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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 4/22/13

How the Climate Reform Effort Was Poisoned From the Inside

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Despite holding the presidency and congressional majorities, Democratic leaders failed to pass a climate change bill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File.)

On this Earth Day, we are three years out from the last window of opportunity to pass a climate bill in America. Harvard University's Theda Skocpol has done the best job so far in diagnosing why, at the outset of the Obama administration with large Democratic majorities in Congress, progressives failed to enact a law regulating or pricing carbon pollution. Her conclusion is that reformers spent too much resources on an "inside game" of lobbyists and dealmakers and not enough on grassroots campaigning, and that reformers failed to make the case about the dangers of global warming.

She's right, but here's another reason: The guys who managed the campaign were also secretly working alongside the opposition.

Three years ago, reformers established a group called Clean Energy Works that would manage a coalition of more than 60 organizations to develop advertising, field and lobbying to pass a climate bill. New disclosures not only show that Clean Energy Works and its affiliates spent about $37 million on advertising and less than $900,000 on grassroots organizing, but that the firm at the helm of the effort, then called Blue Line Strategic Communications, was in bed with the coal industry.

In the summer of 2009, a consulting firm called Blue Line Strategic Communications was picked to manage Clean Energy Works. The firm was run by David DiMartino and Michael Meehan, two former industry lobbyists and Democratic staffers.

It was Blue Line, according to discussions with those involved in the process, which decided to pass the bill without ever mentioning global warming or any of its effects. The firm ignored the science and the dramatic consequences of inaction and focused instead on stressing the secondary benefits of a clean energy economy, like energy independence and job creation.

It was a novel approach. In nearly every Western industrialized country that has implemented economy-wide carbon controls, reformers have talked about the effects of climate change -- crop failures, extreme weather events, desertification and rising sea levels -- to get the public on its side. In California, the only state to pass a mandatory cap and trade law, environmentalists aired ads with a narrator discussing the dangers posed by climate change over scenes of devastation and an hourglass, which gave the viewer a sense of urgency. "Warnings couldn't be clearer: this is the hottest summer on record, forest fires in the west caused by global warming can be seen from outer space," blared an ad that paved the way for AB 32, the landmark climate change law signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.

The strategy from Blue Line and its partners to ignore climate change played into the hands of polluters, which sought to suppress support for the bill by spreading doubt about the consensus over the science. "If we win the science argument, it's game, set, and match," Tim Phillips, the political operative hired by David Koch to fight the bill, later told a meeting at the Heritage Foundation.

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LEE FANG  Lee Fang is a  reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. He covers money in politics, conservative movements and lobbying. Lee's work has resulted in multiple calls for hearings in Congress and the (more...)
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