Major corporations seek green image on climate policy but fund coal lobby front group

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Major U.S. corporations that are part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has called for strong legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, also have funded a coal-industry front organization that is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to undermine support for such legislation. The front group, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, has sponsored CNN presidential candidate debates at which no questions were asked about global warming. Corporate greenwashing? Media sellout?

Business Week reported this story on February 20: “Green—Up to a Point—Despite their eco-rhetoric, some USCAP members are supporting efforts to undermine restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.” The article leads with:

When 10 of the largest U.S. corporations and four environmental groups joined forces last January to lobby for federal regulations to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions, it was seen as a watershed in corporate environmentalism. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), comprising 27 companies from General Electric (GE) to General Motors (GM), won praise from enviros by endorsing cuts—10% to 30% of heat-trapping emissions within 15 years and 60% to 80% by 2050—to avert some of the severest consequences of global warming.

Behind the scenes, however, several companies that belong to USCAP are simultaneously supporting efforts and organizations that oppose mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases or promote policies that would make the USCAP reductions nearly impossible to meet….

Quoted in the article:

Frank O’Donnell, president of Washington-based Clean Air Watch: “Many of these companies want the image of being green but are putting their money on the other side of the issue.”

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s coal program: “If you’re serious about stopping climate change, you don’t dig the hole deeper by building new coal-fired power plants.”

“How much longer will USCAP’s true believers allow some members to play both sides? ‘We don’t want to give members a free pass,’ says David Hawkins, director of the climate center at Natural Resources Defense Council, which belongs to USCAP: ‘We do expect them to exert pressure on other organizations.’”

Thanks to Ross Gelbspan for the heads up on this. See his Web site, The Heat is Online.

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership Web site describes the partnership as follows:

United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) is a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations that have come together to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP has issued a landmark set of principles and recommendations to underscore the urgent need for a policy framework on climate change.

Source Watch has this on Amercians for Balanced Energy Choices:

Formed in 2000 to develop astroturf support for coal-based electricity, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) promotes the interests of mining companies, coal transporters, and electricity producers. A domain name search reveals that ABEC’s website is registered to the coal industry trade organization Center for Energy and Economic Development.

The National Journal reported that ABEC’s budget for PR, advertising and “grassroots” organizing quadrupled, from $8 million to $30 million a year, from 2007 to 2008. “Two words sum up why” the coal industry and its allies “opened their checkbooks,” wrote the Journal—“global warming.”  In 2007, ABEC advertised during the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential candidate debates.

In January 2008, the Washington Post reported that ABEC “is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.”

The Center for Energy and Economic Development Web site says:

“The Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) was created in 1992 to engage in the energy-economic-environmental debate on behalf of coal’s interests….“CEED’s mission is to ensure that policy makers recognize the importance of coal-fueled electricity, both today and tomorrow.”

ABEC’s Web site includes items such as the following, which promotes coal-to-liquids technology:

Is coal-to-liquids technology economically viable and why would we want to use coal to power our cars?

While Americans rely on coal for 50 percent of our electricity, coal does not help contribute to our needs for transportation fuel. As a result, America is forced to get most of our transportation fuel from politically volatile parts of the world such as the Middle East.

Coal-to-liquids (CTL) technology is not an immature field. Germany and South Africa have been gasifying coal and turning it into low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel for decades.

Based on an U.S. Department of Energy formula, it would be economical to produce fuel from coal when the price of a barrel of crude oil is at least $54.

With oil hovering near $100 per barrel, we hope that America can roll out its first commercial-scale CTL refineries soon so that we can ensure our energy independence.

Think Progress reported on the relationship between ABEC and the CNN presidential campaign debates:

January 22, 2008

No Questions On Global Warming Asked At CNN’s Coal Industry-Sponsored Presidential Debates

In Democratic presidential debate last night, CNN once again failed to ask any questions about global warming. Perhaps not surprisingly, last night’s debate was sponsored by the coal front group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC). Watch an ad for the debate:

ABEC also co-sponsored November’s CNN/YouTube debates in Nevada and Florida, at which no questions about global warming were asked.

These debate sponsorships are part of the coal industry’s aggressive “$35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.” ABEC has spent $1.3 million alone “on billboard, newspaper, television and radio ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.”

What is ABEC receiving in return for its support of CNN’s debate? Besides branding on tv and newspaper ads, ThinkProgress has learned that at November’s Democratic debate in Nevada, ABEC was given a special area near the debate’s entrance to hand out “clean coal” brochures. No other organizations were allowed to distribute materials in that prime area.

UPDATE: DeSmogBlog has also obtained an ABEC request for proposals for PR assistance in Nevada, in which it hopes to “image and credibility of ABEC” and increase “public awareness of the importance of coal to America’s energy mix.” One of the key ways it hopes to achieve these goals is through a “comprehensive presidential outreach program.”

The Rainforest Action Network blog picked up this story and commented:

Greenwash of the Week: Coal industry buys off CNN debates

posted on January 23rd, 2008

In Democratic presidential debate last night, CNN once again failed to ask any questions about global warming. Perhaps not surprisingly, last night’s debate was sponsored by the coal front group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC).

Considering that this is an ongoing greenwash and a blatant attempt to buy the presidential candidates’ silence on one of the most important issues facing the human race, “greenwash of the century” is probably more accurate. “Americans for Balanced Energy Choices,” the coal industry front group funding the debates, is trying to defend the indefensible. No reasonable argument can be made for allowing the construction of new coal-fired power plants at this point in time, but they’re hoping to build as many new coal plants as possible before the public catches on. All the industry has left are PR smoke-screens (talk of unproven, hypothetical carbon-capture schemes, the myth of clean coal) and outright bribery. Either CNN is even more clueless than their usual coverage would suggest or the coal industry has succeeded in paying off the network to ignore global warming during the debates.

In other words, because the industry knows that they would lose on the merits if any real debate were to be had about coal in this country, they have actually bought out the presidential debates to prevent one from taking place. It’s part of a massive industry greenwashing campaign to keep us burning as much coal as possible for as long as possible. Their efforts have been pretty successful, and not just on CNN: across all major networks in 2007, reporters asked candidates 2769 questions; just 3 were about global warming.

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