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Liz Barratt-Brown’s Blog

Who’s behind the attack campaigns against cleaner transportation fuels? Part 1

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted March 2, 2010 in Moving Beyond Oil

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There are two major assaults against the shift to cleaner fuels that are rooted to Canada’s dirty tar sands. The first is a campaign to undermine this shift by the Canadian government itself. These efforts were reported in some detail in a New York Times online Climate Wire piece yesterday and blogged on by my colleague, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz. The second, and the focus of this blog, is an attack campaign by a string of seemingly unrelated groups with names that evoke citizens’ energy and national security concerns.  Today, I explore what is behind this campaign and why it matters. In future blogs, I will explore their arguments.

The group behind the attack campaign calls itself the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA). It is running commercials and appearing on earned media talking against proposals to clean up America’s fuels and move to alternatives. It shares some similarities and many members* with EnergyCitizens, the API astroturf campaign that organized town halls last summer against climate legislation pending in Congress.

We know that EnergyCitizens was organized by the American Petroleum Institute to de-rail the climate legislation in Congress (see this leaked memo) - what about the Consumer Energy Alliance?  API is there again – listed as a CEA affiliate – as well as all the major oil companies with strip-mining interests in Canada’s tar sands – BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell – and many of the trade associations, such as commercial aviation’s Air Transport Association, that buy their fuels from these companies. The listing – which is strangely hard to find on their “Secure Our Fuels” website – makes it clear it is a corporate group, not the down home consumer group is purports to be. 

What are the targets of their attacks?  The main targets are a policy called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS for short) and efforts to stem the import of tar sands oil. Last year, California put into force the first state LCFS. That policy requires that the state’s fuels get cleaner over time (e.g. make less carbon pollution per unit of fuel used). The standard would likely be met by moving some transportation to electricity, improving efficiency, and using more homegrown biofuels. California’s mandate is for fuels to get 10% cleaner over the next decade. 

This policy makes a lot of sense. Even our last President, Texas oil cheerleader that he was, famously said “America is addicted to oil.”  We know that the extraction and combustion of oil causes lots of environmental degradation and human health problems. We know that it keeps us tied to unappealing regimes. We know it puts our economy in deeper debt. But to read CEA’s  “Secure Our Fuels” webpage and listen to their commercials, a shift to low carbon fuels will undermine the very security of our country and make us more, not less, reliant on the petro-dictatorships of the world – a  completely unsubstantiated and counterintuitive claim.

So who is against shifting to cleaner fuels?  CEA trumpets its Alliance chapters. Yet, in searching for these chapters, I came up empty handed.  Take, for example, its members, the Consumer Energy Alliance of Florida, the Consumer Energy Alliance of Alaska and the Southeast Energy Alliance. Other than a brief description of these alliances on the CEA webpage, there is no separate web page for CEA Florida or CEA Alaska, and, when you click on Southeast Energy Alliance, there is no more than one page, that says “Welcome to Southeast Energy Alliance”.  If I wanted to engage with these affiliate groups, it would be impossible. And, yet, there is a Michael Whatley speaking on behalf of SEA on this Lou Dobbs show 

So who is Michael Whatley, the Vice President of CEA and Executive Director of SEA?  I started googling again and turned up the Houston-based lobby firm HBW, which seems to be home to the staff who have been using a variety of organizations – not just CEA – to influence General Jim Jones, the head of the White House National Security Council, Governors and key members of Congress.  

Here is what the HBW website has to say about the formation of HBW:

To help meet its mission, HBW Resources will work closely with the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Southeast Energy Alliance and the Center for Unconventional Fuels, all of which have established grassroots and grasstops networks that can effectively communicate to diverse influentials.

Yet, when I surfed around to find these groups that have “established grassroots and grasstops networks”, it seems that HBW’s Managing Partner, David Holt, and Partner, Michael Whatley, and their staff may in fact be these other groups as well.  It is hard to know because there are - like the state and regional Energy Alliance affiliates – no active websites for Center for North American Energy Security or the Center for Unconventional Fuels.  And even though it’s impossible to find the Center for North American Security, it has “retained” Whatley and HBW to do its lobbying for "development of unconventional resources".  

One can only surmise that these groups are creations of these principals. If one day you need to organize a conference to write a report on unconventional fuels, do you use the Center for Unconventional Fuels letterhead?  If the next day you need a letter from “outraged energy users in South Carolina” – do you use the SEA letterhead? If the next day you need a letter from a Hawkish sounding organization – do you use the Center for North American Energy Security? You just have to hope that whoever receives your letter doesn’t try to go to your website, find an office, or review an annual report.  

It’s one thing to be sparring mano-a-mano with the oil industry on these issues. But these groups – EnergyCitizens and Consumer Energy Alliance – are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not, consumer organizations, institutions with stature on energy security issues, etc.  In all this deception, one thing is clear. What seems like apple pie to you and me – clean fuels – must be mighty threatening to those defending our “addiction to oil” and hoping to open up a whole new dirty fuels industry, starting with Canada’s destructive tar sands oil.

 

* Members shared by EnergyCitizens and the Consumer Energy Alliance: American Petroleum Institute, American Trucking Associations, Associated Industries of Florida, Colorado Farm Bureau, Florida Minerals and Chemistry Council, National Ocean Industries Association, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Resource Development Council for Alaska, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, 60-Plus Association, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce

 

1600 ducks died in one incident at Syncrude's tar sands tailing ponds - this photo released by Canadian court today. See's this blog on the trial.

1600 ducks died in one incident in tar sands waste ponds

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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