Western Energy Alliance

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Western Energy Alliance (WEA) was founded in 1974 as a nonprofit trade association. It is an advocacy organization that seeks benefits for oil and natural gas companies in the Western United States. The group describes itself as “dedicated to environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West,” despite opposing almost every land management and energy reform initiative of the Obama administration. WEA was known as the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) until 2010, when they changed their name. As of 2017, the president of Western Energy Alliance is Kathleen Sgamma, who has been working at WEA over 11 years.

Many of WEA’s operations focus on advocating for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a method to extract natural gas from below the Earth’s surface. Many environmental groups oppose hydraulic fracturing, arguing that the technology will cause water contamination and earthquakes. Fracking has also been a rallying point for the “Keep It In The Ground” movement, which pushes to halt new oil and gas exploration.

Influential Personnel

In 2016, Kathleen Sgamma became the President of the Western Energy Alliance. A longtime administrator for the group, Sgamma has aggressively pushed WEA’s oil and gas agenda by appearing in the media and writing opinion articles that propagate pro-fracking myths.

Tim Wigley is a lobbyist and former President of the Western Energy Alliance. Wigley is the former Executive Vice President of Pac/West Communications, a notoriously pro-fossil-fuel lobbying and PR firm. While at Pac/West Wigley led Project Protect, a timber industry-supported front group that pushed to roll back regulations on forested land. Wigley has also led the now-defunct Save Our Species Alliance, another industry-backed astroturf group that attempted to roll back Endangered Species Act protections.

Rebecca Watson was the Secretary for the Western Energy Alliance from 2009-2014. She is an ex-Department of the Interior lawyer who now works in the energy practice of the law firm Wellborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley. At the DOI, she was the Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals from 2002-2005.

Joe Icenogle was the Chair of the WEA Wildlife Subcommittee from 2009 to 2010, and a Director of the organization in 2011. According to leaked meeting minutes from 2009, Joe Icenogle is a  was the WEA committee chair when a coalition of oil and gas companies revealed that it would fund Melissa Simpson (from Pac/West Communications) to advocate for the oil and gas industry. This coalition included Fidelity, where Icenogle worked at the time, and other firms associated with WEA.

Melissa Simpson is a revolving door lobbyist who has worked at the Department of the Interior, Pac/West Communications, and Safari Club International. In 2009, WEA hired her on retainer to advocate on behalf of the oil and gas industry, especially around Endangered Species Act issues. Simpson is now special assistant to DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Evidence: 

WEA’s Wildlife Intervention

Western Energy Alliance (WEA) has been working on weakening the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to lift restrictions on drilling, especially on federal lands. WEA uses several approaches to weaken the restrictions of the ESA, including hiring scientists to conduct research that is friendly to the oil and gas industry, filing lawsuits against regulatory agencies, and media campaigns. They have filed lawsuits against United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of Interior (DOI) on various endangered species, including the Sage Grouse, Lesser Prarie Chicken, Hookless Cactus, and Wolverine.

Sage Grouse

WEA has been working for years to delist the Sage Grouse from the Endangered Species Act. Dr. Rob Roy Ramey II is a scientist funded by the oil lobby and working for CESAR where he has published several papers claiming that oil and gas development does not have impact on sage grouse habitat. In May 2016, the WEA and the North Dakota Petroleum Council sued the DOI, BLM, Department of Agriculture (DOA), and US Forest Service, citing restrictions and prohibitions on new oil and gas leasing in the Greater Sage Grouse habitat in the western United States. Finally, in 2014 WEA launched an advertising campaign that attempted to discredit environmentalists through a number of straw-man arguments.

Lesser Prarie Chicken

In 2014 WEA, along with a number of other oil & gas trade groups, sued FWS for their decision to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) as threatened under ESA. They claimed that the LPC does not meet the ESA’s definitions of either threatened or endangered species because the population has rebounded from historic lows, and therefore should not provide any additional conservation benefits. In 2015, because of pressure from the oil lobby, the LPC was stripped of its federal protection.

Hookless Cactus

The Hookless Cactus, a rare wildflower that can only be found in Colorado, has been a target of the oil lobby for a long time. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has designated protected areas around its habitat and prohibits oil and gas drilling activities. WEA did a 5-year review for the hookless cactus and argued that this species should be delisted from endangered list because “the population of the three subspecies of the Hookless Cactus has dramatically increased”.

WEA and IPAA Suing to Pollute

In November 2016, the Bureau of Land Management finalized a rule to limit methane emissions from venting, flaring, and leakages during oil & gas operations on federal lands. Immediately after the rule was finalized, WEA and IPAA filed a suit against the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management over the rule, citing agency overreach. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential 30 times that of carbon dioxide. In 2014, methane leaks from oil & gas operations accounted for over 30% of total US methane emissions.

In April 2017, Scott Pruitt (of the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency) told oil and gas industry leaders that the EPA would reconsider the methane flaring rule. If the rule is rolled back, it will be a boon for industry and a move consistent with Pruitt’s history of supporting the oil and gas industry.

WEA Sues Bureau of Land Management over Lease Auctions

In August 2016 the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management, opposing the cancellation of lease auctions. Under the Obama administration, BLM cancelled or postponed a number of land lease auctions to prevent new oil & gas drilling on federal land. According to a statement by the Center for Biological Diversity, the lawsuit signalled a ‘direct response [from industry] to the growing “Keep it in the Ground” movement that is calling on President Obama to end all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands.’

WEA Supports Anti-Science Legislation

In 2017, WEA supported the HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, legislation that would restrict the EPA from instituting science-based regulation. The HONEST Act would require all new regulation be be supported by publicly available studies and data, severely restricting the EPA’s ability to introduce science-based regulation. The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act would require the agency to open its advisory board to more industry voices, effectively allowing oil & gas interests to co-opt the EPA’s Science Advisory Board for its own agenda.

Attacks on Environmental Advocates

The group promises “aggressive media and public relations messaging” and to “actively influence regulatory actions and legislation on behalf of your business.”

WEA criticizes people that object to oil and gas pollution as “out of state” and “radicals.”

WEA funds the WesternWire, a pseudo-news outlet that writes stories meant to denigrate those that oppose oil and gas pollution and land-rights violations.

WEA has also been tied to efforts to gather “opposition research” on councilmembers in Colorado who have run afoul of the oil and gas industry.

WEA Invites Notorious PR Executive to Annual Meeting

In 2014, WEA invited Richard Berman, an infamous lobbyist and public relations executive, to speak at their annual meeting. Berman’s presentation was titled “Big Green Radicals: Exposing Environmental Groups,” and coached WEA executives through his strategy for systematically discrediting and marginalizing opponents of the oil & gas industry, including through large-scale ad campaigns and personal attacks. Berman also admitted to using non-profit front groups as part of his strategy, reassuring WEA executives that “we run all of this [money] through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity.” The organization in the presentation’s title, Big Green Radicals, is one such front group, operated out of Berman’s own PR firm, Berman & Company. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Berman has also blocked legislation on secondhand cigarette smoke, food safety, and more.

Top Political Disbursements

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO: received $31,000 from WEA during year 2010 to 2016

Rep Mike Coffman is a climate change denier who has a close relationship with oil and gas industries. From 2001 to 2016, he has received a total of $758,294 from oil and gas companies. In 2012, he voted for bills that were more favorable for drilling including a bill to allow natural gas exports to World Trade Organization countries and a bill to put a more industry friendly rule for offshore drilling.

Scott Tipton, R-CO: received $17,750 from WEA during 2010-2016

Tipton focuses on economy and jobs that are tied to energy industries. He received money from the Koch Industries PAC and a variety of oil and gas companies during the congressional battle for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

Cory Gardner, R-CO: received $17,750 from WEA during 2010-2014

According to nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry contributed more than $1 million to Gardner’s campaign for his congressional career. In 2017, Gardner voted to revoke the Obama Administration’s methane flaring rule. He also introduced a bill to expedite clean-air permits for oil and gas companies in offshore drilling in Alaska. He is also pro-fracking and supports the Keystone Pipeline project.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM: received $17,500 from WEA during 2008-2016

Rep. Pearce’s top donations are from oil & gas industry. He has received $2,059,143 over his career. He is on the House Natural Resources Committee of 2017, and a climate change denier who has called IPCC research “crap.” He has a meagre 4% on the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard.

Rep. Douglas Lamborn, R-CO: received $13,500 from WEA during 2008-2016

Rep. Lamborn has received $291,439 from oil & gas interests over his career. He is a climate change denier, and has called climate research “contentious”.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT: received $13,500  from WEA during 2008-2016

Rep. Bishop has received $400,466 from oil & gas interests over his career. He is a climate change denier who has alleged that climate science has been “manipulated to produce the intended outcome,” and scores 2% on the LCV National Environmental Scorecard