Polluting The Debate
August 24, 2009, 8:00am

By Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Nate Carlile, Zaid Jilani, and Brad Johnson

Just as “death panels” and “swastikas” poison the debate over President Obama’s health care reform agenda in town hall meetings across America, oil and coal interests are polluting Obama’s effort to pass clean energy reform. Through a variety of front groups, companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Peabody Coal, and Koch Industries are fueling misinformation about global warming and fear about clean energy solutions. Lobbyists and public relations firms have established websites and Twitter feeds while crisscrossing the nation on “clean coal” and “energy citizens” tours. The oil industry’s “American Energy Express” bus tour has now joined the coal industry’s “Factuality” bus tour, going to state fairs and political events. A “Hot Air” balloon tour attacking “global warming alarmism” is being run by Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, the polluter-funded group behind “tea party” protests and “hands off my health care” rallies. When the groups can’t find enough radical right-wing activists to support their message, they resort to deception and intimidation. The coal industry forged letters to Congress opposing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and oil company employees are being bused to rallies that attack the legislation as a job-killing menace. Conservative oil- and coal-powered millionaires are willing to go to any lengths to convince Americans that pollution standards are instead energy taxes, using methods as dirty as their fossil fuels.

DIRTY ENERGY FRAUD: The coal industry’s prime lobbying group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), is spending over $40 million on a campaign to defeat clean energy reform. Bonner & Associates, a conservative PR firm working for ACCCE, sent forged letters this June to several members of Congress purporting to be from black, Hispanic, womens’ and senior citizens’ groups telling them to vote against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, despite the act’s $60 billion support for coal technology. ACCCE knew about the fraud days before the pivotal House vote on the energy legislation, but kept silent until Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) independently discovered the forgeries a month later. While announcing that ACCCE was firing Bonner & Associates, spokesman Joe Lucas claimed last week that his organization “did nothing wrong.” Meanwhile, ACCCE continues to employ the notorious voter-fraud company Lincoln Strategy Group to run its “grassroots” campaign. Staffers have been hired across the nation to plant questions at town hall meetings while a “Factuality” tour distributes “clean coal” propaganda. ACCCE’s members include General Electric, Duke Energy, and Caterpillar, who as members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership have claimed to support aggressive climate action.

DIRTY ENERGY LOBBYISTS: The American oil industry, working with a coalition of business interests, is manufacturing rallies in opposition to clean energy reform. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is busing oil industry employees to “Energy Citizen” rallies targeting U.S. Senators in 21 states. API’s membership, which includes ExxonMobil, GE, and Halliburton, has joined “allies from a broad range of interests: the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturing, the trucking industry, the agricultural sector, small business, and many others” to create company picnics disguised as grassroots rallies. Employees of Chevron, Anadarko Energy, ConocoPhillips, and others were bused to Houston’s Verizon Wireless Center to hear billionaire Drayton McLane Jr. attack Obama’s clean energy agenda as an economy-destroying energy tax. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s Astroturf organization FreedomWorks is inviting tea-party activists to attend the events. In Greensboro, NC, only politicians who opposed energy reform were allowed in; Pricey Harrison, the local state representative, was locked out. Of the 21 planned rallies, 15 are being organized by registered oil industry lobbyists.

DIRTY ENERGY OPERATIVES: The American Energy Alliance (AEA), a new polluter initiative, is touring the nation with the “American Energy Express” bus in opposition to clean energy reform. Like other groups, AEA claims that the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a “national energy tax” that will “cripple our sluggish economy.” AEA is the advocacy offshoot of the Institute for Energy Research, a right-wing oil-industry think tank run by Robert Bradley, former speechwriter for Kenneth Lay. Although AEA claims it has “no ties to any political party,” all of its employees are former House Republican staffers. Its president, Thomas J. Pyle, is a Koch Industries lobbyist who worked for former Republican congressman Tom DeLay and Richard Pombo. Other employees worked for the Bush White House, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and other oil-defending politicians. The AEA tour is visiting “Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Virginia.” These events are “designed to pressure Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)” and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), both of whom “recently indicated that they would vote for cloture on a climate bill.”

HEALTH CARE — LIEBERMAN: ‘THERE’S NO REASON’ TO DEAL WITH THE UNINSURED UNTIL AFTER THE RECESSION: Last week, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), the most conservative member of the so-called bipartisan “Gang of Six” working on the Senate Finance Committee’s health care bill, stated that he preferred that Congress deal with reform incrementally. “[W]e need to break it down into smaller parts than we have now and put it through one at a time,” Enzi said. Yesterday on CNN, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) embraced Enzi’s idea. Lieberman said Congress should address the nearly 50 million uninsured — but just not yet. “I’m afraid we’ve got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy is out of recession,” said Lieberman. “There’s no reason we have to do it all now.” Lieberman added that using the reconciliation process to pass health care reform “won’t be good for the Obama presidency.” Noting that the insured currently pay for the uninsured through rising premiums, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) challenged Lieberman’s approach. “We’ve got to bring down the cost of health care,” Cardin argued. “It’s difficult to do that by ignoring those who don’t have health insurance today.” An editorial in Sunday’s New York Times agreed: “If nothing is done to slow current trends, the number of people in this country without insurance or with inadequate coverage will continue to spiral upward. That would be a personal tragedy for many and a moral disgrace for the nation. It is also by no means cost-free. Any nation as rich as ours ought to guarantee health coverage for all of its residents.”

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility “has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects.”
President Obama “has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key terrorism suspects,” which will be “made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” The interrogators will be required to “stay within the parameters of the Army Field Manual when questioning suspects.”
Seven months into the Obama administration, only 43 percent of the 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation have been filled. The New York Times reports that the vacancies are “a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring, a Senate that is intensively investigating nominees and a legislative agenda that has consumed both.”
The health insurance industry has so successfully lobbied Congress “in the early stages of the healthcare overhaul deliberations that it is poised to reap a financial windfall.” “It’s a bonanza,” one health insurance executive said of plans to require all Americans to have insurance, adding that the industry’s reaction to negotiations can be “boiled down to one word: ‘Hallelujah!'”
U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan “told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders.” The prospect of more troops poses problems for Obama in dealing with an unpopular war, “compounded by new questions over the credibility of the Afghan government.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said that the situation in Afghanistan is “serious” and “deteriorating.” He warned that “the Taliban insurgency has gotten more sophisticated while the Afghan people increasingly fear for their safety.”
On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered his most optimistic outlook since the financial crisis started, saying the economy is on the cusp of recovery. But despite his upbeat tone at the annual Fed conference in Jackson, WY, Bernanke cautioned that the recovery is likely to be “relatively slow at first.”
In an e-mail interview with Roll Call, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), a member of the “Gang of Six,” claimed that some health care legislation would allow the government to decide who lives or dies. “The real concern people should have is with the comparative effectiveness provisions of the HELP Committee and House bills, which would give Washington bureaucrats the power to decide literally whether patients would live or die by rationing newer, more expensive therapies,” Enzi said.
Energy-rich states are facing budget crunches as gas prices plunged to a record low Friday. In Texas, revenues from taxes on gas production fell 43%, resulting in a loss of over $1 billion in revenue.
And finally: While many Martha’s Vineyard residents are excited about the Obama family’s vacation plans, “the island’s small cadre of marijuana farmers” are nervous. “The word was that some of the island marijuana growers actually had to get their crops in early,” said Mike Seccombe, a senior writer for the Vineyard Gazette. “They thought the helicopters scoping the place out for the president may have had something to do with drug enforcement.”