A long-awaited campaign to rebrand fossil fuels called Fueling U.S. Forward made its public debut at the Red State Gathering 2016 on Saturday, where the organization's President and CEO Charles Drevna gave attendees the inside scoop on the effort, and confirmed that the campaign is backed financially by Koch Industries.
Back in February, Peter Stone first reported in the Huffington Post that a $10 million-a-year effort was proposed by a Koch Industries board member, James Mahoney, and Mr. Drevna, aiming “to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles.” In early August, the Fueling U.S. Forward website launched, and on Saturday, the first public comments were made about the campaign by Mr. Drevna, and they revealed a lot about how the Koch-backed initiative is working to re-frame fossil fuels.
“We need a sustainable energy to ensure the future of the country,” Mr. Drevna told the audience.
The source of that energy? That which Mr. Drevna labeled “reliable, abundant, efficient and sustainable fuels.”
“Folks, that's of course the fossil fuels,” he immediately added.
Never mind that fossil fuels don't align with any dictionary definition of “sustainable,” as oil, gas and coal reserves are limited to what's buried in the ground, unlike renewable sources of energy. Technically speaking, fossil fuels are the opposite of sustainable energy sources — but that fact did little to slow Mr. Drevna down as he made what he called the “pro-human” case for burning fossil fuels.
The top line takeaway from Mr. Drevna's comments is that the Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward is an effort to rebrand fossil fuels, focusing on the “positive” sides of oil, gas and coal.
The new initiative comes at a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming more difficult to ignore. 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, a mid-year climate analysis from NASA reported, and unusual storms, like the torrential rainfall that struck the Gulf Coast over the past few days causing historic flooding, have become more frequent.
For its part, Fueling U.S. Forward wants to talk not about statistics, facts and figures, but to reach people's emotions.
“We've got to take this to the emotional and personal level,” Mr. Drevna, a former D.C. lobbyist and Sunoco executive, told the crowd. “Oil and natural gas, they're not the fuels of the past and maybe the present or a necessary evil. They are the future.”
In Peter Stone's investigation for Huffington Post, many familiar with the early workings of the project that would grow into Fueling U.S. Forward described it as an effort to bolster public opinion of fossil fuels and to combat electric vehicles.
Charles Drevna's new organization appears for now largely focused on the first half of that equation. Asked after his talk if Fueling U.S. Forward planned to campaign against electric vehicles, Mr. Drevna said that his organization was focused on the positives of fossil fuels. Drevna confirmed that he was working with Mr. Mahoney and that Fueling U.S. Forward had indeed received funding from Koch Industries.
Koch Vs. Clean
Koch Vs. Clean, a DeSmog microsite launched today, takes a closer look at the Koch network's efforts to promote the continued burning of fossil fuels and undermine clean energy innovations and electric vehicles, and the role that Mr. Drevna and a handful of others are playing in that offensive.
Throughout the day at Red State Gathering, panelists from Koch-linked organizations repeatedly cited Tesla Motors as an example of government subsidies gone awry, a talking point that seemed aimed to resonate with fiscal conservatives at the RSG 2016.
There's good reason for the oil industry to fear the rise of American electric vehicles. “Volkswagen AG, in an attempt to recover from its emissions-cheating scandal, has said it will create 30 new electric models within a decade,” E&E News recently reported. “General Motors Co. has invested $500 million in Lyft, the ride-hailing service, and intends for Lyft's drivers to pick up passengers in GM's new electric compact, the Chevrolet Bolt.”
The Kochs' newest effort doesn't openly oppose electric vehicles or renewable energy technologies, but tries to frame them as uniquely dependent on government subsidies (despite the fact that the fossil fuel industry benefits from quadruple the amount of government subsidies as the renewable energy industry, according to the International Energy Agency).
And Fueling U.S. Forward is an effort to paint fossil fuels as good for people because they're cheap — a gamble that Americans have already forgotten how prices have fluctuated wildly for the past decade, when repeated price spikes saw average US gas prices rise as high as $4.10 a gallon, roughly double current prices.
That said, the argument that everyone benefits from cheap fossil fuels could be dangerously appealing at a time of historic economic stratification in the U.S.— a staggeringly large gap between the ultra-rich like the Koch brothers and the rest of us.
But supporting fossil fuels to aid the poor is a message that the Kochs have also paired with campaigns that will keep people poor, including opposing minimum wage hikes (at a time when the Fight for 15 movement, which supports more than doubling the current federal minimum wage is gaining credible political traction) or calling for the minimum wage to be repealed altogether.
As of press time, Koch Industries had not responded to questions from DeSmog about the company's motivation for funding Fueling U.S. Forward.
It's a tension that seemed to trip up Drevna as he talked this weekend, describing how fossil fuels had led to prosperity for the world's people — or at least some of them.
“And we are basically richer than ever before,” Mr. Drevna told the crowd at the Red State Gathering, before catching himself and adding “as a world we are. As a nation we are basically richer than ever before.” In other words, some people have gotten rich because of fossil fuels — and for the rest of us, we better keep using coal and gasoline and hope it stays cheap.
Mr. Drevna also told the crowd that for a long time, the oil industry had “been engaged in asymmetric warfare”—hardly the language of someone who sees themselves as on the side of the masses.
The new tactics that Fueling U.S. Forward plans to bring to the table then?
“We're partnering with other organizations too, especially non-traditional allies like the minority community,” Mr. Drevna told the nearly all-white crowd. “Who in the heck gets hit hardest and fastest when there's an energy crisis and prices go up? They do.”
While Mr. Drevna may want to research the definition of tokenizing as well as “sustainable energy,” it's worth noting that communities of color also get hit hardest and fastest when climate catastrophes occur (think the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), and by the day to day impacts of, say, refineries located in black and Latino neighborhoods, where asthma, cancer, and other health problems too often plague residents.
But then again, Fueling U.S. Forward aims to keep attention on the positives. Stay tuned to KochvsClean.com for regular updates about this Koch-funded pro-fossil PR effort.
Video: Charles Drevna Introducing Fueling U.S. Forward at the Red State Gathering
Photo Credit: Charles T. Drevna speaks at Red State Gathering 2016, copyright Sharon Kelly 2016.