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Fight Back Against Dirty Energy’s PR Machine

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Alarmed by current U.S. energy policy, 60 Americans from all over the country came together in 2012 and again in 2013 in Cambridge, Mass., to explore alternatives to the dangerous and misleading course taken by industry and the nation’s political leaders. In days of intense discussion, they came up with the “American Clean Energy Agenda,” nine principles to put us on a course toward truly renewable, non-polluting energy. In this piece we focus on Principle 3: The entrenched dirty energy industry’s public relations machine and lobbyists block the path to healthy energy options and sources. We will expose their misleading tactics and promote a truly healthy and renewable energy system.”

The energy industry spends millions of dollars on lobbying and public relations to fend off pressure for necessary changes to their core businesses.  

One recent example has been the blitz of commercials supporting natural gas “fracking” operations. These slick ads were shown on the major networks during dinner hour, endlessly repeating the claim that this method of extracting natural gas is the solution to America’s energy and job needs. Energy companies spend millions on media campaigns like this one, in addition to the millions they spend on lobbying state and national officials across the country.

The way to fight back is for local groups, grassroots organizations and concerned citizens to band together to show that dirty energy is no longer acceptable. We are working together to expose the omissions and outright lies that the energy industry bandies about when it tries to sway the public and elected officials.

The CEO of a dirty energy trade association recently noted that the industry has a 7 percent approval rating and called on its members to become savvy about using Facebook and other social media tools in their efforts to shore up their reputations and dominate the public debate over energy. The obvious question is: Why don’t energy companies work to repair their sullied image by moving beyond the dirty, unsustainable energy sources of the past and into the future of truly renewable energy?

If the industry stays on its present course of doubling-down on natural gas, coal and nuclear, one thing is certain. Those who understand the futility of that decision will be there to fight them every step of the way.

Those who recognize that a secure energy future cannot be built on outdated technologies and dwindling fuel sources would welcome a partnership with the energy industry to provide jobs to Americans and a vibrant economy. But this will only happen if energy companies act in good faith, abandon their efforts to sustain the dead-end energy regimes of coal, natural gas and nuclear and make serious commitments to a future of true renewables.

We can change course; there are realistic, concrete alternatives. Synapse Energy Economics, a leading energy research and consulting firm, published a report last year evaluating the feasibility of completely retiring coal as a fuel source in the United States. Its study, titled “Toward a Sustainable Future for the U.S. Power Sector: Beyond Business as Usual 2011,” found that by 2050, a major commitment to developing renewable, sustainable energy sources and a slight increase in natural gas use would make it possible to completely eliminate coal-fueled power plants and reduce the number of nuclear plants by 23 percent, all while saving $83 billion over 40 years.

This systematic, region-by-region report analyzed the prospects for increasing renewable energy generation, the jobs associated with those investments and the health and environmental gains that would come from retiring coal-fired power plants and eliminating their emissions. It is time to heed the recommendations of this study and others like it – and to put them into action. It is pointless for the energy industry to waste millions of dollars on simplistic and distorted public relations schemes when it could instead invest those funds in transformative projects the public actually supports.

If industry will not do this on its own, it will inevitably learn that an informed and engaged public will force the necessary change.