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It’s Time for Fossil Fuel Front Group to Come Clean and Stop Spreading Misinformation in New Jersey

DRBC FERC PennEast
Posted December 4, 2020

A fossil fuel industry front group masquerading as pro-consumer should stop misleading the public and let real consumers –  87% of whom support the transition to renewable energy – have their say.

Hiding its true mission behind a misleading name that obscures its decidedly self-interested purpose, the “Consumer Energy Alliance” plays a major role in the fossil fuel industry’s campaign to derail, or at least delay, New Jersey’s transition to safe, clean affordable energy sources like wind and solar. In particular, they take aim at New Jersey’s new Energy Master Plan to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050 because they know it means the state will wean itself off fossil gas and doesn’t need to build more pipelines.

CEA, really an advocacy front group for some of the country’s largest fossil fuel corporations and trade associations, is active in New Jersey as part of a national strategy that involves writing and ghostwriting commentary pieces that run in various news outlets, putting out non-credible reports, and leading a cynical effort to distract communities of color from focusing on environmental justice by trying to inflame residents with misinformation about supposed high costs of clean energy. A number of other similar pro-gas front groups have popped up in New Jersey, such as Affordable Energy for NJ — which on its website lists Consumer Energy Alliance as a partner. While proclaiming support for renewables, these organizations use deceptive tactics and questionable research in an attempt to undercut support for New Jersey’s transition away from natural gas.

Click to TweetClick to tweet: While proclaiming support for renewables, pro-gas front groups like Consumer Energy Alliance and Affordable Energy for NJ use deceptive tactics and questionable research in an attempt to undercut support for NJ’s transition away from natural gas. http://ow.ly/Xhse50CDalJ

The fossil fuel industry’s camouflaged efforts to derail state and local climate policies are coming under increased scrutiny around the nation. In New Jersey, CEA deceptively advocates for the PennEast pipeline claiming the desire to “protect vulnerable consumer populations,” without mentioning that three of PennEast’s partner companies are CEA members. CEA fails to mention the NJ Ratepayer Advocate’s conclusion that PennEast would be “unfair” to consumers who would foot the bill for an unneeded pipeline. In other words, CEA’s support for this fossil fuel project is motivated by protecting the economic interests of its member companies in the state, not by protecting consumers.

In other words, CEA’s opposition to a transition off of fossil fuels in New Jersey is motivated by protecting the economic interests of its member companies in the state.

The front group’s ultimate target is legislators and other policymakers who fossil fuel interests want to convince to backtrack from supporting policies that are setting the stage for a clean energy future in New Jersey.

“Under the guise of protecting average people, CEA’s propaganda ignores the tremendous cost reductions already achieved by clean energy technologies and denies the fact that the clean energy pathway that New Jersey has embraced is projected to cost less than remaining tied to current dirty sources of energy,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, ReThink Energy NJ and NJ Conservation Foundation. “They’re trying to make it appear like consumers are concerned about clean energy because the reality is that the vast majority of New Jerseyans support a transition away from polluting fossil fuels.”

“Anything from CEA should be taken with less than a grain of salt,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director, NJ League of Conservation Voters. “They’re bankrolled by petroleum titans like ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell, yet masquerade as an independent voice. They are a classic example of an ‘Astroturf’ group — a fake grassroots organization.”

“As a growing environmental justice movement fights to reduce dangers to our air, land and water, these communities face an additional threat – charlatans like CEA that play on years of vulnerability to persuade people to oppose clean, affordable energy sources that would improve their health, and create thousands of jobs,” said Katharina Miguel, clean energy advocate at Isles.

“Consumer Energy Alliance likes to call itself ‘the voice of the energy consumer,’ but it really is an advocacy front group for some of the country’s largest fossil fuel corporations and trade associations,” says the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog organization whose research exposes attacks on renewable energy and counters misinformation by fossil fuel and utility interests. “Its members page does not include nationally recognized organizations that advocate on behalf of consumers and low-income communities, senior citizens, and minorities such as AARP, local citizen utility boards, NAACP, and the National Consumer Law Center.”

CEA is run out of the offices of the Houston-based public relations/lobbying firm HBW Resources, EPI reports. “CEA pitches its ‘consumer advocacy voice’ to fossil fuel companies and their trade associations to help industry campaigns ‘out flank’ the opponents it has targeted, including Greenpeace and the NAACP,” EPI found.

Its name aside, EPI reports that CEA Executive Vice President Michael Whatley told attendees of the Ohio Energy Management Conference that his group exists to partner with the fossil fuel industry “to help make sure energy infrastructure gets built.”

DeSmog Blog, a credible source for accurate, fact-based information about global warming misinformation campaigns, notes that “CEA receives financial backing from petroleum giants, with its member groups including BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron, among many others. With operational support from petroleum, gas, and energy infrastructure associations, the CEA engages in targeted media messaging and government lobbying to advance pro-industry agenda items such as offshore drilling, deregulation, and refineries expansion.”

Back in 2011, investigative reporting by Salon.com confirmed CEA to be an industry front group set up to influence public perception and government regulation to benefit fossil fuel industries. DeSmog reports that CEA has numerous times faced accusations of submitting fake comments in support of legislation to help utility companies, “often at the cost of higher energy prices for consumers.”

Some highlights from CEA’s national game plan (from Energy and Policy Institute):

  • “Create appearance of ground-swell of opposition”
  • “If it works one place, it will likely work again”
  • “In order to be successful, campaign must engage groups outside of industry”
  • “Changing the narrative: industry will always lose debates featuring Big Oil against Communities; and Energy versus Environment”
  • “Expose and disrupt the business model that anti-energy groups use to raise money”

 

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