The electric utility industry, through its trade association the Edison Electric Institute, has begun working with three other fossil fuel groups to push back against organizations that oppose increased natural gas investment in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at the 2017 Platts Annual Coal Marketing Days conference in Pittsburgh, EEI’s Karen Obenshain said the utility group is in the “early stages” of putting together a campaign to counter opposition to fracking and pipelines, and is working with the American Petroleum Institute, the American Gas Association, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. “We’re looking at what advocacy platforms we have out there — that the [natural gas] trades have already — to use and push back against the opposition.”

The four trade associations collected a combined $350 million in revenue from their members last year, according to their latest available reports to the IRS. And many companies are members in more than one of the trade associations  – a possible hint as to who is pushing the trade associations to counter environmentalists opposing gas.

Mark Hand of ClimateProgress writes:

Some of EEI’s biggest members — Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Southern Company, and DTE Energy — are heavily invested in the natural gas industry. Dominion is a major pipeline operator and is the nation’s largest owner of underground natural gas storage. In 2016, Dominion completed its acquisition of Questar Corp., an owner of a major interstate gas pipeline network in the western United States and parent of a large natural gas utility company that serves customers in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho.

Dominion, along with Duke Energy and Southern Company, are developing the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is designed to deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. Duke Energy subsidiaries have reserved more than 59 percent of the total capacity on the pipeline, while a Dominion subsidiary has booked 20 percent and a subsidiary of Southern Company has booked a further 10.3 percent, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

Decisions today lock in fossil fuels for decades

The electric utility industry often talks about how it is helping the nation reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how it is planning for decarbonization.

Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, has said, “We’re on a path to decarbonize. We’ve lowered carbon emissions 30% since 2005.”

But utilities’ rush to build natural gas infrastructure, specifically from the Marcellus and Utica shales, will lock in fossil fuels for half a century.

Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, recently told the Center for Public Integrity, “The buildout of pipelines is a true climate disaster.”

Last year, Oil Change International released a report titled “A Bridge Too Far: How Appalachian Basin Gas Pipeline Expansion Will Undermine U.S. Climate Goals”. Lorne Stockman, an author of the report, told UtilityDive, “emissions from gas demand alone by 2040 would eat up the entire emissions budget from the United States … So in order to allow for this growth in gas demand we would have to stop burning oil, stop burning coal completely, and that level of gas use would still overshoot the target by 2040.”

Months later, in January 2017, Sierra Club released a report, “The Gas Rush: Locking America In Another Fossil Fuel For Decades” that identified more than 200 new gas plants and thousands of miles of new gas pipelines across the country that not only endangers thousands of communities, particularly low-income families and communities of color, but will also “emit an amount of carbon dioxide pollution corresponding to more than 15% of 2016 electric sector emissions.”

Nevertheless, the electric utility industry and companies rushing to build gas plants such as DTE Energy, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, and Southern Company have decided to partner with trade associations representing TransCanada, and ExxonMobil and continue to expand gas infrastructure.

History of astroturf ‘advocacy’ campaigns

As ClimateProgress further notes, the trade associations have used their revenue to fund campaigns targeting lawmakers and the general public:

The American Gas Association (AGA) … established a group called Your Energy, designed to create the appearance of grassroots support for natural gas projects. Your Energy has formed state-level groups aimed at targeting anti-pipeline and anti-fossil fuel movements in states along the Eastern Seaboard.

During President Barack Obama’s first term, the American Petroleum Institute (API) held “Energy Citizens” rallies against climate change legislation in Congress …  In 2012, API sought to make its “Vote 4 Energy” campaign appear big by buying billboards and advertisements in the run-up to the presidential election.

Last year, DeSmog reported that a front group for the pipeline industry — the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now — may have created fake Twitter profiles to convey a pro-Dakota Access Pipeline message over social media.

Earlier this year, API launched a campaign, called Power Past Impossible, that seeks to show how dependent modern life is on the byproducts of oil and natural gas …

Just last week, the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), which calls itself “the voice of the energy consumer,” launched a 12-state initiative called “Campaign for America’s Energy.” The campaign’s stated goal is to counter the message of anti-fracking and anti-pipeline activists.

Additionally, it has been reported that EEI hired a firm, Maslansky + Partners, to help its industry improve its reputation. The firm has been helping the utility industry emphasize its commitment to “clean energy,” but the firm told utilities to not “directly call out” natural gas.

Read more at ClimateProgress

Posted by Matt Kasper

Matt Kasper is the Research Director at the Energy & Policy Institute. He focuses on defending policies that further the development of clean energy sources. He also frequently focuses on the companies and their front groups that obstruct policy solutions to global warming. His work has appeared in The Guardian, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, and other outlets.

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