As the New Year of 2009 dawns, the PR flacks charged with greenwashing coal's image must be praying for a fresh start. It's hard enough to fix up the image of the world's dirtiest energy source, without your clients finding one way after another to undermine their own multi-million-dollar, image cleanup campaign.
So I bet coal's PR people wish they could send out a memo with some New Year's resolutions. Perhaps Joe "Have Some Coal in Your Stocking" Lucas at prominent coal-front group ACCCE (pronounced acky) is penning some advice right now for the titans of and advocates for Big Coal. I imagine it might look something like this:
To: The Tennessee Valley Authority
From: Joe Lucas, ACCCE
Please resolve to:
1. Keep the 5.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge inside the storage pond and out of your neighbor's yards. We've already had a few memos on this one guys, but in case you need a reminder as to how bad this looks, here is the latest set of pictures from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Does that look like clean coal to you?
2. You can bend the truth out of shape, but try not to break it in half (Part 1). If you can't keep your toxic sludge to yourself, at least be honest about what happened. When your coal storage pond ruptures and floods an area with 5.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash sludge - debris that is twice the volume of that resulting from the attacks on the World Trade Center - you don't get to label it an "ash slide" resulting from " a failure of a coal ash retention wall." That makes it sound like bystanders got splashed by getting too close to the log flume ride at a Seven Flag Parks.
3. You can bend the truth out of shape, but try not to break it in half (Part 2). Just how big a problem is the "truth gap" over there at the TVA? Big enough to get you busted in the New York Times for lying about the toxicity of the ash spill, which reported: "For days, authority officials have maintained that the sludge released in the spill is not toxic, though coal ash has long been known to contain dangerous concentrations of heavy metals. On Monday, a week after the spill, the authority issued a joint statement with the E.P.A. and other agencies recommending that direct contact with the ash be avoided and that pets and children should be kept away from affected areas."
4. Tone down your Web site's greenboasting about environmental stewardship(!): With the spill still attracting local and national news attention, you might want to creatively edit the greenboasting to acknowledge December's...regrettable incident...Because you know what? If your "environmental stewardship" page creates a 50 percent or greater chance of inducing laughter, it's hurting - not helping. Let me assure you that saying that "As the nation's largest public power producer, TVA recognizes that the environmental consequences of its operations are far-reaching. By continually working to improve its environmental performance and taking a leadership role in clean-energy development, TVA helps safeguard our natural resources for future generations" doesn't really ... ring true right now. Put that kind of laughable greenwashing into cold storage for a while, would you?
To: Don Blankenship, Massey Energy CEO and US Chamber of Commerce board member
From: Joe Lucas, ACCCE
Please resolve to: Get help for your chronic case of foot in mouth disease. Don, we've talked about this. This is the YouTube age. You can't do your tryout for "world's biggest knucklehead" with a camera in the room. Your now-infamous little West Virginia speech late last year was caught on tape and it makes us look like total nut-jobs (especially you.) Remember that we're spending loads of dough to make it sound like the coal industry cares about fixing global warming? Might want to think about that next time they let you speak in front of ... anyone.
It doesn't play well when thousands and thousands of people can be appalled by your YouTube appearance. Need a sample? Here you go: ThinkProgress', "The Wonk Room" summed it up this way: "Don Blankenship, the 'scariest polluter in the United States,' is the CEO of A.T. Massey Coal Company, an egregious polluter, union buster, and extreme practitioner of mountaintop removal mining. Blankenship also happens to sit on the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which promotes his virulent brand of right-wing global warming denial. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Pete Altman has just revealed video of his bizarre rant that "The greeniacs are taking over the world" and censoring the poor folks of the Chamber ..."
The IEEE Spectrum's EnergyWise blog was even harsher in its assessment of Mr. Blankenship's performance: "The Natural Resources Defense Council embarrassed the coal industry last week by acquiring and distributing video of Don Blankenship, CEO of number-four U.S. coal producer Massey Energy, proudly professing his continued denial that climate change is real."
To: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
From: Joe Lucas, ACCCE
Please resolve to: Stop serving as the U.S. headquarters for global-warming denial.
Look, we know you are trying to help, but it is 2009. Do you really think that most members of the Chamber actually subscribe to its head-in-the-sand denial of global warming science? Are you gonna tell the members who disagree with your extremist opposition to climate policy to quit?
The "State Climate Dialogues" you held across the U.S. in 2008 tried to convince people that dealing with the climate problem would be tantamount to "suicide bombing the American economy" ways to predict economic disaster if the US Congress embraces a serious climate policy. On balance, it was probably a waste of your time. Who heard about them?
And why have a hired gun if he or she just shoots you in the foot? One of the hired guns is David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation. In 2008, he co-authored the study "The economic costs of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Legislation", a curious title since Kreutzer's study didn't actually model the Lieberman-Warner bill. It wasn't the only example of a misfire from this Chamber hired gun. Kruetzer also drew some heat in 2008 for his apparently total failure to comprehend the Green Recovery Report.
And most credible experts disagree with this "Chicken Little" view. For instance, Dr. Martin Kushler, director of the Utilities Program at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, says: "The claim that taking steps to address climate change would be bad for the economy is simply not true. We know from proven experience that we can save electricity through energy efficiency programs at one-third the cost of a new power plant. With a strong energy efficiency policy we can save money and reduce carbon emissions at the same time." Speakers at the Chamber events rely on questionable assumptions and even more questionable results to make their case.
To: Americans for Prosperity
From: Joe Lucas, ACCCE
Please resolve to: Give those balloon rides a rest.
We're trying to run a serious propaganda campaign here. And all you guys can come up with is an energy-industry financed balloon tour to "expose" global warming and constructive climate solutions. Sure, you managed to get someone to lug the balloon and t-shirts to 32 cities in 20 states. But the reality is that if this had been a stadium-rock tour, it would have been cancelled for lack of interest ... even before it got started. The Dunder Mufflin Scranton office company picnic would draw a bigger crowd than these AFP "events" with pathetically small crowds did in Missouri and Oregon. (So much for AFP's posturing as an organization with real grassroots clout!)
And you know what? Before you boast about a stunt like your much-ballyhooed attempt to fly over former Vice President Al Gore's house outside of Nashville, make sure you can get the permits to do it first! And while we're on the subject...maybe you could avoid scheduling events to dismiss global warming for the times and places when you are least likely to be washed out by weather events that are connected to global warming. It just hurt when you had to cancel your public meeting to denounce climate solutions due to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Fay! You made an easy target for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann with that one.
Please resolve to: Remember that only those of us in the coal industry will ever see coal as cute and cuddly.
OK, Joe. It's time to turn that powerful scrutiny onto yourself and 'fess up. One of the fundamentals of PR is to admit your mistakes and learn from them. I have to admit it, those stupid singing coal lumps turned out to be just plain embarrassing. NRDC's Rob Perks went wild with that one: "Lumps of coal singing Christmas carols? That was the coal industry's latest cynical ploy (quickly dumped after much well-deserved ridicule)."
Well, I guess that's enough for now. If we can just keep these resolutions in mind, maybe coal won't look so dirty in 2009.