A tangled web of individuals and groups representing business interests and conservative think tanks lies at the forefront of opposition to Pennsylvania’s attempt to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These entities, many of which receive funding from the fossil fuel industry and foundations that have long sponsored climate change denial, are generating an echo-chamber of messaging against Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order adding the state to RGGI .
Opponents and proponents are gearing up for an intensification of the fight over RGGI, a multi-state compact that sets a price on carbon emissions from the power generating sector. Last week, a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) board approved the regulations under which Pennsylvania will join the program, setting off a public comment period.
The Think Tank Circuit
A prominent figure at the heart of the intertwined network undermining RGGI is Lowman Henry. Henry heads the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion & Research, a Harrisburg-based “free market” group that receives funding from Sunoco, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, and the Allegheny Foundation of Pittsburgh of the Scaife Family Foundations, veteran funders of climate change denial in the United States.
The Lincoln Institute has launched numerous attacks on RGGI in the past year, often laced with climate denialist talking points. Last October, Henry called RGGI an “ineffective solution to a non-existent problem,” which looks to “address what the Left perceives to be man-made climate change by reducing carbon emissions.” In a segment attacking RGGI on his radio show, Henry interviewed climate change denier Greg Wrightstone, a geologist who works for the oil and gas industry through the Pittsburgh-based Wrightstone Energy Consulting. Wrightstone, who authored a denialist book called Inconvenient Facts, is a frequent contributor to the Heartland Institute’s blog.
The Lincoln Institute’s ties also extend to the Pennsylvania legislature. Republican State Representative Frank Ryan, who signed a recent letter from several lawmakers to Governor Wolf demanding that he rescind his executive order on RGGI, sits on the Lincoln Institute’s Board of Directors.
Henry is linked to a number of other anti-RGGI groups in Pennsylvania. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Pittsburgh-based conservative think tank that receives funding from the Sarah Scaife Foundation of the Scaife Family Foundations. The Scaife family, whose money comes largely from the Gulf Oil fortunes, has a long history of funding climate denial. The Allegheny Institute recently dubbed RGGI the “Regional Kill the Economy & Raise Prices Initiative.” The Allegheny Institute’s Frank Gamrat and Eric Montarti appeared on Lowman Henry’s Lincoln Institute radio show and further attacked RGGI.
Dr. Jake Haulk, the Allegheny Institute’s former President, is a current Board member of both the Lincoln Institute and the Allegheny Institute.
Additionally, IRS tax documents list Lowman Henry as the treasurer of The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a Lemoyne, Pennsylvania-based “limited government” group. The Citizens Alliance warned that RGGI will be a “nail in the coffin” for coal-fired electricity generation and “drastically reduce the number of new natural gas power plants built.” In 2015, the Citizens Alliance was listed as a member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a major propagator of climate change denial.
The Commonwealth Foundation for Policy Alternatives is another group frequently attacking RGGI. The Commonwealth Foundation, a current SPN member, is funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation and DonorsTrust, an entity that distributes millions of dollars in grants each year to groups, including climate deniers, from donors who wish to remain anonymous. Two Board members of the Commonwealth Foundation, Tom Beach and George Coates, also sit on the DonorsTrust Board.
As Dana Drugmand revealed last week in DeSmog, based on documents obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is also involved in anti-RGGI activities in Pennsylvania. AFP has crafted resolutions opposing RGGI and circulated them among several county commissioners, urging them to pass the resolutions as their own. Emails show that AFP operatives communicated with several state lawmakers, including sponsors of anti-RGGI bills, in a coordinated effort to undermine the compact.
The Business Group Connection
Much of the right-wing think tanks’ activity against RGGI in Pennsylvania occurs through business entities, notably the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA). In addition to all the other hats he wears, Lowman Henry also chairs the PMA’s Board of Directors. Jake Haulk, a Director on both the Lincoln Institute’s and Allegheny Institute’s Boards, sits on PMA’s Board as well.
On its website and through its newsletters, PMA frequently rails against RGGI, calling it a “job crushing” program. In the past year, PMA’s lobbyist in Harrisburg testified numerous times in the state legislature and before the DEP against the measure.
While PMA does not make its members list public, it is part of a broader state business alliance that includes chambers of commerce and regional manufacturing associations. PMA is also a member of Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN), a fossil fuel front group promoting pipeline build outs.
Meanwhile, there’s evidence that more extensive, out-of-state players have also joined the fray.
PMA is the Pennsylvania state partner of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), a DC-based pro-business group that specializes in helping employers mobilize their employees for lobbying and political campaigning. David Taylor, PMA’s President & CEO, sits on BIPAC’s Board of Directors.
BIPAC has aided PMA’s fight against RGGI, as revealed by DeSmog. Internet domain registration records show that BIPAC hosts the website for the recently created Power PA Jobs Alliance (powerpajobs.com), an anti-RGGI coalition of coal-based power generators and coal producers, labor, and business associations, which includes PMA. A reference to Momentum Advocacy, a DC-based firm affiliated with BIPAC, appears on the coalition website’s URLs.
BIPAC itself has a long-standing association with the fossil fuel industry. Barry Russell, the President of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), sits on BIPAC’s Board. In recent years, BIPAC received funding from fossil fuel industry trade associations and corporations, including IPAA, Occidental Petroleum, Noble Energy, and Phillips 66. According to IPAA’s recent tax documents, the trade association joined forces with BIPAC “to help its member companies and state cooperating associations achieve their election and public policy goals by linking the IPAA political website” to various independent oil and gas associations. In Pennsylvania, this has translated into a collaboration between BIPAC, PMA, and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) to provide the oil and gas industry and its workforce resources for political campaigning and policy advocacy.