Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel Welfare

This week the American Energy Alliance and its President Thomas J. Pyle released a slanted poll meant to deliberately deceive the public by forgetting about 150 years of subsidies paid to the oil, gas, and coal industries. Its questions were carefully written to manufacture public opposition to tax credits that would spur the growth of the wind energy industry, as well as the EPA’s proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

“The federal government has been giving special treatment to green energy for decades either directly through handouts like the wind [Production Tax Credit] or indirectly through red tape like EPA’s proposed power plant rule,” Pyle wrote in an email to The Hill.

Fossil Fuel Front Groups’ Flawed Poll Ignores Century of Fossil Fuel WelfareI sent an email to Mr. Pyle and asked him about the poll. Nearly half of the 30 questions asked directly or indirectly about clean energy policy support. “I’m curious why you spent so much time on these types of questions when you didn’t ask any questions directly about welfare checks for fossil fuel companies?” I asked. I eagerly await his response.

Lavish subsidies

As a former lobbyist for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and for Koch Industries, Pyle should be intimately aware of the lavish subsides given to the fossil fuel industry. A report issued in April 2014 by Oil Change International shows that subsidies to oil, gas, and coal exploration and production companies continue to grow and totaled some $21.6 billion in 2013 alone. In fact, the fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies have increased by 45 percent since 2009.

Koch… Again?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that Koch Industries co-owner and CEO Charles Koch founded AEA’s parent organization, the anti-clean energy Institute for Energy Research (IER), according to documents recently uncovered by Republic Report.  Most of the Koch fortune comes from the oil and gas industry.

As for the poll itself, it was conducted by MWR Strategies, a company that also lobbies for the fossil fuel industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, MWR Strategies was paid $470K from Koch; $570 from American Electric Power, and $770K from Southern Company. That, together with the nature of the poll questions themselves, calls into question the validity of the poll.

Why are they all so afraid of clean energy? We’re curious.

Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks & Balances Project , a watchdog group that holds government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public.

Group’s new oil shale report contains wildly inaccurate claims

The Institute for Energy Research (IER), recently posted a blog about oil shale that doesn’t have its facts straight.

The IER blog falsely claims that the federal government put oil shale resources ‘under lock and key’. Oil shale companies have been awarded billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies and received research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) leases on publicly owned lands that don’t require the payment of bonuses, rents, or royalties.

Despite more than a century of failed oil shale projects and billions of dollars risked, taxpayers are still subsidizing oil shale research and development. Currently, there are seven such RD&D leases being pursued in Colorado and Utah.  The companies include: Shell, American Shale Oil (AMSO), Enefit, ExxonMobil, and Natural Soda Holdings.

Chevron also had an RD&D holding, but abandoned it last February in order to focus on viable energy sources – hardly the first oil shale experiment to go bust. On Black Sunday, Exxon closed its Colony oil shale project, which put more than 2,000 out of work and devastated the economy of Colorado’s western slope for years.

kivioli_tuhamaed

Arial photo of a pile of oil shale ‘ash’ in Estonia. Source: EcoCrete Project.

In their blog, IER also highlights Estonia, considered the world leader in oil shale, as the prime example of successful oil shale development – but that’s not factual either. Oil shale isn’t economically viable in Estonia, has caused significant water, air and land pollution, and is highly controversial.

The head of Estonia’s biggest oil shale company, Eestia Energia – known as Enefit in the U.S. – has admitted that oil shale is not profitable without large taxpayer subsidies. Underscoring this point was Moody’s recent move downgrading Enefit’s credit rating to negative, over concerns that they can’t make oil shale profitable.

In addition, oil shale is a dirty, polluting fossil fuel that’s responsible for 80 percent of all of Estonia’s pollution.  Enefit’s track record includes contaminated groundwater, creating 600-foot high mountains of oil shale waste that spontaneously ignite, and causing the emission of “lots of carbon dioxide.”

IER’s blog also boasts that there are huge oil shale deposits in the U.S. But these projections are irrelevant because oil shale isn’t a viable energy source and fails the basic economic test. In other words, the return on oil shale doesn’t outweigh the investment. The amount of energy and water that it takes to superheat, mine and process oil shale – which is actually fossilized algae – is more than the energy that oil shale provides. If you need more evidence just look to the billion dollar oil and gas industry, which has almost limitless resources, and has 100 plus years of failed oil shale experiments to show for their efforts.

The IER can spin oil shale all day, but it won’t change the cold hard fact that oil shale isn’t ready for prime time.

Report: Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page

Update: The report was covered in E&E News (subscription), Mother Jones, Think Progress and DeSmogBlog. Click-through for more on our groundbreaking research on fossil fuel-funded groups in the media.

Fossil fuel-funded front groups, commonly referred to as “think tanks” or “institutes”, have been secretly influencing the media and the public on energy issues by moving pro-fossil fuel messaging.

These groups, and their proponents, have been quoted on average every other day for the past five years in 60 of the largest mainstream newspapers and publications. Despite having received millions of dollars from fossil fuel interests, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, these groups’ financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are rarely mentioned.

The Checks and Balances Project’s report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page,” uncovered the extent of this deception by focusing on the 10 most prominent fossil fuel front groups’ traction in 58 of the largest daily newspapers, the Associated Press and Politico. This analysis does not include mentions in broadcast, radio or online publications for these 10 advocacy groups.  As a result, this report only scratches the surface on these fossil fuel-funded groups’ influence on the energy debate.

Fossil fuel-funded advocacy groups’ failure to divulge their ties to the fossil fuel industry in one story is regrettable, but doing it in over 1,000 stories appears to be planned deception.

Here is a summary of the report findings (download a PDF of the report here):

1. Fossil fuel interests have provided at least $16.5 million to 10 organizations from 2006-2010.
Organizational Recipients of Funding

2. Fossil fuel-funded organizations used targeted, focused messaging to support fossil energy sources and attack clean energy.

Media Mentions by Topic

3. Within a five-year period, these groups and their personnel have been mentioned on energy issues at least 1,010 times in major daily newspapers, averaging four mentions a week – or more than once every other day.

Number of Energy Issue Placements for Each Organization 2007-2011
4. Media descriptions of these organizations (beyond their name) were not included in a majority of mentions. If described, descriptions typically focused on the organizations’ function (e.g., “think tank”) or location (e.g., “DC-based”), not their motivation. Almost all of the rare descriptions of motivation used self-identified ideology (i.e., “conservative,” “free market” or “libertarian”), not their financial ties to fossil fuel interests.

How Organizations Are Described

5. Media outlets routinely omitted any mention of the financial ties between the 10 organizations and the fossil fuel interests providing funding. The link between fossil fuel funders and organizations was described only 6% of the time.

Major Metropolitan Dailies with No Mention
6. These organizations received heavier coverage in influential newspapers that help shape the national agenda, including Politico, The Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Times.Appearances in National Newspapers

7. Despite being labeled as “free market” or “libertarian,” these organizations focus their criticism almost exclusively on clean energy policy investments. They make few – if any – references to government support for fossil fuels.

These findings will hopefully encourage more disclosure in our nation’s top media outlets. The Checks & Balances Project suggests a simple question to ask pundits and experts being quoted, cited or published in the media: “Do you get money, directly or indirectly, from interests that stand to benefit from what you are saying?”

With more transparency, members of the American public will know when an opinion may be biased and will be better informed on these critical questions about our energy future.

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