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December 16 2011

02:32

'Consumer Energy Alliance' Front Group Exposed by The Tyee and Salon

In a must-read piece co-published today by Salon.com and The TyeeGeoff Dembicki exposes the dark underbelly of the public relations and lobbying industry, revealing the interconnectedness between Alberta tar sands movers and shakers in Alberta and their oily compatriots in Washington. 

The investigative article focuses on the fossil fuel industry front group Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which is run out of the offices of the PR firm HBW Resources, headed by David Holt, Andrew Browning, and Michael Whatley.

Geoff Dembicki's article "Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards," exposes CEA's effort to thwart government efforts to favor relatively cleaner conventional fuels over the dirtiest forms of extreme unconventional energy like the Alberta tar sands. 

Dembicki reveals how CEA influenced the debate at both the national and state-by-state levels on low carbon fuel standards (LCFS), working to defeat or delay any efforts to differentiate between the emissions footprints of extreme and unconventional fuels like tar sands oil and cleaner-but-still-dirty conventional oil.

Oil industry power players, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Norway’s Statoil are among the CEA's key financially backers, and many of these companies also happen to have deep ties to the Alberta tar sands.

DeSmogBlog has previously written about CEA, as has The Tyee on numerous occassions. But what makes Dembicki's article so unique this time around is the valuable insight into CEA's behavior revealed in records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act from the Alberta government. The documents lend insight into how CEA interacts with the Alberta government, and in turn, how the Alberta government, working alongside CEA, influences the American government at both the state and federal level.

An excerpt from the article explains the significance of the FOIA documents:

The messages lay bare a sophisticated and stealthy public relations offensive, one designed to manipulate the U.S. political system; to deluge the media with messages favorable to the tar-sands industry; to sway key legislators at state and federal levels; and most importantly, to defeat any attempt to make the gasoline and diesel pumped everyday into U.S. vehicles less damaging to the climate. The goal of it all? "Defeat" Obama's effort to reduce carbon consumption and keep America hooked on Canada's $441 billion tar sands industry, no matter what the cost to our planet's future.

The article demonstrates once again what the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, referred to as the "invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country” in his 1928 classic, Propaganda.

Some highlights from the article:

  • Michael Whatley (the "W" in HBW Resources) worked overtime to defeat low carbon fuel standards, dating back to December 2009, waging an all out lobbying assault to ensure that low carbon fuel standards would not be implemented, working on a state-by-state basis. How did Whatley gain so much influence, you ask?

Dembicki explains,

"Whatley served as attorney and senior policy advisor on George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign and transition team. And Whatley was later appointed chief of staff to Senator Elizabeth Dole, a former cabinet secretary and the wife of GOP elder statesman Bob Dole."

Whatley is now in private practice at HBW seeking to influence policymakers on behalf of his industry clients, a Beltway Bandit par excellance.

  • Another key player is Whatley's close pal, Gary Mar, a former Canadian politician and "smooth-talking and ambitious diplomat at the Canadian embassy" in Washington, DC, who played an instrumental role while CEA/HBW waged the anti-LCFS battle throughout the U.S. 

Dembicki writes,

"Mar’s lobbying wasn’t just confined to the U.S. capitol. Anytime state policymakers tried to introduce global warming laws potentially bad for Alberta’s oil sands, Mar hit the road, ready to glad-hand and charm. One major victory came in early 2009, when he apparently worked closely with the Maryland legislature to remove a climate bill that would have banned sales of high-carbon road fuel."

Both Mar and Whatley understood full well that the apperance, or illusion, of a mass groundswell of support for dirty air is necessary — astroturfing and front groups are key tools in deceptive PR propaganda campaigns.

Dembicki summarizes,

"Despite their skills and experience, Mar and Whatley knew that defeating climate policy required allies. That’s why one of the first strategy proposals in Whatley’s January 25, 2010, campaign briefing to Mar was to team up with 'affiliated energy coalitions and trade associations, thought leaders, elected officials, unions and key allies.' The goal was to enlist these players to 'build opposition' towards low carbon fuel standards 'in each of our target regions.' The campaign apparently needed 'state-based and regional 3rd party advocates for Canadian oil sands' to give it legitimacy."

These "third party advocates" included the likes of "airlines, truckers, railroads, highway users, shippers," or those most dependent on fossil fuels.

Corporate front group "think tanks" also play a key role, Dembicki explains: 

"Whatley’s proposal suggested engaging with seven prominent think tanks, two of which, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, received millions of dollars in funding from Koch Industries to question the science behind global warming."

Read the whole article and check out the emails obtained via FOIA for a glimpse inside the world of unethical dirty energy PR campaigns.

Stay tuned for the forthcoming original investigation by DeSmogBlog about CEA, as well.

March 15 2011

01:40

Major Investigative Series Into US-Canada Tar Sands Politics Launched Today at The Tyee

Anyone concerned or simply intrigued by the controversy over Canada's climate-wrecking tar sands needs to check out The Tyee homepage every day for the next few weeks. The Tyee's tar sands investigative reporter Geoff Dembicki today released the first installment of his upcoming series exploring the intense lobbying battles taking place right now in Washington, D.C. over the future of tar sands development vis-a-vis the United States' oil addiction.

Today's installment was mainly a teaser about what is to come in the series, which will begin in earnest tomorrow with Dembicki's report on the one-on-one interview he conducted with former Republican congressman Tom Corcoran, who is now a major lobbyist working to convince U.S. lawmakers to embrace Canadian tar sands as a source of non-Middle-Eastern oil.
<!--break-->The series is sure to include many other revelations from interviews Dembicki conducted in Canada and on his recent visits to Washington, where he got to talk to just about everyone except - curiously - the Canadian Embassy, which has refused to meet with him to date.

As Dembicki writes today:

"Wherever people are trying to craft measures to fight climate change by penalizing high-emissions fuel sources, odds are good that the oil sands lobby -- including the governments of Alberta and Canada -- have put a pin in the map and are pushing back hard."

Be sure to look out for new installments from the Tyee series in the coming days and weeks. DeSmogBlog will be reading these stories closely and chiming in on the blog about particularly relevant topics for our readers.

Stay tuned.

 

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January 17 2011

21:47

Oil Supermajors Desperately Chasing a Tar Sands Pipe Dream

The six major oil companies that for decades enjoyed phenomenal profits and power over the world's oil supply now find themselves fighting over the dirtiest and most dangerous oil left - Alberta's climate-wrecking tar sands and the dangerous deepwater deposits in the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and other difficult to reach areas. Geoff Dembicki reports today in The Tyee that the oil supermajors once known as the "Seven Sisters" now control a tiny fraction of the world's dwindling oil reserves - just seven percent - while state-owned oil companies and national governments control 93 percent.

That shift in power has left the six Anglo-American oil majors sparring fiercely for control of the remaining dregs to feed our oil addiction.  Dembicki writes that:

"aggressive oil sands development appears to be one of the few viable growth strategies left for ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips and Chevron. These six energy giants are among the top-earning private companies on Earth. Yet their continued corporate existence, at least in its current form, is far from assured."

In their race to the bottom, these six oil companies are all vying for control of Canada's dirty tar sands. Dembicki notes that:

"all the supermajors own -- or plan to develop -- huge operations in Alberta's oil sands. Canada is one of the few countries left on Earth offering unbridled private sector access to major known oil reserves (in this case, the planet's second-largest)."

<!--break-->
An excellent report from Oil Change International recently revealed that the six oil majors don't have much else to show to shareholders besides the climate-killng tar sands, which dominate their portfolios of liquid fuel reserves.  Oil Change International estimates that ConocoPhilliips has derived 71 percent of its liquids reserves from Canada's tar sands over the past five years. That reliance on tar sands is also evident at ExxonMobil (51 per cent), Shell (34 per cent), Total (26 per cent) and Chevron (7 per cent).

Making matters worse, the Tyee notes that the competition over Canadian tar sands has inspired other countries with oil shale deposits to open up for business as well:

"The oil sands, meanwhile, are serving as a model for other countries eager to exploit their own unconventional reserves. Several supermajors, capitalizing on expertise gained in northern Alberta, have signed extraction agreements with governments in Russia, Madagascar and Jordan. They're also eyeing hungrily the potentially massive oil shale deposits spread across Utah, Colorado and Wyoming."

If the supermajors continue heading in that direction - instead of embracing the huge potential of clean energy technologies - they may well survive to profit a few more years on dirty fossil fuels.  But in the long run, they will have sealed the fate of humanity to endure the worst impacts of climate change. 

As the late Judy Bonds could often be heard reminding those engaged in the futile fossil energy race, "there are no jobs on a dead planet."

December 08 2010

00:56

Tyee Series On Canadian Tar Sands Interests Meddling In U.S. Politics

The Tyee has launched a new series exploring the efforts of Canadian tar sands interests to undermine low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) policies in the U.S. that could some day threaten to wipe out Alberta's greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands industry. 

Climate change policies being implemented in California and currently under consideration in 23 other U.S. states seek to favor lower-carbon transportation fuels. Since Canada's tar sands are widely known to be among the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive sources of oil on the planet, the tar sands would of course fall out of favor rapidly if enough U.S. states passed the low-carbon standards into law. And since laws passed by large states like California are often used to pressure Washington to set federal policies, tar sands interests have a lot at stake in battling early adopter states.

As a result, The Tyee reports:
"A sophisticated lobbying effort led by Canadian officials, fossil fuel lobby groups and several of the world's largest oil companies is targeting policymakers and consumers across the United States."
<!--break-->
They certainly have their work cut out for them to convince lawmakers and the public that Canada's tar sands are anywhere near "low carbon."

As the Tyee notes:

"By the time the fuel [derived from Albertan tar sands] is dripping from a gas station nozzle, it's already been responsible for 82 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than, for instance, smooth-flowing light crude from Texas, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates."


Tar Sands developers realize they could never compete under the scenario that fuel suppliers have to disclose the carbon footprint of their products. If low-carbon fuel standards become the norm, and all transportation fuels had to compete on the open market, the cleanest ones would win the advantage in the short term, and spur investments in even cleaner transportation choices down the line. 

That was the idea behind California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2007 executive order mandating low-carbon fuel standards. And since California voters wisely smacked down Prop 23 - the anti-clean energy ballot initiative funded by Texas refineries and Koch Industries - the LCFS policy remains intact, and nearly two dozen other states are set to follow in California's footsteps.

That doesn't sit well with tar sands interests, and the Tyee reports that the oil companies are working hard to derail climate policies from coast to coast, "with active support from the Canadian government."

Read more at the Tyee, and stay tuned for the next installments in their series on tar sands politics.

 

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