public relations

Four Years After Greenpeace Sting: PR Firm Dumps Oil Lobbyists

  • Posted on: 20 February 2015
  • By: Connor Gibson

Richard Edelman calls time out on Big Oil's climate change denial. Photo: Adweek.

Perhaps you heard the good news - the world's largest public relations firm, Edelman, just spun off an advertising subsidiary so that it could show a commitment to not aiding the denial of climate change science. The Guardian explains how API's contracts with Edelman were so massive--tens of millions of dollars--that it was up to 10% of the PR giant's income.

For years, Edelman has managed multi-million dollar contracts with the American Petroleum Institute (API), using its Blue Advertising subsidiary to help API run commercials selling fantasies to people: that oil and gas are our only viable, plentiful, "AMERICAN" sources of energy.

In the saga that led Edelman to dump the lobbyists at API, Greenpeace had a small role to play: we infiltrated a commercial shoot, run by Edelman's Blue advertising arm for API. The commercials were to be called "Vote 4 Energy," casting the illusion of mass popular demand for more oil and gas drilling (and more pollution, more climate change, and more government giveaways to prop it all up).

After being dressed up in a button-down, plaid orange shirt--I'm not sure what look they had in mind for me--I was put in front of the camera and told to repeat lines back. This despite the casting call for "REAL PEOPLE not Actors!" Huh.

Instead of telling them "I Vote" for oil and gas, I ran off script and demanded a prioritization of clean energy, not continued pandering to oil lobbyists at API. As I was ushered off set, the person I appealed to for a clean energy future was Robert McKernan, president of Blue Advertising, the company that Edelman is ditching. He was the last person I saw before being booted out of the studio rooms, and as we locked eyes, I appealed directly to him: "we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar." Here's a transcribed recording of that on-set disruption:

Shockingly, API and Edelman didn't stop the commercial shoot there and reinvent it into an appeal for clean energy (yes, that's sarcasm). And as Edelman and API moved forward with the commercial, Greenpeace got another idea.

On the day that API's commercials debuted, Greenpeace created and released a fake Vote4Energy commercial, mocking their bizarre message with parody oil executives dismissing clean energy and using empty patriotic jargon: "I vote for prosperous American liberty jobs for Freedom." 

We crashed API's launch event for Vote4Energy, rolling out an astroturf mat for politicians and lobbyists to make their entrance, framed by oil company logos. Online, we buried their actual website with our spoof material and drove more traffic to our fake commercial. Some journalists actually linked to our silly video in their stories about API's Vote4Energy campaign.

This was in January, 2012. Since then, big things have happened at Edelman.

Edelman's Make-Or-Break Moment

Fast forward to last fall, 2014: Edelman suffered a months-long PR crisis--the last thing a PR firm wants--over its representation of API and other climate science denial organizations. Edelman's chairman, Richard Edelman, hastily put out a statement affirming his company's commitment to climate change.

Mr. Edelman was personally urging the press that he cared about the issue, and fired a top executive who was uncooperative with the Climate Investigations Center, which was surveying PR firms on their climate change policies. It was awkward.

The mess was intensified by another round of documents showing Edelman was helping TransCanada--the operator of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline--with campaign planning to subvert local activism in Canada against TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. After the plan was leaked, TransCanada dumped Edelman.

It seems that Big Oil is starting to be a Big Headache for Big PR. Of course, there are still plenty of public relations firms with little to no moral standard out there, unrecognized by the public, for Big Oil to pay for dirty PR.

But for the world's largest firm to take some meaningful steps to throw in the towel on climate denial - that indicates a precedent for an industry that most activists wouldn't have bothered to spend time trying to change.

And it's a good thing, because climate scientists aren't getting any less distressed about our changed climate. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is getting desperate enough to officially call for "unproven technology" in attempts to mitigate the crisis. Despite the weight of the crisis, which is just getting started, coal companies, oil companies, the Koch brothers and their legion of front groups are creating layers of red tape to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, the first regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Perhaps there's a slick PR firm out there willing to make right of its past and do something productive for the climate, and all of us who rely upon it.

Edelman: you're up. Show us you mean it this time.

 

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PR Flack Randal Simonetti Sells Conflict to Corporations

  • Posted on: 4 December 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

Randal Simonetti. This isn't a joke - image via TalkZone.com

In the public relations world, there exists a subset known as crisis communications, or crisis management. This is the type of service a company like Takata may purchase to handle deaths and recalls from faulty air bags, how BP and Halliburton seek damage control after causing the worst accidental oil spill in history, or how TransCanada may hire (then fire) PR giants like Edelman to handle activist groups that are resisting development of tar sands pipelines.

Now, DeSmogBlog's Kevin Grandia (a former Greenpeace employee) reveals how one particularly un-savvy PR agent named Randal Simonetti is using Greenpeace campaigns to end deforestation in Indonesia as an excuse for companies to hire people like him to troll activists' Facebook pages and slander activists as a bunch of greedy hypocrites. Simonetti says that activists don't really care about the bad things corporations do, like "defoliating" forests. Instead, we're just a bunch of greedy treehuggers, laughing all the way to our eco-friendly banks credit unions:

As is often the case, funding is a primary driver of any activist organization’s behavior.  However, there are people within the activist organization that really do believe in the mission but dislike the strategy of attacking just to raise awareness to increase funding.

These folks are essentially whistle blowers.  Primarily, they only feel safe to express those opinions through social media therefore it is essential to search the social media networks for syntax clues provided by the whistle blowers. Then, expose that information through your own media channels.

This from the guy hired to protect the profit margins of large corporations during times of public scrutiny. Never considered is the fact that rainforest destruction in Indonesia is linked to slavery at palm oil plantations, local air pollution, global climate change, and habitat loss for critically endangered tigers and orangutans.

Randal Simonetti: don't solve the problem - attack the messenger!

DeSmog's Grandia sums up Mr. Simonetti's likely motivation nicely:

By assuming from the word go that the company is right and that activists are only in it for the money, Simonetti sets up a path that ends in ruin for both his client and for the environmental advocates who want to see positive change.

It creates a confrontation, instead of dialogue — a log jam before either party has even had the chance to consider the other's point of view.
 
It sets up a scenario where nobody wins.
 
Which, I guess if you are in the business of crisis communications, is a pretty lucrative situation to find yourself in.  

How Corporate Executives Imagine Protests

Most hilarious is the Tweet where Randal Simonetti's company, EFP Rotenberg, attempts to sell its bad advice with the most awkward of images. Apparently, this is what impeccably-groomed middle-aged white men think grassroots protests look like:

 

 

For those hungry for more laughs, the full Ignition Consulting / EFP Rotenberg blog can be viewed here. The Greenpeace International campaign it references was waged against chocolate giant Nestle to end its role in driving the destruction of Indonesia's Paradise Rainforest. That campaign ended in productive partnership, the way Greenpeace (and most companies) prefer to collaborate on solving important problems.

But if corporations would rather favor Ignition Consulting's conflict-mongering instead of listening to the case of activist groups seeking solutions, they have every right to waste their time and money doing so. We don't want that, nor do we recommend it.

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GREENPEACE REPORT: Climate Change Denial Machine vs. Scientists

  • Posted on: 10 September 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Cindy Baxter, crossposted from Greenpeace: Dealing in Doubt.

Who likes being lied to by people paid by the oil industry who pose as “experts” on climate change?

Did you know it’s been going on for 25 years?

In a couple of weeks, the UN’s official advisors on climate change science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its global assessment on the issue. Yet in the background, more attacks on the climate science are underway

For the last quarter century, the climate science denial machine, its cogs oiled by fossil fuel money, has been attacking climate science, climate scientists and every official US report on climate change, along with State and local efforts – with the aim of undermining action on climate change.

Our new report, Dealing in Doubt, sets out the history of these attacks going back to the early 90s. These are attacks based on anti-regulatory, so called “free market” ideology, not legitimate scientific debate, using a wide range of dirty tricks: from faked science, attacks on scientists, fake credentials, cherry-picking scientific conclusions: a campaign based on the old tobacco industry mantra: “doubt is our product”.

We give special attention to perhaps today’s poster child of the climate denial machine’s free market think tanks, the Heartland Institute, which is about to launch a new version of its “NIPCC” or “climate change reconsidered” report next week in Chicago.

Unlike the real IPCC, with thousands of scientists involved from around the world, the Heartland Institute’s handful of authors is paid. Several of them claim fake scientific credentials. They start with a premise of proving the overwhelming consensus on climate science wrong, whereas the real IPCC simply summarizes the best science to date on climate change.

This multi-million dollar campaign has been funded by anti-government ideologues like the Koch brothers, companies like ExxonMobil and trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute.Big Oil funding of climate denial declines. "Anonymous" funding through Donors skyrockets. Interesting.

More recently, less visible channels of funding have been revealed such as the Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, organization that that has been called the “ATM of the conservative movement”, distributing funds from those who don’t want to be publicly associated with the anti-environmental work product of organizations like the Heartland Institute.

In the last week we’ve seen new peer-reviewed science published, linking at least half of 2012’s extreme weather events to a human carbon footprint in the atmosphere and on the weather and climate.

As the scientific consensus strengthens by the day that climate change is happening now, that carbon pollution is causing it and must be regulated, the denial machine is getting increasingly shrill. But today, while they are being increasingly ignored by a majority of the public, their mouthpieces in the US House of Representatives, for instance, have increased in number.

They’re still fighting the science – and they’re still being funded, to the tune of millions of dollars each year, to do it.

Dealing in Doubt sets out a history of these attacks. We show how the tactics of the tobacco industry’s campaign for “sound science” led to the formation of front groups who, as they lost the battle to deny smoking’s health hazards and keep warning labels off of cigarettes, turned their argumentative skills to the denial of climate change science in order to slow government action.

koch brosWhat we don’t cover is the fact that these organizations and deniers are also working on another front, attacking solutions to climate change. They go after any form of government incentive to promote renewable energy, while cheering for coal, fracking and the Keystone pipeline.

They attack any piece of legislation the US EPA puts forward to curb pollution. Decrying President Obama’s “war on coal” is a common drumbeat of these anti-regulation groups. One key member of the denial machine, astrophysicist Willie Soon from the Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics, has portrayed himself as an “expert” on mercury and public health in order to attack legislation curbing mercury emissions from coal plants.

This recent history, as well as the prior history of denial by the tobacco companies and chemical, asbestos and other manufacturing industries, is important to remember because the fossil fuel industry has never admitted that it was misguided or wrong in its early efforts to delay the policy reaction to the climate crisis. To this day, it continues to obstruct solutions.

The individuals, organizations and corporate interests who comprise the ‘climate denial machine’ have caused harm and have slowed our response time. As a result, we will all ultimately pay a much higher cost as we deal with the impacts, both economic and ecological.

Eventually, these interests will be held accountable for their actions.

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Heritage Foundation crisis clogs Koch Brothers outreach to Hispanic voters

  • Posted on: 13 May 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

The Heritage Foundation isn't helping billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch reach Hispanic and Latino voters.

If you were the Koch brothers and you wanted to connect better with Latino and Hispanic voters, after you just dumped millions of your own cash into a presidential election that didn't go in your favor, you'd probably be annoyed if one of your favorite front groups started undermining your voter outreach.

That's exactly what's happening with the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Heritage is having a public relations crisis after releasing a contentious report claiming that immigration reform would cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years, indebting taxpayers to support people who live in the U.S. illegally. The offensive kicker is that the Heritage report's freshly-resigned co-author, Jason Richwine, previously published a dissertation claiming that Hispanic and Latino immigrants have lower IQs than White people.

Here's a helpful meme for Mr. Richwine:

As Heritage Foundation is one of the billionaire Koch brothers' favorite groups to implement their political agenda--receiving more than $2.7 million from Koch-controlled foundations since 2005--this is a poor start for the Kochs' new interest in reaching Hispanic and Latino voters in the U.S.

Amid the fiasco, Heritage pulled out of Buzzfeed's forum on immigration sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. See infighting over Heritage's assumptions about how so-called "illegals" contribute to the U.S. economy from the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, of which David Koch is a trustee.

Hispanic & Latino Voter Engagement is Central to the Kochs' Refined Political Plans:

After coordinating hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat President Obama with the direct help of other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, and Philip Anschutz, the Kochs are meticulously refining their methods of controlling U.S. politics from behind the scenes. Some of those methods already involve serious marginalization of U.S. immigrants from Latin-American countries, as I've previously written:

It’s worth noting that the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council distributed Arizona’s controversial racial profiling law, SB 1070, to states around the country so private prison companies can rake a profit off the incarceration of immigrants.

At the Kochs' most recent political strategy and fundraising meeting, the Kochs prioritized outreach to Hispanic voters, according to leaked material published by Mother Jones. Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries employee and Koch World's central fundraiser, explained the new priority in his invitation to "several hundred of America's top business owners and CEOs" attending last month's Koch meeting:

Among other topics, in April, we'll discuss how to more effectively engage growing demographic groups, such as Hispanic and Latino voters, and how to encourage principled and effective advocates of free enterprise to run for office.

Kevin Gentry then offered mild elaboration to invitees of the Koch meeting:

Hispanic, women and youth engagement. Allies will present an approach to more effectively communicate to these growing demographics, all of which will play a critical role in advancing free enterprise.

New Heritage President Jim DeMint's History with Koch World:

It's unclear if anyone from the Heritage Foundation attended the recent Koch meeting, although Heritage's new President and former U.S. Senator James DeMint has repeatedly attended the Kochs' secretive confabs in the past. In turn, the Kochs were one of the top contributors to Jim DeMint's political piggy bank while he ran and served in the Senate (2004-2012). Sen. DeMint's campaign and leadership PACs received a total $76,000 from Koch Industries and the Koch family (see p. 21 of Greenpeace's 2011 Koch report).

Either Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation didn't heed the notes from the Kochs' latest gathering, or Heritage staff didn't realize that calling people stupid isn't the best way to sell an ideology.

On a human level, the Kochs don't get it. Even ignoring the offensive work of the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and other Koch front groups, the recent focus on Latino and Hispanic voter outreach is clearly a self-serving political tactic, where broadly-defined groups of people are used as a means to an end.

Koch Industries bid for U.S. Newspapers includes major Spanish outlets:

The Koch brothers could potentially influence U.S. Latino voters through Koch Industries' controversial bid for a pile of major U.S. newspapers owned by Tribune Company. Tribune Co's print news in Chicago and Los Angeles isn't limited to the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times; Tribune Co. owns Hoy, the nation's second largest daily U.S. newspaper published in Spanish, as well as two major weekly outlets in Florida: El Sentinel de Florida Central and El Sentinel del Sur de la Florida, published in conjunction with two Tribune daily papers written in English, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Each Saturday, 127,000 copies of El Sentinel is distributed to its reader base, while Hoy's weekend edition reaches over one million homes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Tribune Company's widely distributed English newspapers also include the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, and the Allentown, PA's Morning Call and Hampton Road, VA's Daily Press.

While Koch Industries doesn't yet own any media, a network of Koch-friendly media has shown it is capable of spreading misinformation on key topics like climate change. Due to the high possibility of warped editorial reporting if Koch buys Tribune, ten public employee unions and groups like Free Press, FAIR, Forecast the Facts, Courage Campaign, Daily Kos, and the Center for Media and Democracy have all urged the public and owners of the Tribune Company to reject an offer from Koch Industries.

Check Greenpeace.org for more Koch Facts.

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ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

  • Posted on: 4 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design 

"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."

For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes

"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.

Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry

The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video

The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."

"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.

"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy. 

Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.

Image Credit: ShutterStockbillyhoiler

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Coal Miners in Romney TV ads were forced to attend rally

  • Posted on: 25 September 2012
  • By: Aliya Haq

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

  • Posted on: 21 September 2012
  • By: Aliya Haq

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.

Science Denial and Andrea Saul – Romney 2012 Campaign Spokesperson

  • Posted on: 6 August 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Mitt Romney press secretary Andrea Saul has attacked science through public relations campaigns with DCI Group and Tech Central Station, both financed by ExxonMobil.

 
UPDATE 8/10/2012: see commentary on this briefing in Mother Jones, Buzzfeed and the Guardian.

INTRODUCTION: 

 
Andrea Saul, a prominent Romney 2012 campaign operative and spokesperson, formerly worked for DCI Group, a Washington DC public affairs and lobbying firm. During this period, DCI Group was on contract to ExxonMobil at the height of Exxon’s campaign attacking global warming science and climate change policy. DCI’s efforts included campaigns to undermine climate legislation and to push counter messages and spokespeople to media on the connection between extreme weather and global warming. Saul’s extensive role in these DCI Group climate campaigns can be traced through archived documents and press releases. Her role in shaping Romney’s climate and science policy is not known. 
“Gov. Romney does not think greenhouse gases are pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Air Act, and he does not believe that the EPA should be regulating them,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Humans emit it every time they exhale.”  Politico, July 2011
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Ms. Saul has also responded to Mitt Romney's contradictory public statements on global warming. NPR reported in October, 2011:
"Romney went from believing that humans contribute to global warming, though he was uncertain how much, to saying he didn't know what contributes to global warming." Andrea Saul denied that Romney had "flip-flopped" on his climate stance, responding:
"This is ridiculous. Governor Romney's view on climate change has not changed. He believes it's occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn't know to what extent. He opposes cap and trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor. Maybe the bigger threat is all the hot air coming from career politicians who are desperate to hold on to power."

ANDREA SAUL AND DCI GROUP

  • Saul was hired March 2011 as a Romney campaign spokesperson. Today, she regularly appears in the media as the main messenger for the campaign.
  • While employed with the PR firm DCI Group as an account executive between 2004-2007, Ms. Saul helped to orchestrate a multi-faceted, covert operation to undermine science, attack scientists and confuse the public and reporters. 
  • DCI was, at that time, contracted as lobbyists by Exxon and many other corporations.  Exxon remains a DCI client today.
From 2004 to 2007, Ms. Saul worked at the DCI Group, a top lobbying and public relations firm that has represented a range of clients including the Burmese junta and has orchestrated front group campaigns for Microsoft, Verizon and ExxonMobil. More on ExxonMobil's role in climate science denial is outlined in Steve Coll's new book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.
 
Two of the DCI Group founders, Tim Hyde and Thomas J. Synhorst, began their careers with the tobacco industry where they worked to undermine the science on the dangers of smoking. For instance, Mr. Synhorst oversaw field operations with the “smokers rights” groups, a phony movement designed to shift the discussion away from the dangers of smoking to the protection of smoking rights.
 
In the early-2000s, DCI picked up ExxonMobil as a client and began operations to create confusion about climate change science. For instance, the Wall Street Journal reported on a purportedly homemade YouTube video portraying Al Gore as a sinister figure who blames several problems on global warming. The video’s maker was listed as “Toutsmith” a 29-year-old who identified himself as living in Beverly Hills, California.
 
However, when Journal reporters contacted “Toutsmith” his return emails originated from a computer registered with the DCI Group. A spokesman from Exxon confirmed that the company was a DCI Group client. DCI declined to admit to the Wall Street Journal if they had made the video. 
 
According to the Wall Street Journal
"Traffic to the penguin video, first posted on YouTube.com in May, got a boost from prominently placed sponsored links that appeared on the Google search engine when users typed in "Al Gore" or "Global Warming." The ads, which didn't indicate who had paid for them, were removed shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted DCI Group on Tuesday."
As part of this Exxon funded campaign, Andrea Saul was a point person behind an effort to create confusion and advance contrarian viewpoints and corporate-funded pundits. 
 
This briefing illuminates Ms. Saul’s efforts at DCI: 

  • PART 1) Ms. Saul advanced the opinions of contrarian scientists and corporate-funded pundits on the Exxon-funded Tech Central Station, a purported news web site;
  • PART 2) Ms. Saul sought to promote contrarian voices into the debate over hurricanes and climate change in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; 
  • PART 3) Ms. Saul promoted the views of a scientist who had no training in climate change to undermine a study on climate change effects on the Antarctic ice sheet; 
  • PART 4) Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to undermine scientific consensus on the science of climate change; 
  • PART 5) Ms. Saul pushed out press releases for a front group linked to Grover Norquist designed to undermine pending climate change legislation.

ADDITIONAL CONTENT:

(click links above to jump down to a section of the briefing)

1. Andrea Saul - Contact on Climate Change for Phony News Site, Tech Central Station

Tech Central Station is a free market news site that was established, owned and published by DCI Group until it was sold in September 2006.  According to a story published in 2003 in the Washington Monthly, Tech Central Station appeared to be less about news than lobbying. The story found:
"Tech Central Station looks less like a think-tank-cum-magazine than a kind of lobbying practice. Which makes sense: Four of the five co-owners of TCS are also the co-owners of the DCI Group, the Washington public affairs firm founded by Republican operative Thomas J. Synhorst. TCS's fifth owner is Charles Francis, who is also a senior lobbyist at DCI and is listed on TCS's phone directory. And as it happens, three of TCS's sponsors--AT&T, General Motors, and PhRMA--have also retained DCI for their lobbying needs. (Both DCI's spokeswoman and TCS's chief executive officer declined to be interviewed for this article. However, after I requested comment, the Web site was changed. Where it formerly stated that 'Tech Central Station is published by Tech Central Station, L.L.C.,' it now reads 'Tech Central Station is published by DCI Group, L.L.C.')
 
"Like its publishing arm, DCI's business is to influence elite opinion in Washington. But instead of publishing articles, DCI specializes in what's known as 'corporate-financed grass-roots organizing,' such as setting up front groups to agitate for a client's position, placing letters to the editor with key newspapers, and using phone banks to generate calls to politicians. TCS, for its part, includes a disclaimer on its site noting that 'the opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of the writers and not necessarily those of any corporation or other organization.' But it is startling how often the opinions of TCS's writers and sponsors converge."
In 2006, Andrea Saul was listed as the contact person on Tech Central Station’s webpage on climate change. The site hosted opinions written by many prominent climate change science deniers including Patrick Michaels, Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, David Legates, Robert C. Balling, Henry I. Miller, Tim Ball, William Gray, Anthony Lupo, and Roy Spencer
 

2. DCI Tech Central Station - Campaign on Link Between Hurricanes and Climate Change

On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, after the worst year of hurricane damage in recent history, including the devastating and deadly hurricane Katrina, DCI was deployed to create a counter narrative on the connection between stronger hurricanes and global warming. It is unknown who the DCI client was requesting this work, or what the deliverables were.
 
As part of the DCI efforts, Tech Central Station produced and distributed a Video News Release (VNR) that called into question the science linking hurricanes with climate change. The VNR along with a known newscast that used the piece, is viewable online, preserved by the Center for Investigative Reporting:
 
 
VNRs are produced videos, contracted generally by corporations, edited as news segments and sent out to news stations in small markets in hopes of filling airtime within the actual newscast. 
 
DCI’s hurricane VNR was distributed to TV stations across the Gulf states and was aired on at least one of them. Materials accompanying the video package listed "TCS Daily Science Roundtable" as the producer. The VNR’s announcers said:
 
"There’s a lot of debate as to what’s been causing all of these hurricanes. Some scientists say it’s part of a naturally occurring cycle, while others have made the claim global warming is to blame.
 
"Dr. William Gray and Dr. James O’Brien, two of the nation’s top weather and oceans scientists, point to scientific data for the answer [...].
 
"Gray and many of his colleagues believe it’s not global warming that’s creating these massive hurricanes, but the cycle of nature itself."
Growing Body of Scientific Evidence on Hurricanes and Climate Change:
Around the time that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, several papers were published in the scientific literature that found a potential link between hurricanes and climate change.
 
Two months before Katrina hit, Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a 'Perspective' article in Science that examined the published literature for possible evidence linking hurricanes and climate change.  Dr. Trenberth concluded:
"Trends in human-influenced environmental changes are now evident in hurricane regions. These changes are expected to affect hurricane intensity and rainfall, but the effect on hurricane numbers remains unclear. The key scientific question is not whether there is a trend in hurricane numbers and tracks, but rather how hurricanes are changing."
Weeks before Katrina landed, Kerry Emmanuel with the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a study in Nature that reviewed the power of roughly 4,800 hurricanes in the prior few decades. His analysis concluded that hurricanes that occurred over this period were increasing in average intensity. 
"My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century."
Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published a 'Viewpoint' in Science which argued that the insurance industry was vulnerable to the negative financial impact of disasters accentuated by climate change. 
 
The month after Hurricane Katrina hit, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a study of tropical cyclones in Science. The data found an increase in the number and proportion of hurricanes reaching the largest categories, which are 4 and 5. 
 
The accumulated evidence of these papers, along with the media reports, had a definitive impact on public opinion. A poll run by Time/ABC News/Stanford University at that time, found that 85 percent of Americans agreed that the Earth was growing warmer. 
 
On the eve of the 2006 hurricane season, DCI responded to growing public recognition of global warming. On March 30, 2006, Andrea Saul sent out a press release alerting reporters to “experts” who could discuss the link between hurricanes and climate change. This press release furtively lists Saul as representing “Technology Commerce Society”, the tag line for TCS Daily, Tech Central Station’s daily blog website…it’s either Tech Central Station or the Technology Commerce Society. Saul’s real employer, DCI Group.
 
Ms. Saul wrote in the release: 
“Coming off one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, many are quick to blame the strength and frequency of these storms on global warming. Leading climate scientists, however, say there is no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate.” 
The scientists listed on the press statement included:
  • James J. O’Brien, director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State University – As an expert in oceanography and weather, Dr. O’Brien appeared to have little to no expertise in climate change according to his CV of published studies. 
  • Patrick Michaels, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia – A denier of anthropogenic global warming, Dr. Michaels has maintained strong ties to several denialist and front groups for oil and gas interests including the Cato Institute and the Greening Earth Society
  • George Taylor, Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon – With no training in climate change or hurricanes, Taylor’s job was “to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
  • Anthony R. Lupo, Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Missouri – A global warming denier and conservative activist, Lupo has been affiliated with numerous denialist organizations including the Science and Environmental Policy Project, the Heartland Institute, and the Marshall Institute (see also Dr. Lupo's resume).

3. Andrea Saul - Promoting the Views of a Non-expert Expert

In April 2006, Andrea Saul put out a press release to promote the views of weatherman and climate contrarian George Taylor who attempted to rebut a study published in Science which found that the Antarctic ice sheet was melting. Ms. Saul wrote:
"TCSDaily Science Roundtable member and Oregon state climatologist George Taylor, expressed his concern over the legitimacy of recent claims that the Antarctic ice sheet is melting. The Washington Post article titled 'Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Melting Rapidly' (www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/03/02/AR2006030201712.html) looked to Taylor to provide an expert view on the validity of a recent study published in Science magazine on global warming."
George Taylor was the Manager of the Oregon Climate Service at the University of Oregon and had no training in climate change or its effects on polar regions of the Earth. According to an article about his retirement in 2008, Taylor’s expertise was “ to help advise Oregon farmers, fishermen, skiers and motorists about likely weather conditions, both short- and long-term” (Jeff Wright, Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 22, 2008).
 

4. Andrea Saul - Led Campaign to Undermine Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Science

In mid 2006, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) sought to draft a consensus statement on the science of climate change. This statement examined the vast body of research on the matter in attempt to better explain the science to both scientists and the American public.
 
In response, several scientists sent a letter to the AMS in an attempt to introduce contrarian views about “natural variability” and “data uncertainty” in the climate.   The lead author of the letter was Joseph D’Aleo a well-known climate change denier who has no training in climate change science. Other signatories include contrarian scientists and corporate funded pundits such as Richard Lindzen, Sallie Baliunas, and Patrick J. Michaels.
 
To advance these views, Ms. Saul led a public relations campaign to “influence the deciding committee on the final statement.” 
 

5. Andrea Saul - Work with Grover Norquist Front Group, United For Jobs

When Congress was considering a tax on oil companies in the mid 2000’s, Andrea Saul leaped to Big Oil’s defense as part of United For Jobs, front group. In a press release by Saul, she wrote:
"Today United for Jobs (UFJ) warned that federal legislation to impose a so-called "windfall profits tax" on U.S. oil companies would have a severe economic impact on public employee trust funds. The Missouri Highway Patrol Retirement System, the Public School Employees' Retirement System of Missouri, the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System, and other public retirement funds could lose as much as $325 million per year in foregone gains, according to a recent study by the Investors Action Foundation (http://www.windfallprofitstax.org/)."
United for Jobs had already led the campaign to kill the McCain-Lieberman climate legislation on a rolling basis beginning in 2004. In 2005, the latest McCain-Lieberman climate bill was gaining slow momentum and Senator McCain pushed for more votes. McCain staff told to us at the time that United for Jobs was the most formidable opponent, with their appearance as a multi-denominational coalition of "labor", black business (National Black Chamber of Commerce), and seniors groups (60 Plus Association). United for Jobs attacked numerous other proposals for greenhouse gas regulations, including a counter offense against Senator Jeff Binghaman’s carbon dioxide regulatory efforts in 2005
 
United for Jobs no longer exists, but an archived website finds that their office was located at 1920 L Street, NW Suite 200 Washington, DC 20036. At the time, this was the exact same address for Americans for Tax Reform, a corporate front group managed by Grover Norquist, an associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff
 
DCI Group served as the contact and distribution node for United for Jobs reports and press releases.
 

Leaked Document: DCI, Heartland Institute and Exxon plan attacks on Clean Air Act

An anonymous source sent Greenpeace a copy of an invitation, agenda and attendees list for a May 2006 meeting organized by the Heartland Institute and hosted at the DCI Group offices “to discuss public policy challenges related to the Clean Air Act.” The only corporation represented at the meeting was ExxonMobil. Exxon representatives gave two presentations over the course of the full day meeting. Six ExxonMobil staff are listed as invited guests. Two DCI – Tech Central Station representatives are named on the invitees list, along with a note “plus DCI field officers and staff”. It is unknown whether Andrea Saul attended this meeting.
 
 
 
 
Organizations invited to this session included:

{cke_protected}

DCI Group former staff within Romney 2012 campaign:

(Quotations sourced from Democracy in Action)
 
Matt Rhoades, Campaign Manager:
“(announced Feb. 15, 2010) A vice president with DCI Group, May 2007-Feb. 2010. Communications director on Romney's presidential campaign, Jan. 2007-March 2008. A deputy communications director in charge of research for the RNC during the 2006 election cycle. Research director for the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. Deputy research director at the RNC, 2003-04. White House Liaison at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the Bush Administration, and earlier an Associate Director in the White House Presidential Personnel Office. B.A. from Syracuse University, 1997; and an M.A. from The George Washington University, 1999.”
Andrea Saul, Press Secretary:
“announced March 3, 2011 as communications advisor to Free and Strong America PAC) Press Secretary for Carly Fiorina’s U.S. Senate race in California. Communications director for Gov. Charlie Crist during his recent U.S. Senate run but resigned in April 2010 upon his decision to switch party affiliation. Press secretary to U.S Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) during much of 2009. Director of media affairs for McCain-Palin, responsible for organizing all television, radio and surrogate activity. Director of media affairs at the Republican National Committee, 2007-08. Associate account executive at DCI Group, 2005-07. Graduate of Vanderbilt University, 2004. twitter
Evan Yost, Deputy Communications Director and Research Director:
“(June 2011) M.B.A. in finance, accounting from Rice University, 2011. A director at DCI Group, 2007-09. Deputy director of research on John McCain 2008 in 2007. Special assistant for strategic initiatives in the Office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, 2005-06. B.A. in English literature from The Johns Hopkins University, 2000.”
 
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API's Jack Gerard Refuses to Answer Activists on Vote 4 Energy Advertising Costs

  • Posted on: 7 March 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Referees call foul on Big Oil Lies

Jack Gerard won't reveal how much API spends on the "Vote 4 Energy" ad campaign

We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:

Gas prices! Everyone's talking about them, including our government at a Congressional hearing today held by the House of Representatives Energy & Power Subcommittee featuring, among others, Mr. Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute. As API's president, Jack Gerard is Big Oil's top lobbyist, and today he was doing what companies like Exxon and Shell pay him the big bucks to do - justify government subsidies and giveaways to Big Oil.
 
Also attending the hearing: referees raising the red flags on misleading statements and calling attention to the $5.97 million that oil companies have given to current members of the Energy & Power subcommittee since 1999 (data provided by the Center for Responsive politics through DirtyEnergyMoney).

This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.

Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.

That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder,  the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.

If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
 
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.

In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?

 

And if you haven't seen our own Vote 4 Energy commercial mocking API's prized public relations campaign, compare both Vote 4 Energy ads yourself.

Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle

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Public education, brought to you by Big Oil

  • Posted on: 23 September 2010
  • By: Connor Gibson

Your Health Just Isn't Worth It...To Us

In response to the American Petroleum Institute's "Energy Tomorrow" advertisements, which push the familiar threats of lost jobs and a dead economy if the government ups accountability measures on Big Oil, NRDC has released their own advertisement in response.

"How are we supposed to pollute the air and water if we're being watched all the time?" complains one mock oil baron.

API has clearly dumped a lot of money into creating and distributing these ads--they've spent millions in the past--and Energy Tomorrow is but one of API's efforts to influence public opinion.  The Institute is also heavily invested in public education, creating energy curricula for teachers that lean heavily on the importance of their own industry, and even sponsoring the Boy Scouts Energy Merit badge

Why spend so much money on such indoctrination?  According to a leaked API memo:

"Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."

Hey Jack Gerard: you're a lobbyist, not a teacher, and certainly not a scientist.  If you really want to be either, Halloween is next month, and you can probably afford a fancy costume.

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