State Department Refuses to Release Information on Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

The U.S. State Department notified a coalition of environmental groups last week that it has denied their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for correspondence between the agency and a former presidential campaign staffer of Hillary Clinton’s, who, in his new role as oil industry lobbyist, is seeking Secretary of State Clinton’s approval for a tar sands oil pipeline.

The coalition, including Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International submitted a FOIA request in December targeted at Paul Elliott, now a lead lobbyist for TransCanada, the company aiming to build the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring 900,000 barrels a day of dirty tar sands over 2,000 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and a further 1,661 miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The State Department denied the FOIA request on the grounds that the groups had not “reasonably described the records [they sought] in a way that someone familiar with Department records and programs could locate them” and cited the groups’ request for a waiver on the fees associated with the processing of the FOIA as reason to deny their request.

Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth argues that the State Department did not have legitimate legal grounds to deny the FOIA request.

House Committee Hearing To Investigate Coal Lobby’s Fraudulent Letters to Congress

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is holding an investigative hearing on Thursday to further probe fraudulent letters sent to Congress by the coal industry’s public relations machine in an effort to derail clean energy and climate legislation.

The committee, chaired by Rep.  Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), has uncovered more than a dozen fraudulent letters sent to several members of Congress by Astroturf specialists Bonner & Associates, who were operating under contract for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

Markey’s committee hearing will feature some of the central figures in the controversy, including victims of the fraud.  DeSmogBlog has written extensively on Bonner’s Astroturf work for ACCCE, documenting the disgraced D.C. firm’s attempts to derail passage of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill.  Fraudulent letters originating from Bonner’s office were sent on behalf of groups representing senior citizens, women, minorities and veterans in a repugnant scam.

Beyond exploring the specific evidence of Bonner’s fraud on Congress at the behest of the coal industry, the hearing will look generally at the practice of Astroturf, a vile public relations tactic sullying current debates over health care and energy legislation.  Industry-funded Astroturf involves the creation of a false appearance of actual grassroots support – often orchestrated by former tobacco lobbyists and fossil fuel industry apologists.

New Report Urges U.S. To Avoid Reliance on International Carbon Offsets

Friends of the Earth U.S. released a new report today calling the use of international carbon offsets a “dangerous distraction” that could lead to climate disaster if relied upon too heavily as the U.S. Senate returns to debate energy and climate policy later this month. 

Offsets are a centerpiece of the Waxman-Markey energy bill that passed the House of Representatives in June, and are likely to appear in the Senate version as well.

The Friends of the Earth report warns that the U.S. must avoid the use of international carbon offsets, in which U.S. industries can skip making costly investments to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions by sending money overseas for clean energy projects in developing countries.  The theory is that these international investments will translate into equivalent reductions at the fraction of the price it would cost to change our ways here at home. 

Astroturf-Busting Hotline Launched

Groups Seek New Evidence in Bonner Scandal

A coalition of groups, including some that were impersonated by coal lobbyists fighting against U.S. climate change legislation, have banded together in search of further evidence of wrongdoing in the ballooning fraudulent letter scandal.

Five prominent non-profits have launched the “Polluter Fraud Hotline” (1-866-363-4648), inviting average citizens or industry insiders to blow the whistle on any deceptive or illegal tactics that big polluters and their lobbyists are using in opposition to clean energy legislation.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), National Wildlife Federation, NAACP, and Center for American Progress Action Fund and Sierra Club are also calling for Congressional action to ensure that this type of orchestrated deception of elected lawmakers never happens again.

Protesters Outnumber Attendees At Ohio GOP ‘Energy Summit’

A ‘GOP Energy Summit’ held today at Ohio State University attracted more protesters outside than those attending the event hosted by Ohio Congressman Bob Latta inside a campus building. 

The summit, hosted by five Republican legislators, including several members of the GOP American Energy Solutions Group, was designed to “provide an opportunity to discuss the GOP’s American Energy Act,” a Republican ‘alternative bill’ that is virtually identical to the failed energy plan put forward under the Bush Administration.

ProgressOhio.org reports that over 50 protesters turned out to heckle the GOPers for their ‘stone age’ efforts to ignore the threat of climate change.

Is Controversial Coal Lobby Front Group ACCCE On The Verge of Implosion?

Duke Energy announced today that it has left the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the dirty coal front group lobbying against Congressional action on climate change.  Will other corporate members of the US Climate Action Partnership soon follow in Duke’s footsteps by leaving ACCCE?

According to a report in the National Journal today, Duke Energy “left the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy on Tuesday over differences with “influential member companies who will not support passing climate change legislation in 2009 or 2010.”

Duke did the right thing. The company realized that its membership in ACCCE did not square with its role with the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of industry and environmental groups working together to support federal action on climate change.  Duke also recently quit the National Association of Manufacturers in part because of that group’s work opposing climate legislation.

Bonner & Associates Never Contacted Rep. Perriello and Several Charities Defrauded In Forged Letter Scandal

In the wake of the forged letters scandal involving lobbyists for the coal industry, D.C. astroturf firm Bonner & Associates claimed to have reached out to Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) and several Virginia charities whose names appeared on the fraudulent letters.  It turns out that Bonner never contacted Rep. Perriello or at least three of the groups it claimed to have informed about the letter forgery episode. 

Bonner & Associates’ attorney Steven R. Ross of Akin Gump wrote in an August 12 letter to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that Bonner took immediate action in late June once it learned of the scandal, which it has blamed on a rogue temporary employee.  Ross stated in the letter that Bonner left messages with Perriello’s office on July 1st and that “on July 13, B&A staff succeeded in directly speaking with congressional staff for Rep. Perriello.”

But the Charlottesville Daily Progress reports that Rep. Perriello’s press secretary, Jessica Barba, has confirmed that Bonner & Associates never contacted Perriello’s office.  “I asked everybody in our office, did anybody hear anything from them about this?” Barba said. “They hadn’t. Nobody in our office ever talked to them.”

Bonner & Associates Coached Employees To Lie To Generate Letters to Congress - Will Congress Rein In Such Astroturf?

An interesting and potentially explosive attachment was included with a letter sent to Congressional investigators by Steven R. Ross, an Akin Gump attorney working to defend his client Bonner & Associates, the D.C. public relations firm embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over forged letters sent from its offices to at least three Democratic lawmakers claiming to represent opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation from nine community groups. 

Attached to Ross’s letter, which was obtained by Talking Points Memo, is a set of “Talking points for ACCCE” distributed to the temp employees to guide their conversations with targeted groups whom they would be calling to drum up opposition to Waxman-Markey in key Congressional districts.

Bonner & Associates Paid Bonus to Letter Forger Before Firing Him

Talking Points Memo has obtained a copy of the letter sent to Congressional investigators by Steven R. Ross, an Akin Gump attorney working to defend his client Bonner & Associates, the D.C. public relations firm embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over forged letters sent from its offices to at least three Democratic lawmakers.  The forged letters claimed to represent opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate and energy legislation from nine different groups, including senior citizens’ organizations, Hispanic and women’s advocacy groups, and the NAACP.

According to the letter from Ross to Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the Bonner employee who forged the letters received a bonus payment for his “hard work,” four days before the firm fired him after learning the letters were forgeries.

Bonner & Associates Spin Machine in Full Gear To Defend Sullied Brand

Usually PR firms like to be behind the news, not in the headlines themselves.  But Bonner & Associates – the D.C. Astroturf shop busted for mailing forged letters to Congress attacking the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – finds itself under the spotlight trying to save its tarnished brand. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bonner continues to blame a rogue temporary employee for the forgeries, resurrecting an age-old PR maneuver - when caught with your pants down, blame the button maker.  “It was a setup!” of course.  No systemic pattern of shady behavior to see here!

Bonner has lawyered up, hiring veteran Akin Gump attorney Steven R. Ross, in another classic defensive posture often used to convolute the matter and issue veiled threats of countersuits to dissuade investigators from looking deeper into the muck.  Attorney Ross claims that Bonner & Associates were victims in the scheme, overwhelmed by “being short-staffed and given the incredibly short time frame of this [two-week] project,” and therefore, according to Ross, “some letters were transmitted to Capitol Hill before they could be thoroughly reviewed.”


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