This week The Guardian reported on a memo reviewed by American Tradition Institute Senior Fellow John Droz, Jr., who also serves on the Board of Directors of NC-20, an advocacy group dedicated to denying the science around climate change and sea level rise in North Carolina. Droz is also a registered speaker at the Heartland Institute's upcoming International Conference on Climate Change.
The purpose of the memo was to develop and outline a strategy to attack wind power as a viable energy substitute. Wind power proponents point out that there is no shortage of wind, it's easily harvested, inexpensively converted to electricity, and is a sustainable alternative to coal and other fossil fuel energy generation methods. Hence, a memo outlining a PR campaign with these goals in mind:
- A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action based on the messages.
- B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry.
- C) Disrupt industry message with countermeasures.
- D) Cause subversion in message of industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty).
- Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on the message.
In order to accomplish that goal, the memo suggests "joining forces with some already established organization where there is substantial commonality and commitment." Such organizations include Heartland, CEI, Cato, Manhattan Institute, Americans for Prosperity, ALEC. In addition to the PR campaign, Droz suggests a grassroots effort to provide materials to local groups, document templates for them to file with the state utility commission, and development of negative catch phrases for wind energy. I'm certain Frank Luntz is already on that for them.
The first step, according to Droz, is to create a national organization to create some science and messages. That means finding a celebrity spokesman, coordinating with public schools, sponsoring science fairs with incentives to steer students away from wind because "it doesn't meet the criteria we set up (poster contest, essays, etc.)
Augmenting the public school effort, Droz suggests creating a dummy business to go into communities considering wind development to set up 400-foot billboards with anti-wind ads.
But he doesn't stop there. This is, after all, to be a wholehearted smear effort. Half-hearted efforts won't do. He wants a social media campaign, an exposé book, and responses like this:
...for instance when a company places a seal showing wind power was used to produce the product, we automatically assign a tax wasting symbol to the product and recommend a boycott on the website. When a company uses wind power as marketing tool, or illustration such as a toy manufacturer showing turbines on the box, we automatically contact them to tell them we will list them on the web as actively participating in disinformation by favorably showing wind turbines.
And still more:
Take zoning boards to court to rezone as industrial land to create chilling effect on signing contracts. Also sue for property value loss to small land holders, and use all legal cases to create media poster child effect. Sue states regarding RPS. Sue state utility commission who don't do their job. Etc.
At the heart of their effort will be the ever-revered junk science:
The science committee will be responsible for assembling a directorate of scientists with the proper credentials to be accepted by main stream media. Those credentials are also important in making the scientific material harder to target and more difficult to tear down by the opposition. This committee will coordinate with the directorate to develop a highly respectable collection of scientific white papers and reports that are consistent in their approach to supporting the messages chosen as most likely to succeed.
And the groups they will use as "grassroots" include:
The networking committee will be responsible for coordinating the response of networked groups with like-mind on our message. These will include the tea party, anti-tax leagues and utility rate groups as well as government watch-dog, anti-waste groups.
Finally, the lobbying strategy at the national level:
In this example, the group policy committee has identified that a particular bill providing funding for the opposition has been advanced to committee for a hearing. Policy committee has asked for a coordinated effort to stop the progress of the funding measure.
- First, the lobby committee uses their contacts to begin a campaign from the inside against the bill with phone calls and private meetings. They meet with several staffers who suggest that the bill is being supported because it has been moved as green legislation and several committee members are afraid to oppose it on that basis.
- The lobby committee reports this to media and science for further action.
- The media committee decides to use a full page advertisement in the Washington Post as a method of communicating the 'not so green truth' to congress, and at the same time coordinates a special interview and story from a scientific point of view that illustrates the dirty side of the industry.
- At this same time, the science committee holds a press conference to announce that the industry is using dishonesty and "greenwashing" as a cover for what amounts to corporate welfare. The message is also repeated in Wash Times, WSJ, Fox and other sources.
Right there you have a great blueprint for astroturf, right? Got the lobby committee, the media committee and the science committee all ready to use their outside friendly press and television sources to spread the word. As the grassroots (also astroturf) is brought into play, the echo chamber is complete and the nonsense takes hold as fact, courtesy of a well-coordinated national and local campaign. In the words of the author himself:
The coordinated effort stretches across multi-channels and multi-voices, and appears to come from as many as a dozen separate sources, but the message is the same and stays on point.
Because of course we know it doesn't really come from as many as a dozen separate sources, but only one source for one purpose: to profit oil and coal companies.
American Tradition Institute
The American Tradition Institute is a think tank established in 2009 in the tradition of all of the other right-wing think tanks, but with a particular focus on climate change denial. They claim to be funded by nothing but grassroots donations but all of their 2010 funding came from four sources, two of which are related to one another. The Institute for Southern Studies found that it had ties to the Koch brothers, Art Pope, and other conservative donors, though ATI denies any association with the Koch brothers.
ATI is the successor entity to a non-profit organization founded in Colorado called the Western Tradition Institute. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, WTI was involved in efforts to solicit unlimited contributions "to support pro-mining, pro-logging and pro-development candidates in Montana." Contributions were made and then passed along "to a sham political action committee [Coalition for Energy and the Environment] that in turn ran attack ads against Democrats."
According to the 2010 990, ATI received $40,000 from its affiliated 501(c)(4) organization, American Tradition Partnership, $5,000 from the Atlas Economic Research Institute, $5,000 from Doug Lair and $135,000 from the Lair Family Foundation.
In April, 2011, ALEC's task force on Energy, Environment and Agriculture met and revised their operating principles. One of the key changes was to eliminate language which included wind and solar energy, reverting all of the language back to fossil fuels and only fossil fuels. In August, 2011 the EEA Task Force met again and heard a presentation from Dr. Robert Bradley from the Institute for Energy Research on the "mirage of green energy" and the continued need of fossil fuels."
In May, 2012, ALEC's EEA Task Force will convene once again. As part of their agenda, they will consider model legislation entitled the "Electricity Freedom Act," which repeals state state renewable energy mandates requiring utilities to provide a certain percentage of their power via wind and solar power.
I'd say their effort is well underway, wouldn't you? Take for example, these developments reported in The Guardian article in the anti-wind power crusade:
- A new $6m election ad buy by the ultra-conservative group Americans for Prosperity attacking Barack Obama's support for wind and solar power.
- An email and telephone campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Tax Reform to repeal or alter clean energy mandates requiring electricity companies to get a share of their power from renewables.
- Putting forward Alec-drafted bills overturning those measures in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, Montana and Washington state.
Droz, in the telephone interview, confirmed that he had enlisted support for telephone campaigns from Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks – both of which have received funds from the Koch family. He also appeared at an anti-wind forum sponsored by the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina last December.
By the way, corporate members of ALEC's EEA Task Force include Koch Industries, Occidental Petroleum, British Petroleum, Exxon-Mobil, and more.
The value of this memo is that it confirms everything we've always known but haven't been able to prove about how these groups mount their astroturf campaigns. It's how they win. This particular PR campaign included a cost estimate of $750,000 for the national effort alone. Sure, take nearly a million dollars and throw it at propaganda, lobbying and astroturf groups and something is bound to stick, just by virtue of repetition.
Now that we know what it looks like, it's time to start fighting back. I'm sure they'll retool this campaign a little bit, but it's too late, because we're onto them.