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Google, other IT companies should end support for climate denying groups like ALEC

  • Posted on: 15 May 2014
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Gary Cook, crossposted from Greenpeace's The EnvironmentaLIST: Google, other IT companies should end support for climate denying groups like ALEC

At Google’s annual shareholder meeting today, the company faced an uprising from stakeholder groups and shareholders over its membership in and financial support for lobbying groups that include some of the biggest opponents to climate change and renewable energy on offer in Washington, DC, a town which boasts quite a collection.

If the notion that Google supports climate change deniers and fossil fuel interests makes you scratch your head, you’re not the only one. After all, Greenpeace has been vocal in our praise of Google for its leadership in building a green internet, powering its data centers with renewable energy, and investing in the solutions to climate change.

Google is the most prominent technology company that on one hand embraces the science of climate change, while on the other supports institutions dedicated to denying climate science, but it unfortunately is not the only one.

Here is a quick rundown of the “stink tanks” - front groups for the oil, gas and coal industries that attack clean energy and climate science - with which some otherwise pro-clean energy tech companies are cavorting, and samples of their dirty energy agendas:

ALEC

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), allows member corporations to pay to ghostwrite model legislation and then promote it in states around the country, mostly among right-wing state legislators. ALEC is actively collaborating with many of the nation’s worst polluters to kill clean energy and climate policies. In 2013, ALEC pushed model legislation to repeal renewable energy portfolio standards in over a dozen states, though it failed across the board. The group’s 2014 agenda includes continued assaults on renewable energy laws, like net metering, which is critical to home and business owners with solar panels. ALEC is also targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to limit global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Tech Company Supporters: eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yelp

Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a Washington, DC based think tank with a long history of denying the science of climate change and any efforts by government to address it. CEI has recently expanded to include a technology practice that has helped to bring in in new tech sector members, all of which otherwise support renewable energy development. Tech companies join CEI in spite of the fact that the oil industry-funded front group continues to be one of the most vocal opponents to addressing global warming pollution regulations inside the Beltway.

Tech Company Supporters: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft

US Chamber of Commerce

The US Chamber of Commerce has been a key part of the corporate effort to block federal action on climate change and undermine the scientific consensus on the issue. It continues to lead the effort to block the Obama Administration’s plans to regulate global warming pollution from US power plants, which currently make up the largest single source of US global warming pollution.

Tech Company Supporters: Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft

State Policy Network (SPN)

The State Policy Network serves as a coordinating umbrella group to advance a far-right agenda across a broad range of US states, often working in close conjunction with SPN members like ALEC. These groups, via SPN coordination, aim to pass state legislation that would undermine renewable energy growth and action on climate change.

Tech Company Supporters: Microsoft, Facebook

So why are Google and other companies that use innovative strategies to power the internet with renewable energy undermining those very efforts by offering their political support to organizations which are actively committed to sabotaging the clean energy revolution?

It’s likely not because Google or other IT companies have a secret anti-clean energy agenda. IT companies, especially Google, have deliberately increased their ties to conservative groups in recent years as part of the pay-to-play politics that they think are necessary to push their agendas in D.C around a variety of issues.

But that’s not an excuse. Google, Facebook and others can support conservative groups or politicians if they feel it necessary without lending their brand, their integrity, and their money to organizations that actively deny climate science and fight to maintain oil, gas and coal industry supremacy.

The IT sector has shown its ability to speak in its own voice on a range of issues such as immigration reform, government surveillance, and net neutrality, often doing so with members of both parties. Companies that have shown integrity in other ways, by supporting clean energy or standing up to illegal government surveillance, don’t need to swim in the Beltway muck by supporting climate deniers like ALEC or CEI. We have repeatedly heard claims from tech sector companies over the years about efforts to reign in business associations from the inside, to counter their fossil fuel patrons and get them to take a more reasonable position. But as we can see from the never ending attack on sensible energy and climate policies, those efforts have clearly failed, and it’s time to abandon them.

If Google and other IT companies are serious about being leaders on climate change and clean energy solutions, then they should heed the ask of today’s shareholder resolution and disclose all of their lobbying positions and payments. Then they should discontinue their support for groups that deny the reality of climate change or attack the clean energy revolution that their companies are otherwise helping to catalyze.

 

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PR Watch on the Election's Fossil Fuel Advertising: Hurricane Sandy Endorses Obama

  • Posted on: 5 November 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Hurricane Sandy as seen from Space. From The Guardian.

This guest article was written by Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving of the Center for Media and Democracy, crossposted from PR Watch.

The fossil fuel industry has paid a hefty price for the privilege of framing the political discourse about America's energy future. Hundreds of millions have flowed into campaign coffers from energy companies attempting to purchase complete freedom to drill, frack, and burn. Huge "dark money" groups, the Koch's, Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, join dozens of oil and gas industry associations in pouring money into television ad campaigns demanding "energy independence," while trashing wind and solar.

Things were going great. Even though hurricanes had slammed into two Republican National Conventions in a row, no one seemed to notice, and Romney's only mention of climate changes was as a punchline. No reporter asked a single climate change question of Romney or Obama during the debates. Even though the U.S. now had 175,000 wind and solar jobs, pro-green energy forces were disappointed in Obama and were less active. For big oil and gas the White House and the Senate were within reach. Critically, they had to move fast before the majority of voters started to not only notice the changing climate patterns, but really started to worry about them.

Then something happened that completely scrambled the board.

Hurricane Sandy blew New Jersey out of the water and inundated New York. The massive storm threw the Romney campaign completely off-message. Not only did they have nothing to say about the serious issue of climate change and the potential for more frequent and more devastating monster storms, the Romney-Ryan message of "smaller government" and "fewer first responders" sank in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

In an unprecedented, last-minute move, Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw his support behind Obama yesterday. His statement "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change" lays out the seriousness of the situation. "In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods -- something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable," Bloomberg states.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Polluting High Rollers Dominated the Airwaves

Until Sandy rolled in, the airwaves were completely dominated by the fossil fuel industry.

According to The New York Times, by mid-September there had already been a $153 million spent on TV ads that promoted the fossil fuel industry. The analysis showed that energy topics were mentioned more frequently than any other issue besides jobs and the economy. This figure is four times what clean energy advocates were spending.

The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the last presidential election in which the green energy industry and other forces spent $152 million compared to $109 million spent on fossil fuel interests.

Broadly, the ads promote fossil fuels in the context of jobs, domestic security, and energy prices. Combined, they try to convince Americans that "energy independence" should be the nation's top priority. Yet they neglect to point out that solar and wind also create high-wage jobs and energy independence too. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas campaign contributions are at historic highs and are more lopsided than ever before with 90 percent of the funds going to Republican candidates. Top contributors include William Koch's Oxbow Corp, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Koch Industries, who have already contributed $59 million to federal candidates. Leading coal mining corporations, such as Alliance Resource Partners, Cumberland Development, and Murray Energy, have kicked in $11.6 million to federal candidates.

But the money does not stop there. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has opened the door to unprecedented spending by "dark money" nonprofits, SuperPACs and new constellations of trade associations that are on track to spend over $1 billion to "educate" voters about the issues, including the urgent need to extract and burn every last bit of fossil fuel.

  • Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, a "dark money" group and his American Crossroads SuperPAC, pledged to spend $300 million in this election, a large percentage on fossil fuel spin. There are dozens of ads in the presidential race and in Congressional races. One Crossroads ad blames Obama for higher gas prices. Another slams Obama for putting the Keystone Pipeline on hold. While Crossroads GPS does not disclose its donors, American Crossroads PAC does and it is loaded with fossil fuel contributors, including Alliance Resources Partners CEO Joe Craft who has given the group $1.25 million, Petco Petroleum which has given the group $1 million, and over $2 million from TRT holdings, which controls Tana Exploration, a Texas-based oil and gas company.
  • David Koch's Americans for Prosperity "dark money" group, pledged to spend over $100 million this year in support of Republican candidates. The group's ads also attack Obama and clean energy when talking about Solyndra and the stimulus bill which allegedly sent some clean energy jobs overseas. More recently they have pushed pro-coal "Stand with Coal" ads in Ohio and Virginia.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an industry association and dark money group, has pledged to spend more than $50 million on the election and has fielded energy ads in key races such as Ohio with a messages like "Shale Works for Us," in promotion of expanding drilling for shale oil and gas.
  • The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry front group, has pledged to spend some $40 million on coal related ads. One ad, targeting Ohio's Sherrod Brown, criticizes the Senator for endorsing "higher energy taxes" linking him to "Washington's costly energy policies."
  • The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade association, has pledged some $40 million this campaign season on efforts to push the expansion of oil and gas drilling. Two of their primary campaigns, "Vote 4 Energy" and "Energy Citizens" attempt to exert the aura of a grassroots base pushing for fossil fuel development. Their ads feature "energy voters" parroting fossil fuel talking points.
  • The American Energy Alliance, a "dark money" group run by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, is spending millions alleging that Obama's policies would lead to $9 a gallon of gas and a recent ad airing in Ohio and Virginia harps on Obama for comments he made about coal industry in 2008.

Rarely are voters seeing any counter-narrative. Alternative energy forces have spent only $2 million, and some environmental groups are weighing in with modest resources. New ads by the League of Conservation Voters saying U.S. Senate Candidate Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will stop the offshoring of U.S. jobs and "will end big oil subsidies" -- with cheerful Wisconsin windmills and pumpkins in the background -- started only in the final days of the campaign. Is it any wonder that candidates have been able to ignore the serious issues?

"To ignore a global crisis that has been fully understood for over 15 years and is quickly slipping out of control shows just how far coal and oil money have drowned out constituents all the way from the Statehouse to the White House," said Greenpeace's Connor Gibson.

What Does the Fossil Fuel Industry Want?

Although environmentalists are not happy with what they perceive as Obama's timidity, the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic about the steps he did take as president. They have leveled blistering criticism about Obama's efforts to slow down the Keystone Pipeline; they don't like his new auto emissions standards; they are unhappy with new EPA mercury emissions rules for boilers; and they don't like the fact that permits for drilling and fracking on federal lands have slowed.

The industry is looking for a victory in the battle over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry heavy tar-sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, exporting some portion of the oil overseas. Construction of the pipeline was confronted by an active movement of citizens concerned about the impact that the pipeline would have on communities and on the threat burning the tar sands posed to the planet. Burning all the available tar sands would be "game over" for the climate, according to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, one of the nation's most respected climate change experts. Romney has vowed to give the project clearance on his first day in office, while Obama has approved a portion of the segment, and has allowed for further environmental impact study of the northern portion.

The industry also wants carte blanche to use federal lands for the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources and foul both air and land -- in addition to spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process.

The industry is calling for a streamline on the permitting process for fossil fuel development on all lands. While industry's ads have argued that increased drilling will decrease gas prices, global gas prices largely follow international trends.

The industry is also keen to hold onto to the billions of fossil fuel subsidies it receives each year from the federal government. According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuel subsidies from the government are 12 times greater than renewable energy.

No matter who wins the presidency, there will be major battles on each of these issues. The question is, after years of fossil fuel propaganda, how engaged will the American public be in the effort to save the planet from the fossil fuel industry?

The Price of Fossil Fuel Propaganda

According to author and activist Bill McKibben, "This will be the warmest year in American history. It came with the warmest month in American history, July. It featured a statistically almost-impossible summer-in-March heat wave. It brought us a drought so deep that food prices have gone up 40 percent around the world. It brought us this completely unprecedented mega-storm, the biggest storm, as one weatherman put it yesterday, to hit New York since its founding in 1624," McKibben told Time.

The problem according to McKibben is that "there's been a 20-year bipartisan effort in Washington to accomplish nothing, and it reached its comedic height this summer when our presidential candidates, despite barnstorming through the warmest summer in American history, seemed not to notice. The reason is the incredible power of the fossil fuel industry. Until we can diminish that power, I imagine nothing very large will be done to deal with climate."

Hurricane Sandy has launched a full frontal attack on fossil fuel industry propaganda.

It is up to us to follow in her path.


Will Dooling contributed to this article.

Following SEC complaint, Greenpeace asks TransCanada for honest Keystone XL jobs explanation

  • Posted on: 31 January 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford speaking at a 350.org event last week about Big Oil corruption's in Congress and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

To Infinity And Beyond: Keystone XL Jobs Claims Spill All Over The Map

Posted on behalf of Phil Radford, Greenpeace's Executive Director in the U.S.

TransCanada has some explaining to do.

Greenpeace just sent a letter to TransCanada's CEO, Russ Girling, as well as the company's board of directors asking for complete documentation of how it came to its inflated conclusions on Keystone XL pipeline jobs here in the U.S. That letter is posted in full below (click here to see it).

We are following up on a letter Greenpeace sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission last week noting that TransCanada's job claims per mile of U.S. pipeline are 67 times higher than the estimates they provided to the Canadian government for its portion of Keystone XL. SEC notified us that our complaint was sent to their enforcement division.

TransCanada has already bit back at our complaint, insinuating that Greenpeace doesn't know anything about pipelines. Perhaps TransCanada can explain why its existing Keystone pipeline leaked 14 times in less than 18 months when it anticipated a rate of 1.4 leaks per decade -- check out this infographic for descriptions of the first twelve leaks. Nebraska's ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and the Ogallala aquifer cannot be subject to TransCanada's insufficient pipeline safety standards, especially when that pipeline carries corrosive tar sands for almost 2,000 miles. And with well over 1,000 miles of pipeline proposed in our country, it's alarming that as little as 50 people may be employed to monitor and maintain it, as Cornell's Global Labor Institute suggests. Read the independent Cornell report yourself.

TransCanada has also boosted its employment statistics by equating one job to one full year of employment for one person. This is part of how TransCanada and its allies inflated State Department estimates of less than 7,000 jobs, while the Cornell assessment concludes that Keystone XL could kill more jobs than it would create. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others are paying big for advertising campaigns that re-hash TransCanada's flawed 20,000 jobs claim, and from there claim hundreds of thousands of jobs from indirect employment. By indirect employment I mean services the oil industry isn't actually providing, which would would dry up after pipeline construction ends.

I'm not saying temporary jobs don't count--we need all the employment we can get, which is why it's a slap in the face to the American people for TransCanada to grossly exaggerate its employment promises as if it's on the campaign trail and building Keystone XL is the inauguration. Tell it like it is, TransCanada, citizens seeking employment don't need to be teased after the 2008 economic recession.

Unfortunately, the media is buying TransCanada's lies despite some reporting from the Washington Post and others that have already called the jobs numbers into serious question. According to Media Matters, 0% of broadcasters covering Keystone XL were critical of the jobs claims. Things weren't much better in coverage on cable news (11%) or print news (5%) either. Excluding USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, all major media outlets quoted more Keystone XL pipeline supporters than opponents. That's pretty bogus--Jack Gerard must have been popping the champagne over at the American Petroleum Institute headquarters as he put millions of dirty dollars to work through advertising campaigns like "Vote 4 Energy."

It's ridiculous although unsurprising that TransCanada and Big Oil act as if pipeline jobs are the only ones that exist. Why mention that any dollar invested in a polluting, outdated, climate-destroying industry is better invested in creating jobs in the clean energy sector? Big Oil would never be that forthcoming. They'd rather keep Americans fenced within the Kingdom of Crude, where not only are they the most profitable industry on earth, but taxpayers still pay handouts for their multi-billion dollar operations.
 
Greenpeace will continue demanding accountability from TransCanada and its Big Oil allies here in Washington, DC, and we'll let you know when we start getting some answers.
 

Letter to TransCanada CEO Russ Girling:

Dear Mr. Girling:

I read with considerable interest your company’s response to our request to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it investigate the possible illegal use of misleading and deceptive job claims to win approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would boost your company’s bottom line considerably:

“These groups have never built or operated a pipeline,” said company spokesman, Terry Cunha, to Politico.

Mr. Cunha is correct; Greenpeace has never built a pipeline funneling corrosive tar sands crude oil across the heartland of the United States, endangering America’s groundwater, and then selling the oil overseas. What we do have experience in, however, is examining facts. Your claims just don’t add up. How will your pipeline create 67 times more jobs in the U.S. than your company told Canadian officials it would in Canada?

Greenpeace calls for an end to destructive tar sands mining, which you must be aware is fueling global climate disruption and poisoning indigenous people in northern Alberta. Our opposition extends to projects like Keystone XL that aim to solidify continued decades of carbon pollution. I must admit that we probably won’t ever try to build something that will spill oil, threaten aquifers and create a several thousand mile-long terrorist target.

However, you clearly do have such expertise, both in building pipelines and watching them spill, as demonstrated by 12 reported leaks in the first year of your existing Keystone pipeline’s operation. That’s why I’m inviting you to (possibly) head off SEC action and significant public embarrassment by explaining how TransCanada created such contradictory job creation claims.

I invite you to provide a detailed, plain-language explanation of this remarkable difference in job creation rates. Several groups of people await this important explanation, including investors, dozens of politicians and pundits who have recycled your company’s fictitious job creation numbers, and SEC enforcement officials eyeing SEC Rule 10b(5) – Employment of Manipulative and Deceptive Practices.

Greenpeace also would appreciate it if you could direct your contractor, Ray Perryman, to give a detailed accounting of the assumptions and methodology of the calculations he performed for your company on the pipeline’s supposed benefits.

We’ll gladly post any detailed, credible explanation of this wide discrepancy in job creation numbers on our website.

Regards,
 
Phil Radford
Executive Director
Greenpeace

Cc: TransCanada Corporation Board of Directors
Sent by email, fax and direct mail.

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Canada, Shell, BP Lobby Europe on Tar Sands

  • Posted on: 4 August 2011
  • By: Connor Gibson

The Guardian reports Canadian cooperation with oil supermajors BP and Shell in what Friends of the Earth Europe calls an "unprecedented" lobbying effort to peddle the world's dirtiest oil across the Atlantic. The Guardian's Terry Macalister writes:

"The Canadians have managed to delay the EU's original deadline of January 2011 for confirming baseline default values despite new peer-reviewed studies to support the European position."

Known for crippling our global climate, the tar sands also have a notably destructive impact on the indigenous community inhabiting the area that is now Northen Alberta, poisoning food and water sources while ignoring their calls for help from the government, which at the provincial and national level has repeatedly favored Big Oil. This excellent photo essay documents how destructive tar sands development has impacted the life of Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace Canada's Climate and Energy Campaigner and member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation community:

Here in the United States, corporate titans like ExxonMobil ignore these fatal consequences as they push pro-tar sands advertisements onto consumers. As the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline rages on, the US Chamber of Commerce is running a dirty lobbying campaign to support the project while the American Petroleum Institute has actually used recent oil pipeline spills as their nonsensical justification for the pipeline's construction. Check out PolluterWatch's profiles for each of these climate villians for documentation of their role in perpetuating global warming denial and inaction.

In spite of the continued and predictable madness demonstrated by Big Oil and its widespread apologists over the Keystone XL issue, activists are organizing a full two weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience outside of the White House to ensure the Keystone XL project is not actualized. More information can be found on the Tar Sands Action website.

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