed EPA regulation” and “fads” like renewable energy are “giving those countries who are wisely increasing their reliance on coal an economic advantage,” while pictures of the great Wall of China scroll over the screen.

ACCCE’s brand new $35 million dollar ad campaign relies on the myth of clean coal, attacks on EPA, and an appeal to xenophobia…sound familiar?  It should.

Take this other recent ad by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) attacking the EPA:

In this 2012 ad a narrator warns that EPA regulations designed to reduce the amount of mercury released by coal fired power plants will “throw even more of us out of work.” The ad makes no mention of the dangers of mercury, a pervasive toxin that causes serious mental and physical issues, especially in children and pregnant women. However it does make one of the most common coal industry threats – that people must choose between the environment and a healthy economy.

Compare the bull riding bombast in the ad above to this 1974 ad, attacking the Clean Air Act:

The ad claims that the Clean Air Act, a seminal piece of legislation that has drastically reduced air pollution and saved countless lives, will cause “galloping unemployment.” Regulate coal – lose your job.  

As you can see from these similar ads, using economic threats to scare people away from pollution regulation has been a tactic of the coal industry for a long, long time. (FYI – Gross Domestic Product has tripled since the Clean Air Act was passed.)

Are you scared yet?

No?

Well how bout some good old fashioned xenophobia: 

This 2007 ad reminds us that regulating coal makes dictators smile, because coal regulations force America to buy natural gas from unfriendly foreigners. Yep, having clean air and water plays right in to Hugo Chavez’s hand. Who knew?

 

But making autocrats grin seems trivial compared to the threats outlined in this 1974 ad:

According to American Electric Power, (which is now a major funder of ACCCE) legislation to stop acid rain will result in middle-eastern petro-princes buying all of America’s coal. The ad says “The middle east oil companies are fast capturing the world’s money. There isn’t much they’re incapable of buying. So it could happen.” Almost as chauvinist as it is logically incongruous, this ad underscores the coal industry’s reliance on completely baseless claims designed to scare legislators and the public into inaction. 

Next they will be telling us that attempts to measure air pollution will make the lights go out and we won’t be able to watch TV!

 

 

 

Which they did in 1974:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ad (right) warns us that the EPA’s plan to measure pollution at the top of coal smoke stacks would shut down power generation, causing blackouts. Terrifying!  Except the EPA went ahead and measured pollution from the top of the coal stacks, and there were no blackouts due to EPA regulation in 1975, or since.

So what does that tell us about claims by pro-coal politicians that EPA regulations will cause blackouts this year in 2012? Senate republicans claim that “EPA’s train wreck of new regulations on energy providers will destroy jobs, raise electricity prices, threaten the reliability of the electric grid, and increase the chance of blackouts.” Should we believe them? Or is this just one more lie from a fear mongering industry that has been making the same idle threats for almost four decades?

Coal Miners in Romney TV ads were forced to attend rally

Last week, Greenpeace posted a comparison of Romney’s new “War on Coal” TV ads with coal industry advertising. Our analysis shows that Romney’s ads mirror four decades of coal industry advertising. 

It turns out that the coal industry is not only providing Romney with talking points for his TV ads, but also with human props. The Romney “War on Coal” TV ad features the candidate speaking in front of a crowd of coal miners. Murray Energy Company forced these miners to miss a day of work without pay, and told them that attendance was mandatory at the Romney event. On Tuesday, Progress Ohio filed an FEC complaint over the use of coal miners in the Romney TV ad. "Clearly the [Romney] campaign should have thought better of exploiting the forced support of these workers,” said Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director of ProgressOhio.

The TV ad is running in coal states, including Ohio and West Virginia. In the ad, Romney declares “we have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?” Greenpeace analysis revealed that this estimate is frequently used in coal advertising, even though the National Academy of Sciences shows it to be vastly overestimated.

Romney's "War on Coal" TV ads mirror coal industry advertising

Mitt Romney released new TV ads this week about Obama “ruining” the coal industry, conveniently timed with a sudden House Republican push for the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.”  

 

A Greenpeace investigation released last week highlights the recurring themes of Big Coal advertising, with decades of ads from coal mining companies, coal-burning utilities, and industry front groups. The Big Coal industry advertising machine has been working for decades to “keep America stupid,” as Rolling Stone put it.  

This week’s political messaging about a supposed “war on coal” illustrates a troubling trend that the Big Coal public relations machine is co-opting America's elected leaders.

New Romney TV ads on coal mirror the industry’s old and new ads

One of Big Coal’s main advertising themes since the 1970s has been abundance of coal and energy security. Romney's new TV ad highlights this theme, featuring a stump speech clip with Romney declaring “We have 250 years of coal! Why wouldn’t we use it?” 

The 250-year coal supply figure is an extreme overestimate, since US coal reserves can only be confirmed to last about 100 years, according to a National Academy of Sciences report five years ago. So, where did Romney get that number?

Maybe Romney got it from this coal industry front group advertisement, claiming that using less coal will make  dictators smile. Check out the ad up close

Or maybe Romney got the 250-year claim out of this internet ad from ACCCE, the coal industry’s public relations association. 

Coal industry estimates of incredible abundance are notoriously incorrect. At least Romney’s estimate was slightly more accurate compared to this National Coal Association ad from 1977, claiming coal would last 500 years. In 1976, an American Electric Power ad used the 500-year coal supply along with an estimate that America would run out of oil and natural gas by 1988. People say hindsight is always 20/20.

Not only does the coal industry provide talking points for Romney’s stump speeches and TV ads, but it also provides the human props. The Romney TV ad features shots of the candidate speaking with a crowd of coal miners behind him. Murray Energy Company forced these miners to miss a day of work without pay, and told them that attendance was mandatory at the Romney event.

 

Obama also influenced by Big Coal advertising

Unfortunately, the Republican candidate is not the only one susceptible to coal industry public relations. The Obama campaign aired radio ads criticizing Romney for saying a dirty coal plant “kills people” when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Obama has made so-called “clean coal” and CCS technology part of his energy platform. As a way to keep their industry alive, Big Coal invests heavily in “clean coal” advertising, even though the touted CCS technology that captures carbon dioxide is unproven at scale and exorbitantly expensive. Check out this nonchalant Peabody Energy ad from 2009.

 

The clean coal advertising theme existed decades before CCS technology, when simply “washing” coal meant that it was now “clean,” like in this AEP ad from 1979.

Congress is another vehicle for coal industry public relations

The coal industry advertising doesn’t only influence presidential politics. Republicans in the House Friday morning passed the so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act.” The Act is several coal-friendly bills packaged into one big wish list for the coal industry, including stripping EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, restricting EPA from regulating coal ash and delaying the EPA mercury rule. The bill package will be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. 

The Act provided Republicans with the opportunity to lambast the EPA for protecting public health from coal pollution. As two Republicans wrote in a Sept 20th op-ed, “President Obama and his extreme EPA have issued new rules and regulations that are crippling the coal industry” and “this ‘Train Wreck’ of new EPA regulations is already…costing jobs in places where unemployment is staggering.” 

Considering that energy experts will tell you that competition from renewable energy and natural gas are actually causing the decline in coal, why are these Republicans so focused on EPA regulations? One could list several political reasons but, coincidentally, blaming the EPA has been a regular theme for Big Coal advertising since Nixon established the EPA in the 1970s.

In this 1974 ad, EPA is blamed for blocking the use of coal which somehow, in a bizarre twist of logic, would result in Middle Eastern oil moguls buying American coal fields from under our noses. 

Another 1974 American Electric Power ad criticized EPA for encouraging the use of pollution scrubbers on coal plants. In comparison, the coal industry now celebrates scrubber technology for making coal “clean" while still attacking the EPA for new clean air rules. This ACCCE internet ad claims the EPA will cost 1.65 million jobs. 

Coal advertising themes like "coal is abundant," "coal is clean," and "EPA kills jobs" are completely integrated now into Presidential and Congressional debates. After decades of Big Coal advertising efforts, some of our elected officials have mutated into Big Coal spokespeople.

Petroleum Broadcasting System's "Newshour" and the Merchants of Climate Doubt

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog

There's an old German proverb that goes, "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Enter a recent spate of reportage by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) "Newshour." In a September 17 story titled, "Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message" (with a URL titled, "Why the Global Warming Crowd Oversells its Message") the Newshour "provided an unchecked platform for Anthony Watts, a virulent climate change denier funded by the Heartland Institute," as described by Forecast the Facts.

Forecast the Facts created a petition demanding that the "PBS ombudsman...immediately investigate how this segment came to be aired," stating that, "This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS."

Very true, this is exactly the type of reporting we've come to expect out of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a cable "news" network that provides a voice for right-wing propagandists on all policy issues, including climate change denial. But perhaps expectations are too high for PBS' "Newshour" and we should've expected exactly what we got: a friendly platform for the climate change denying merchants of doubt

What's at play here goes above and beyond a single bad story by "Newshour." Rather, it's a small piece and the result of an aggressive campaign that's been going on for nearly two decades to destroy public television in the public interest.

Based on the shift in how the "Newshour" has funded itself over the years, it's evident that the once-esteemed "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" streamed on the Public Broadcasting System has transformed PBS into what investigative reporter Greg Palast calls the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

"Petroleum Broadcasting System" Sponsored by Chevron, Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Et Al 

In an October 2010 story, Palast pointed out that the "Newshour" is funded by Chevron in critiquing its softball coverage of the BP oil disaster. This led him to refer to PBS as the "Petroleum Broadcasting System."

Above and beyond funding from Chevron, "Newshour" also lists Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), owned by Warren Buffett under the auspices of Berkshire Hathaway, as a sponsor. As previously reported here on DeSmog, BNSF - the second largest freight rail company in the U.S. behind Union Pacific - is a major transporter of tar sands infrastucture to the Alberta tar sands. It's also a major mover of coal being sent to coastal terminals and exported to Asia.

BNSF also inked a deal in June 2012 with U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. to "build and run a major warehousing operation...to store sand destined for the Eagle Ford Shale." The Texas-based Eagle Ford Shale basin, like all shale basins, requires vast amounts of fracking sand (aka sillica sand) in order to tap into the gas located deep within the shale reservoir. This sand predominantly comes from western Wisconsin's "sand land," as we explained in a recent short documentary.

The San Antonio Business Journal explained the situation in-depth:

The proposed facility, scheduled to open in early 2013, will be constructed on 290 acres of land the railroad purchased late last year. It will be able to store up to 15,000 tons of sand used by drillers during the hydraulic fracturing process to release oil and gas from dense shale rock.

The Fort Worth-based railway will haul up to 40,000 tons of silica sand and other products per month to San Antonio from U.S. Silica operations in Ottawa, Ill., and Rochelle, Ill.

To top it off, Buffett himself has major personal investments in Big Oil, as we've written about on DeSmog. As of August 2011, he owned 29.1 million shares of stock in ConocoPhillips, 421,800 shares of stock in ExxonMobil, and 7.777 million shares of stock in General Electric, all three of which are involved in various aspects of the tar sands extraction industry and the shale gas extraction industry.

In sum, BNSF is cashing in big time from the shale gas boom, the tar sands boom, and the coal export boom. 

Koch Industries - a major Heartland Institute funder and key behind its founding - has also funded PBS' "Nova" to the tune of $7 million. ExxonMobil has also provided funds to PBS' "Nova," "Nightly Business Report" and "Masterpiece Theatre." Both ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are among the top funders of the climate change denial machine.

The Plan: Cut Public Funding, Make PBS Rely on Fossil Fuel Industry Money

Looking at the situation more broadly, it's important to understand that PBS didn't always rely on fossil fuel industry largesse to keep itself afloat.

Rather, over the past two decades, PBS has been under attack by the Republican Party, with constant threats and a coordinated campaign to defund a network originally set up to be a public educational service via the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

As explained in a February 2011 ABC News story,

One of Newt Gingrich's first acts as speaker of the House in 1995 was to call for the elimination of federal funding for CPB, and for the privatization of public broadcasting. Neither attempt was successful, though it did keep the hot-button issue in the limelight for years. 

During the early 2011 budget debates, ABC explained that "The House Republicans' budget would rescind any funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which partially supports these two organizations -- for the remainder of the year, and zero out millions in funds after that."

President Barack Obama joined in on the attack on public television with his "bipartisan deficit commission" -- referred to as the "Catfood Commission" by FireDogLake -- calling for "eliminating funding for the CPB, estimating that it would save the government $500 million in 2015," ABC explained. His Republican Party opponent for the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney, has also called for the defunding of PBS.

Private funding of what was originally supposed to be a publicly-funded television station comes with its own agenda. This agenda departs from the mission set out by the 1967 Act, which deemed it "in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public...television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes" and said it "should be created...to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control."

The New York Times said it best in a May 2008 story: benevolent corporate underwriting of public television is "increasingly out of step with the...needs of corporations" as they don't "sponsor public television programs for purely philanthropic reasons."

Plenty of Money for PSYOPs Campaigns Abroad

Even PBS President Paula Kerger has internalized the message that the U.S. government is "broke," stating after the latest attempt to defund NPR by House Republicans, "While we understand the many difficult decisions appropriators must make and that the nation is facing challenging economic times, if enacted, such drastic cuts in federal funding could have a devastating effect on public television stations."

Far from being strapped for cash, though, the U.S. government has plenty of money to spend on overseas psychological operations (PSYOPs) campaigns around the world of the sort covered by DeSmog during the shale gas industry's PSYOPs revelation of November 2011.

Media scholar Bob McChesney explained this phenomenon in a March 2011 Democracy Now! appearance, during the middle of the previous round of PBS funding cuts debate in the U.S. House of Representatives:

You know, currently the United States spends roughly twice as much money bankrolling international broadcasting — Voice of America and the various Radio Martís and things like that — than it does paying for domestic public broadcasting and community broadcasting, roughly twice as much — $750 million, roughly, last year. And the idea of raising that and putting more propaganda out to sort of enhance the view of the United States vis-à-vis other nations of the world is entirely the wrong way to go. 

That $750 million is more than the $500 President Obama said the U.S. could save by slashing publicly-funded media. In leiu of public funding, American citizens are being shafted with fossil fuel-funded disinformation here at home, while subsidizing it with their tax dollars abroad. 

Unless we see big changes in funding for public television, it'll continue to be a standard operating procedure for outlets like PBS to transform into iterations of the newfangled "Petroleum Broadcasting System" - and to end where we began - play the game of "Whose bread I eat his song I sing."

Image Credit: Forecast the Facts

Record amounts of ad spending by dirty energy industries, same old deceptions


This year, the oil, gas and coal industries combined have spent more than $153 million on ads promoting fossil fuels and attacking renewables, according to the New York Times. That’s almost four times the amount spent on clean energy advertising in the same time frame.

It’s also a third more than was spent by the fossil fuels industries in 2008. 

So what message is worth the record amounts of advertising dollars?

Well, as it turns out, the fossil fuel industries really don’t like regulation, the EPA, or president Obama, and they want the voting public behind them. 

Though the dirty energy industries’ dislike of Obama seems a bit misplaced, (between allowing widespread fracking and his support of drilling offshore and in the arctic, Obama has given the fossil fuel lobby plenty) it does make sense that they would support Mitt Romney.  After all, Romney is not concerned with “healing the planet,” and neither are the oil and coal corporations of America. It’s a natural fit.

However, the majority of the fossil fuel funded commercials are actually repeats of the same messages that the Big Coal and Big Oil have been trumpeting for years.

A recent Greenpeace investigation in to coal advertising over the last 40 years has found that the fear mongering and hysterical accusations made today by coal companies – that regulations kill jobs or coal can be “clean” for instance – are literally decades old.  

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group, has spent $12 million dollars so far this year on ads that, except for being in color and on youtube, could have been straight from 1970.

“The stakes are high,” said Steve Miller, the recently retired president of ACCCE. Well, hopefully Mr. Miller is high if he thinks people will buy the same tired deceptions that the coal industry has been threatening us with for years.

Big Coal: decades of deception

Coal giant American Electric Power's slogan in the 70's.

[See more advertisements at www.quitcoal.org/coalads]

“Can coal be cleaned before it’s burned? Of course it can!

Although this language comes from a 1970s advertisement from coal giant American Electric Power, this claim would be right at home with today’s “clean coal” advertising.

When someone sent us some old 1970’s newspaper advertisements from coal-burning giant American Electric Power, questioning proposed regulations to stop coal pollution, the language had a familiar ring to it. How long had the industry been telling us that coal was clean? Has the industry been using the same deceptive advertising campaigns to scrub its image (and delay important regulations to protect public health) for decades? So we went back through the archives to review the record.

We found that the coal industry has spent at least four decades spinning lies to convince us coal is clean, and any scientific evidence on pollution is crooked.  The industry further claims that any pollution regulation will cost jobs and cripple the economy.

The origins of truth spinning by the coal industry dates back to the birth of public relations in the first part of the twentieth century. The coal industry claimed they had cleaned up dirty coal eliminating the “black froth” on streams so that nearby waterways would remain “pristine.”

 


 


The 70’s and the Clean Air Act

The real spin from the coal industry began in the 1970’s when the Clean Air Act introduced air quality guidelines to curb sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that come from burning coal.

 
The coal industry pursued an aggressive PR offensive.  American Electric Power (AEP), then the country’s largest coal-burning utility company, launched ads calling for modifications of the Clean Air Act, or else the country would face “galloping unemployment.” 
 

AEP also ran ads warning that scrubbers designed to remove life-threatening pollutants from smokestack emissions wouldn't work, but would create large quantities of “oozy gook.

In contrast, today AEP’s subsidiary, Appalachian Power has quite a different take on scrubbers.   The company states on its website that the sludge from scrubbers is harmless: “…. This harmless substance then is sent to a landfill. The scrubber captures almost all of the SO2 produced from burning coal. That makes our air cleaner. It also gives plants the flexibility to use locally-available high-sulfur coal, which helps keep fuel costs low.”

To get around the local pollution problems and to adhere to the new air quality regulations, the industry started building tall stacks to disperse the pollution instead of reducing it.  When the EPA targeted tall stacks, AEP again fought them tooth and nail.

 


When the Middle East oil embargo sent gas prices skyrocketing, the industry tried to use concerns about the crisis to support its agenda. The Saudis would buy US coal, screamed one advertisement.  “What time is the electricity on today?”  asked another.  “Fanatical Environmentalists” were threatening America’s future, according to one ad.

 


What acid rain?

In 1980 the U.S. government began what would be a decades-long effort to grapple with the problem of acid rain caused by sulfur emissions from coal-fired power stations.

The coal industry attacked the emerging scientific consensus on acid rain.  Edison Electric Institute, funded by the utility industry and member of the Coalition for Energy Environment Balance, published “Facts About Acid Rain.”  The author, Alan Katzenstein, later worked for the Tobacco Institute and claimed that second hand smoke was harmless.

 


1990 Clean Air Act Amendments
When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 despite a barrage of industry-launched court cases, scrubbers became mandatory for all new power plants. Yet the coal industry still argued that regulation would “short circuit America’s electricity system”

 


But the lights stayed on.

In fact, the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments have saved billions of dollars spent on human health and worker days, according to a 2011 EPA analysis. A 2009 EPA report states that acid rain deposits over the US have decreased by 43 percent.

Enter the Greenwash

Once the coal industry had to comply with new standards, it began scrubbing the record of its resistance to public health standards.   The industry claimed that its state of the art technology cleaned up the emissions and pollution from coal plants that they had furiously spurned the previous decade. “A cleaner environment is on everyone’s agenda” said the EEI.
 


Enter climate science denial
By the early 1990’s, there was a new threat to Big Coal. After years of scientists' warnings about the impacts of greenhouse gases from burning coal and other fossils fuels, climate change began to emerge as a widespread concern. Once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first report, the coal industry rolled out the same attacks on the scientific evidence.

A new industry front group, Information Council on the Environment, ran a test series of advertisements challenging climate science. The objective was to “reposition global warming as theory, not fact.”  This strategy formed the beginnings of a decades-long, industry-funded campaign of climate science denial that continues to this day.


An economic argument was also used against climate action, with claims that a treaty like the Kyoto Protocol would ruin the economy. The “not global, won’t work” mantra of these ad campaigns has been a consistent excuse from U.S. officials in international climate talks for the last 12 years.  

 


The new “clean coal”

By the 2000’s, the coal industry increasingly relied on its “coal is clean” mantra.

Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, the coal industry coalition, argued that coal was “better for the economy and cleaner for our environment.” 
 


Industry convinced federal agencies to pour taxpayer subsidies into a search for new coal emissions technologies including “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS.

CCS would bury C02 in underground aquifers. Despite being a prohibitively expensive and unproven technology, it has become the new poster child for clean coal.

By 2007, ABEC was claiming that they were going “beyond clean”. CCS was portrayed as being just around the corner, and pollutants like SO2 and NOX were now reduced to “near zero.” 

 


In 2008, ABEC morphed into the “American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity” (ACCCE) that mobilized industry supporters across the country before the elections.  ACCCE now claims “clean coal technology is real – and it is deployed across the U.S. and around the world to the benefit of people and our planet.”

The coal industry has spent decades trying to convince Americans that protecting our health and the environment will destroy the economy and leave us in the dark.

Yet our country has continually improved public health and environmental protections without the economic disasters hyped by the coal industry.

We couldn’t believe them then. Why should we believe them now?

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