Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist’s Deceptive Campaigns for Dirty Energy and Big Tobacco

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Grover Norquist is a familiar player in Washington debates, renowned for convincing nearly every Republican in Congress to sign a pledge to not raise taxes. But Norquist’s main job is not as a principled advocate for his brand of limited government but functioning as a paid lobbyist for whatever corporate interests are ready to write him a check. Norquist is a prominent pundit for Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, and now, he’s also batting for Big Oil.

Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), is at the forefront of the latest fight against renewable energy in the United States.

Conservative front groups and fossil fuel interests are attacking renewable energy standards in a coordinated assault to protect profits generated from fossil fuel-based electricity. Twenty-nine states have renewable energy standards and twenty-two of those have become fierce battlegrounds.

This coordinated attack on clean energy bears resemblance to the effort by Big Tobacco to prevent public health laws from impacting the profitability of tobacco companies. And it turns out, a lot of people working to dismantle renewable energy laws are deeply connected to Big Tobacco. Some, like Grover Norquist, even worked with Big Tobacco on their misinformation campaigns and are now turning their lobbying power to attack state clean energy policies.

The attacks on the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) originated primarily from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose energy task force is comprised of fossil fuel companies and front groups members like ATR. In late February, several ALEC groups including ATR attempted to convince Kansas legislators to weaken their renewable energy law, which would require renewable energy to make up at least 20% of their energy portfolio.Norquist himself testified to the Kansas legislature to roll-back the RPS.

Americans for Tax Reform has received $525,000 from the American Petroleum Institute between 2008 and 2011 and $60,000 from foundations connected to Koch Industries between 2003 and 2011.

Fighting against renewable energy in the states isn’t Norquist’s only project working to protect fossil fuel interests. ATR is part of a Tea-Party “last stand” seeking to derail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, Norquist also made a public statement that there was “no conceivable way” he could support a carbon tax aimed at slowing global warming and pollution.

Norquist has a track record of defending industries engaged in massive denial of scientific knowledge. The dirty energy industries that fund ATR pretend that the climate change science is inconclusive despite broad scientific consensus.  But that approach is not new – it was refined through millions of dollars in lobbying, public relations and front groups by the tobacco industry, which denied the harms caused by smoking.

Americans for Tax Reform, run under Norquist, has been a longtime ally of the U.S. tobacco industry and a major player in pro-tobacco tax policies.  ATR’s history with Big Tobacco was pulled from hundreds of documents that live in the Tobacco Archives and documented by SourceWatch.

1990s: Big Tobacco Loses Public Opinion, Calls on Third Party Support

In the early 1990s, the government started increasing tobacco regulation via taxes and bans to compensate for the health costs of smoking. Philip Morris President Roy Marden wrote an internal memo calling attention to the need to “regain the upper hand” on public opinion of tobacco. In 1992, RJ Reynolds documented a campaign plan to “move public opinion in the right direction” – in order to weaken tobacco regulation.

One aspect of the plan was third-party coalition work, with ATR listed as a likely coalition partner. The reason: “Credible, non-tobacco voice for hearings and for generating information on issue to media, op-eds, letters, etc.” The draft plan also mentions Norquist specifically, noting, “Tim Hyde to work with Grover Norquist for possible by-line piece.”

The following year, ATR’s pro-tobacco campaign began. With the help of focus groups from eight different cities, ATR launched an advertisement in 152 newspapers targeting 51 Members of Congress. Their success was documented by Philip Morris, and used for even further campaigning.

ATR continued to campaign against tobacco taxes, so much that they were described in an internal Philip Morris review as a “staunch ally of PM for a number of years in many tax battles.”

Along with coalition support came monetary support. Philip Morris contributed $30,000 to the ATR Foundation in 1994, according to internal documents. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company contributed $100,000 to ATR two years later and ATR received additional money from RJR in 1997 to continue PR support of lobbying activities, one month before Norquist went on the road to speak out against cigarette tax increases.

1999: Litigation against Big Tobacco Begins, Norquist and ATR continue support

President Bill Clinton announced that “the Justice Department [was] preparing a litigation plan to take the tobacco companies to court, and with the funds [they] recover, to strengthen Medicare” in his 1999 State of the Union Address. Less than one month after Clinton’s speech, Norquist had published a media release and letters to radio show hosts complaining about the litigation – without disclosing his own financial ties to tobacco. Weeks later, Norquist wrote a letter to Kirk Blalock of Philip Morris requesting $200,000 in continued support.

Norquist and ATR spent the next few years continuing to campaign against the litigation efforts, writing letters to warn Congressmen of dire consequences.

ATR continued to receive monetary support from Philip Morris, but Norquist campaigned for even more money from a coalition of tobacco groups. He sent a proposal to Lorillard and Philip Morris titled “No taxation through litigation – stopping the federal Medicare suit.” The proposal was seeking $582,672.

What came of the proposal was undocumented, but ATR has continued to lobby on behalf of the tobacco industry. They organized an anti-tobacco tax rally in 2010, using an email list paid for by Philip Morris. They list several appeals to oppose bills that would raise tobacco taxes on their website, including a 2011 Louisiana bill and an Arkansas House Bill.  In early 2012 they campaigned against California’s Proposition 29, another tobacco tax increase. Sacramento Bee editor Dan Morain asked Patrick Gleason, a Norquist aide, whether Americans for Tax Reform still accepted tobacco money, to no response.

A 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler concluded that the tobacco industry has “lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as ‘replacement’ smokers, about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.”

The lies and deception continue with climate change denial and attacks against renewable energy standards on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. It seems Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform will campaign for anything, for the right price.

Another Friday News Dump: State Department Paves Way for Keystone XL Approval

State Department releases Keystone XL environmental impact statement, ignores reality of climate change impacts

This afternoon, the State Department released its Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the controversial Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, claiming that the pipeline will “not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.” The SEIS paves the way for President Obama’s approval of the pipeline despite widespread concern over the climate impacts of tar sands oil.
The State Department assessment does acknowledge that excavation of the Canadian tar sands oil would result in 17% more climate change emissions than the average barrel of heavy crude oil. But the report continues to say that the KXL pipeline would have no adverse impact on climate change because if the pipeline were not approved, companies would ship tar sands oil via railroad.

In reality, the Keystone XL pipeline is a “fundamental element in the oil industry’s plan to triple production of tar sands oil from 2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 6 million bpd by 2030” (and eventually to 9 million bpd), according to a whitepaper (PDF) from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC whitepaper quotes Andrew Potter, a Managing Director at CIBC World Markets, an investment banking subsidiary of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, as saying “Even if you build every single pipe that’s on the table right now… you’re still short pipeline capacity…For the growth to continue, all the proposed export pipeline capacity and more will need to be built, and soon.”

With other options for transporting tar sands oil facing significant opposition, Keystone XL is the path for tar sands industry growth. The Obama Administration just released a report that positions the President to greenlight the project. So as the President goes to make his decision in the coming weeks, let’s hope he remembers his lofty words from his inaugural address: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

For more breaking news on the Keystone XL decision, see DeSmogBlog’s live blog here.

The Real Cost of Coal Exports and Fossil Fuels

With major fossil fuel projects ramping up across the globe, fossil fuel interests are ignoring the catastrophic costs that carbon pollution causes (and will cause) around the world. Meanwhile, critics of clean energy technologies continue to spread disinformation to discredit the emerging sector and promote fossil fuels as the only viable source of energy.

Coal exports are on the rise. U.S. coal exports exceeded the Department of Energy’s projections by 30% in 2012 as reported by Nate Aden, a PhD student from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Coal demand is being driven in part by economic growth in China and other developing countries, but these developing countries are not alone. The World Resources Institute found that 1,100 coal-fired power plants are being proposed around the world. And, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, countries in Europe were the destination for 45% of U.S. coal exports in 2012.

Australia and Indonesia also have major coal export projects underway. According to the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn, Australia is already the world’s largest exporter of coal, sending twice as much CO2 abroad than it emits at home.

Readfearn writes that exports of carbon fuels will come back to bite Australia in the form of climate disruption. In the past two months, Australia has been ravaged by hundreds of wildfires caused by the “biggest and longest heat wave on record in January.” This type of extreme weather is exactly what 97% of climate scientists have been warning our leaders for over two decades. The New Scientist cited Jon Nott who researches extreme weather events at James Cook University (in Australia) saying, “The frequency of more intense events is going to increase” as a hotter world becomes the new reality.

The Washington Post reported, “If we want to avoid severe global warming, we’ll have to stay within a strict carbon budget in the decades ahead…” A new report by Greenpeace details the 14 biggest threats to the “climate stabilization budget” with the top three being China’s coal reserves in the western provinces, Arctic oil drilling and Australian coal exports. Coal exports account for three of the 14 fossil fuel projects under development that would “blow past [our strict carbon] budget.”

So, with these identifiable threats to stabilizing the earth’s climate, why aren’t we rapidly decommissioning fossil fuel projects around the world?

One answer lies in the powerful and fossil fuel-funded opposition to clean energy solutions to climate change.

Clean energy opponents argue that clean energy technology is “too expensive” while ignoring the much larger subsidies and externality costs of fossil fuels (for more on these advocacy groups see our report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page”).

While the argument about clean energy may have been true a decade ago, rapidly falling prices of wind, solar and other clean technologies are rendering that argument obsolete. In January, the International Renewable Energy Agency released a report (PDF) showing that “the rapid growth in the deployment of solar and wind is driving a convergence in electricity generation costs for renewable power generation technologies at low levels.” The report goes on to say that the rapid cost reductions of installed renewable energy technology mean that data one or two years old can significantly overestimate the cost of electricity from renewable energy technology. In other words, cost reductions are making clean energy competitive with fossil fuels around the world.

Moreover, the costs for fossil fuels (including fuels coming from the 14 projects above) do not account for the potential damage their emissions will cause as we drift towards climate disaster. These fossil fuel pollution externalities should be factored into the cost of business. After factoring in the cost of pollution, maybe digging up coal and shipping it across the globe won’t look like such a great investment.

For future generations, let’s hope the real cost of fossil fuels is factored into our calculations soon.

Breaking from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog today released a comprehensive report on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing to public drinking water, land and our health. Based on the findings of the report and recent events, DeSmogBlog is calling for a national moratorium on fracking until further independent research demonstrates that the process does not contaminate drinking water, pollute land or impact the global climate.

See DeSmogBlog’s post below and study here.

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate – Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization.

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.