American Energy Alliance (AEA)

American Energy Alliance (AEA)

Background

The American Energy Alliance is a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization founded in May, 2008. It is the advocacy arm of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Institute for Energy Research (IER). According to its website, the AEA “engages in grassroots public policy advocacy and debate concerning energy and environmental policies.” [1]

While the stated aim of the AEA is to “educate and mobilize citizens in understanding, promoting and helping to solve America’s most pressing energy and environmental policy problems,” this education has taken the form of attack ads against political candidates and messages such as “stand with coal” and “vote no on Obama's failing energy policy.” This has led to some questions on the validity of the AEA's nonprofit status, especially given the AEA's own statement that their group is “not political.” [2]

The American Energy Alliance once declared that it “has no ties to any political party, and it has no interest in supporting the agenda of any particular political party.” However, Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room noted that all of AEA's employees at the time were former House Republican staffers and AEA's website, EnergyTownHall.org, was also run by a former GOP house staffer. [56], [57]

AEA has also spent millions of dollars on media advertising through Republican-orientated vendor Mentzer Media for its stated nonpartisan activities. [2]

Greenpeace reports that IER and AEA worked together on a $3.6 million anti-Obama gas price advertising campaign funded by Koch Industries. The American Energy Alliance has also received over $3.8 million from Freedom Partners, including $1.5 million in 2012, a 501(c)(6) group directed by many of the Koch brothers' “inner circle” such as Richard Fink, Marc Short, Wayne Gable, and Kevin Gentry. [3] 

Koch Connections

Both the American Energy Alliance and its parent organization, the Institute for Energy Research (IER), are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. [4] Politico reports that Pyle regularly attends the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers, including the 2012 winter summit in Indian Wells, Calif., where the Kochs raised more than $150 million to be directed to groups ahead of the general election. [5]

Nancy Pfotenhauer, another lobbyist for Koch Industries, is listed as a Director on AEA's 2014 990 tax return. Pfotenhauer, formerly Nancy Mitchell, was an advisor to Senator John McCain during his presidential election campaign, and a former director of Koch Industries’ Washington office. Pfotenhauer was Koch Industries’ chief in-house lobbyist from 1996 to 2001 with a focus on gas pipelines. [6] In 2001, Nancy Pfotenhauer left Koch Industries to become the President of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and later president of both Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the IWF. She was also executive vice president for Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) a group co-founded by David H. Koch. [7], [8]

Many of Pfotenhauer's organizations have received significant funding from Koch Industries. For example:

Stance on Climate Change

2015

“At a time when the Obama administration is pushing an aggressive climate agenda in Paris, public concerns about the economy and terrorism far outpace anxieties about climate change. Rather than forcing more costly climate policies on the public, world leaders should focus their attention on the economic and national security issues that matter most to people.” [13]

2014

“Even if the apocalyptic vision painted by Al Gore and others is perfectly true—which it’s not—measures limiting the emissions from individual cities are utterly absurd. They epitomize the prevalence of symbolism over science in our climate change policy debates.” [14]

“[A]ccording to official climate models, even if the U.S. enacted an immediate and total ban on all human emissions of greenhouse gases, the difference in global temperature by the year 2050 would be a mere five one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. And that’s the most that the U.S. government could possibly achieve, even if it relied on a ridiculously draconian ban on all future emissions.” [15]

Fossil Fuels

“The morally superior choice is for people to be free to use energy to make their lives better. Today, that means having access to the abundant energy resources of coal, oil, and natural gas. Those are the technologies that lifted the developed world out of poverty, and they continue to lift millions out of poverty while they power the high-energy lives of those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world.” [16]

CO2

“Carbon dioxide is not dirty, and is not poisonous to humans in concentrations we observe in the atmosphere. In fact, carbon dioxide is the natural product of combustion–whether that combustion occurs within our cells (which is why humans exhale carbon dioxide), or whether carbon dioxide results from the combustion of natural gas. Carbon dioxide is essential to life on Earth because vegetation requires carbon dioxide to survive and thrive.”

[…] The policies that environmental activists advocate for, such as shutting down our nation’s affordable and reliable coal power plants, will make energy more expensive. And as we have seen in countries that have made electricity a luxury good through ill-advised energy policy–like Germany–higher energy costs exacerbate poverty and the negative health impacts associated with it.” [17]

Nonpofit Status & Political Activities

The American Energy Alliance is registered as a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization, which means it is not required to disclose its funding sources and contributions are not tax-deductible. 501(c)(4) organizations, commonly referred to as “social welfare” groups, play an influential role in politics. [18]

The IRS notes that “a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.” The IRS also notes that “The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” [19]

When the AEA filed for tax-exempt status in 2008, it told the IRS that it had no interest in supporting the agenda or any particular political party or political candidate,” reports The Center for Public Integrity. While AEA acknowledged “the possibility that some of AEA's publications and communications may be considered ‘political,’” the group asserted that it was a “nonpartisan policy-oriented organization,” not a 'political' organization.” [2]

Tax documents show that AEA spent over $5 million on “media and advertising” with vendor Mentzer Media, a media buying firm that works primarily with Republicans, receiving $3.9 million of that amount. In 2012, AEA had produced television ads in swing states Virginia and Ohio encouraging voters to “stand with coal” and “vote no on Obama's failing energy policy,” while claiming they were not designed to assist Mitt Romney in unseating Barack Obama. [2]

Marcus Owens, an attorney who previously headed the IRS’ tax-exempt division, said the American Energy Alliance’s 2013 tax filing “certainly raises a red flag.” [20]

It’s a politically active organization,” he told Huffington Post According to Owens, AEA's pre-election advertisement blitz “sounds like a lobbying message on its face.” [20]

Funding

The following data is compiled from the Conservative Transparency project. Note that as a 501(c)(4) organization, the American Energy Alliance is not required to disclose its donors, so available data is limited. [21]

View the attached spreadsheet for additional details on American Energy Alliance funding by year (.xlsx).

As Recipient

Donor Total
Freedom Partners $3,867,500
Center to Protect Patient Rights $1,114,960
Wellspring Committee $604,000
Americans for Prosperity $15,000
Grand Total $5,601,460

As Donor

Recipient Total
Institute for Energy Research $300,000
Americans for Prosperity $100,000
United for Jobs $15,000
Grand Total $415,000

Koch Funding

According to Greenpeace, AEA and the Institute for Energy Research have received a combined total of at least $235,000 from Koch foundations between 1997 and 2011, with $175,000 of that funding between the years of 2005 and 2011. 

Greenpeace reports that IER and AEA have received funding from Koch for a $3.6 million anti-Obama gas price advertising campaign.  [3]

According to Greenpeace, AEA received $1.5 million in 2012 funnelled through Freedom Partners, a 501(c)(6) business leaguue directed by many of the Koch brothers' closest connections such as Richard Fink, Marc Short, Wayne Gable, and Kevin Gentry. [3]

990 Forms

Key People

Board of Directors

The following is compiled from publicly available 990 tax forms.

Name 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Position
Brian Kennedy Y Y Director
Dan Kish Y Y Y Y Y Senior Vice President, Policy
Dan Simmons Y Y Y Y Vice President, Policy
James Clarkson Y Y Y Y Y Y Director
John Peterson Y Y Y Y Y Director
Lisa Wallace Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Secretary/Treasurer
Nancy Pfotenhauer Y Director
Robert Bradley Y Y Y IER Executive Officer
Scott Alex Beaulier Y Y Y Y Y Y Director
Thomas Pyle Y Y Y Y Y Y Y President
Wayne Gable Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Chairman

Staff

Name 2010[61] 2011[60] 2012[59] 2013[22] 2014[23] 2015[24] 2016[25] 2017[58] Position
Benjamin Cole Y Y Y Director, Communications
Chris Warren Y Y Y Y Vice President,Communications
Dan Kish Y Senior Vice President, Policy
Daniel R. Simmons Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Vice President, Policy
Doug Macgillivray Y Y Director of Federal Affairs
Dustin DeBerry Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Director, Donor Relations
Genevieve Thornton Y Y Director, Marketing
Hubbel Relat Y Vice President for State Policy and General Counsel
Jeffrey Hubbard Y Y Director, New Media
John Mavretich Y Director, Communications
Kevin Kennedy Y Director, Federal Affairs
Kris Daniel Y Director, Development
Laura Henderson Y Spokesperson
Lisa Wallace Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Secretary/Treasurer
Mike Morrison Y Y Y Director, Digital Media
Robin Millican Y Director, Federal Affairs
Thomas J. Pyle Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y President
Travis Fisher Y Economist

    Actions

    May 8, 2017

    The American Energy Alliance, represented by Thomas J. Pyle is listed on an open letter to President Donald J. Trump urging him “to withdraw fully from the Paris Climate Treaty and to stop all taxpayer funding of UN global warming programs.” [62]

    DeSmog reported that the 40 groups represented in the letter, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), The Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, have received a combined total of millions of dollars from the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, and other industry groups. [63]

    Analysis also showed that the groups accepted about $80 million through Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, two groups that have been confirmed is a key financial source for key U.S-based climate change denial groups. [64]

    January 12, 2017

    The AEA's Thomas Pyle was a signatory to a January 12, 2017 official letter of support (PDF) for Scott Pruitt, in which numerous groups, including The Heartland Institute, and others, declared that the Senate should “swiftly approve his nomination” for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

     Other signatories of the letter included: [55]

    December, 2016

    Thomas Pyle was chosen to head Donald Trump's energy transition team after Mike McKenna stepped down from the position. [51]

    Shortly before his appointment, Pyle had sent a a memo (see full .pdf)obtained and published by the Center for Media and Democracy—to a private email list outlining “The Trump Administration's Energy Plan.” Pyle's memo, featuring a banner with both the American Energy Alliance (AEA) and Institute for Energy Research (IER) logos included 14 policy proposals such as: [52], [53], [54]

    • Withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Climate agreement;
    • Increasing federal oil and natural gas leasing;
    • Lifting the coal lease moratorium;
    • Eliminating the Clean Power Plan;
    • Expediting approvals of LNG export terminals;
    • Moving forward with pipeline projects including the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline;
    • Rolling back federal fuel economy standards;
    • Ending the use of the social cost of carbon in agency rulemaking; and
    • Reconsidering the “endangerment finding” that found greenhouse gases to be a threat to public health and welfare.

    June 13, 2016

    The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD/PRWatch) reports the American Energy Alliance (AEA)  was named as a creditor in Peabody Energy's recent bankruptcy filings. [47]

    While the available bankruptcy documents do not list the scale or dates of funding, they outline Peabody Energy's financial ties to a large network of groups promoting climate change denial. [48]

    Prominent individuals appearing in the documents include climate deniers Willie SoonRichard LindzenRoy Spencer and Richard Berman. The long list of organizations also includes groups such as Americans for ProsperityAmerican Legislative Exchange CouncilCFACTInstitute for Energy ResearchState Policy Network, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dozens more. [49]

    The Guardian also analysed and reported on the Peabody bankruptcy findings: [50]

    These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial,” said Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigation Center, who has spent 20 years tracking funding for climate denial. “It’s the broadest list I have seen of one company funding so many nodes in the denial machine.”

    The company’s filings reveal funding for a range of organisations which have fought Barack Obama’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and denied the very existence of climate change. […]

    Among Peabody’s beneficiaries, the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has insisted – wrongly – that carbon emissions are not a threat but “the elixir of life” while the American Legislative Exchange Council is trying to overturn Environmental Protection Agency rules cutting emissions from power plants. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity campaigns against carbon pricing. The Oklahoma chapter was on the list. […]

    The breadth of the groups with financial ties to Peabody is extraordinary. Thinktanks, litigation groups, climate scientists, political organisations, dozens of organisations blocking action on climate all receiving funding from the coal industry,” said Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy.

    We expected to see some denial money, but it looks like Peabody is the treasury for a very substantial part of the climate denial movement.”

    Notable organizations listed in the initial documents include:

    Notable individuals named in the initial documents include the following:

    May, 2016

    The American Energy Alliance is part of a coalition of 60 conservative organizations led by Americans for Prosperity claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ozone rule will cost jobs and hurt the U.S. economy. [26]

    The only way EPA could justify the regulation was to use questionable cobenefits,” a letter addressed to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) read. “In reducing ozone, there may also be benefits from reductions of other pollutants, in this case particulate matter (PM). However, the EPA already has another set of regulations dealing exclusively with PM. Either the EPA has woefully inadequate standards for PM or it is effectively ‘double counting’ the health benefits of PM reductions to justify the ozone regulation.”  [26]

    April, 2016

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that the American Energy Alliance is one of several Koch-funded groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN) working to “stymie the Clean Power Plan,” President Obama's signature effort to cut carbon pollution from power plants. [27]

    In April, 2016, the American Energy Alliance itself declared that it was behind the push in state legislatures in the US to bar funding for work on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. [28]

    “The point of these riders is to restrict the agency from putting time and attention into this regulation,” said Hubbel Relat, vice president for state policy and general counsel for AEA. “These budget riders exist in the first place because the governors insist on moving forward on a regulation that is held up in litigation and the Supreme Court has questioned its legality.” [28]

    September 1, 2015

    American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle issued a statement criticizing Michigan's Governor Richard Dale Snyder for his plan to implement EPA carbon regulations: [29]

    The Snyder administration’s decision to wave the white flag and implement EPA’s carbon regulation is bad news for Michigan families. The governor claims this approach ‘retains control’ for Michigan, yet the opposite is true. Implementing this regulation, when serious legal challenges persist, effectively hands over the keys to Michigan’s energy future to unelected bureaucrats in Washington. Once Gov. Snyder signs away Michigan’s control over its energy future to Obama’s EPA, there is no turning back.

    Obama and EPA want states to think their only choices are to submit a state plan or have a federal plan imposed on them. Gov. Snyder has apparently fallen for this false choice. The real choice is between shielding Michigan from this harmful carbon regulation or helping President Obama carry it across the finish line as the sun sets on his presidency.

    Obama’s carbon regulation is a national energy tax that will burden Michiganders, especially the poor, with higher energy prices and fewer jobs, yet will have no impact on climate change. Michigan voters made clear their stance on higher energy taxes when they overwhelmingly rejected Governor Snyder’s gas tax proposal earlier this year. The governor should listen to the citizens in his state and join the ranks of several of his fellow governors by rejecting the Obama administration’s carbon regulation.” [29]

    August 6, 2015

    AEA President Thomas Pyle published an article in Medium responding to a previous post by EPA Chief Gina McCarthy “with his own six reasons as to why states and the American people should be wary of entrusting EPA with their energy futures.” [30]

    Pyle contends in his article that the EPA's power plan, which he entitles a “carbon agenda” will have “no impact on climate change,” will “[hurt] Americans' health,” “relies on threats and bribes,” and “was written by the environmental lobby,” among other criticisms. [31] 

    August 3, 2015

    AEA President Thomas Pyle issued the following statement criticizing President Obama's Clean Power Plan: [32]

    “The final version of President Obama’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ is somehow more harmful than the proposed rule. It forces states to make even steeper cuts, it guts natural gas in favor of costly renewables, and it still has no effect on climate change. While the EPA touts these adjustments to the rule as a sign of ‘flexibility’, it’s really an admission that Obama needs states to do his dirty work. But state leaders shouldn’t give in to the administration’s bribery schemes. Regardless of these cosmetic changes to the rule, the fundamental flaws remain.

    It’s important to remember that President Obama’s carbon regulation, the crown jewel of his climate legacy, has no impact on climate change. EPA’s own models show that their carbon rule will limit global temperature rise by a mere 0.018 degrees Celsius by 2100. That’s a bad deal for the American people. State leaders should protect their citizens from Obama’s costly carbon rule by refusing to submit a plan.”

    July 30, 2015

    The American Energy Alliance launched a new initiative at SmartPowerPlan.org, which it describes as “a hub for the latest information on how states and the public are fighting back against the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan.” AEA calls it a “one-stop shop” for “the latest news, legal analysis, public comments, and state action against the EPA’s carbon rule.” [33]

    According to WHOIS archives, the American Energy Alliance registered the website smartpowerplan.org on May 12, 2015. [34]

    According to their website, the Smart Power Plan consists of three principles that “that should guide both elected officials and regulators when composing energy policy”: [35]

    “1. Make Americans’ Lives Better Not Harder: We support individuals picking the most reliable, abundant, and affordable energy sources free from government interference. Natural gas, oil, and coal, which account for two-thirds of our electricity, enrich our lives and allow families to spend more of their hard-earned income on health care, housing, education, and their pursuit of happiness. We embrace individual choice over government mandates.

    “2. Base Policy Decisions on Science and Common Sense: Any public policy that creates new burdens on individuals and families should be subject to rigorous scrutiny that measures the full range of costs and benefits. Unfortunately, the EPA’s Carbon rule fails this basic test. The claimed benefits used to justify the rule are based on dubious science, while the huge costs will diminish Americans’ health, wealth, and environment.

    “3. Hold Our Elected Officials Accountable: Our foremost concern is that states, individuals, and markets drive U.S. energy policy. Increasingly, regulators at federal agencies like the EPA have co-opted the decision-making power and circumvented the legislative process. We need binding action from our elected officials to preserve the authority of states over any significant energy tax hikes and new mandates on their states’ residents.”

    February, 2015

    The AEA began publishing articles linking back to an “initiative” titled “Divestment Truth” (#DivestmentTruth). AEA argues that a “morally bankrupt movement is trying to keep billions of people in poverty, deny people access to energy, and forbid access to the lifesaving products that come from coal, natural gas, and oil […]” and asks readers to “Help us fight against this misguided movement, and take back the reliable, affordable energy that drives America forward.” [36]

    Publications filed under Divestment Truth include a June, 2015 op-ed in Forbes by Institute for Energy Research Founder and CEO Robert Bradley Jr. titled “Fossil Fuel Divestment: Flight From Reality.” According to Bradley, “Divestment is a solution looking for a problem. It is destined to fail […].” [37]

    AEA also published a political cartoon depicting a “fossil fuel divestment protestor” with and without fossil fuels which was also shared on social media. [38]

    According to AEA, “The fossil fuel divestment movement […] has it backwards. The morally superior choice is for people to be free to use energy to make their lives better. Today, that means having access to the abundant energy resources of coal, oil, and natural gas. Those are the technologies that lifted the developed world out of poverty, and they continue to lift millions out of poverty while they power the high-energy lives of those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world.” [16]

    November 4, 2015

    AEA released “10 Reasons to Oppose a Carbon Tax” on its Energy Townhall publication. According to AEA, “A carbon tax would impose an indirect tax on [natural gas, oil, and coal] due to their carbon dioxide emissions.” They list the following “ten reasons” they believe a carbon tax should be opposed: [39]

    “1). It is a tax on transportation fuels like gasoline and most forms of electricity
    2). It will increase the cost of goods and services 
    3). It disproportionately hurts low income communities and seniors
    4). It damages American economic competitiveness
    5). It may increase air pollution
    6). It does not impact climate change
    7). It is not a market-driven solution
    8). It is a tool for politicians to continue wasteful government spending
    9). It is not 'revenue-neutral'
    10). The American public is opposed to it”

    November 21, 2014

    AEA President Thomas Pyle published an op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal titled “It's time for wind tax credit to get blown away.” Some excepts below: [40]

    “One of the central building blocks of the EPA’s power plant rule is increased use of wind and solar for electricity generation. But wind and solar are uncompetitive without massive taxpayer subsidies and mandated renewable portfolio standards. For wind, that takes the form of the production tax credit. […]

    “Congress should reject any attempt by [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to revive the wind production tax credit in the lame-duck session. It’s clearly a bad deal for Nevadans, enriching out-of-state billionaires at the expense of working families.”

    September, 2014

    The American Energy Alliance wrote a coalition letter, signed by 20 organizations, to congress claiming widespread support for “The PTC Elimination Act”, which would cut subsidies for wind energy production, Huffington Post reports. [41]

    The Energy and Policy Institute examined the signatories list and found that 18 of the signatories had signed a similar letter for the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity in June of 201, and that 14 have ties to fossil fuel funders, and 18 have ties to the Koch Brothers' political network.  [41]

    May, 2014

    The American Energy Alliance spent over $400,000 on television ads attacking Senator Mark Udall and accusing him of opposing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Video below. [42]

    “The simple truth: Americans needs jobs,” the narrator reads. “And the Keystone pipeline will create thousands of high-paying jobs.”

    “Sen. Mark Udall is siding with Washington lobbyists and special interests to kill it,” the ad states.

    March, 2012

    The American Energy Alliance launched a $3.6 million ad campaign criticizing President Barack Obama on gasoline prices, and criticizes his decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline, Politico reports. [5]

    Politico notes that both the American Energy Alliance and IER are partly funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse accused the Koch brothers of “funding yet another shadowy outside group to defend the interests of Big Oil and protect their own tax breaks and profits with Mitt Romney being the ultimate beneficiary.”

    Video from the AEI ad campaign below:

    August, 2009

    The American Energy Alliance set off on a nation-wide campaign “to smear President Barack Obama’s clean energy reform agenda,” reports Thinkprogress. AEA staff rode in the “America Energy Express” bus, claiming that the American Clean Energy and Security act will “cripple our sluggish economy.” [43]

    September, 2008

    The American Energy Alliance funded pro-drilling radio ads in Colorado, including one criticizing Colorado Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall, NPR reports. [44]

    American Energy Alliance Contact & Location

    As of May, 2016, the American Energy Alliance listed the following contact information on their website: [46]

    American Energy Alliance
    1155 15th Street NW, Suite 900
    Washington, DC 20005

    Phone:  202.621.2940
    Fax: 202.741.9170
    Email:  [email protected]

    Media Contact: Christopher Warren | 202.621.2947 | [email protected]

    Related Organizations

    Resources

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