Over the past month, multiple investigative reports and news stories have attacked Western Energy Alliance after we filed a lawsuit challenging President Biden’s ban on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. The flurry of reports coming out and targeting us is no coincidence. Despite our high profile over several years, we’ve never seen this level of coordination to try to discredit our work in such a short time. These recent stories reveal the climate power players behind the attacks, the playbook of the environmental movement and media, and the billion-dollar philanthropies that finance it all.
Playbook in Action
The most recent news comes from The Guardian and Wyoming Public Media in a pair of news stories over the past week attacking the Alliance for promoting an academic study on the economic harm from Biden’s ban. Publicly available information reveals sources quoted in the stories are anti-oil and natural gas advocates and research cited in the articles was conducted by front groups that are funded by philanthropic foundations committed to advancing President Biden’s climate agenda.
Today’s story entitled, “Republicans' new favorite study trashes Biden's climate plans – but who's behind it?,” cites two sources who have a history of opposing oil and natural gas development on public lands. Laura Zachary, of Apogee Economics, has made a career managing energy and climate initiatives for environmental organizations. Most notably for the past five years she’s been a consultant for The Wilderness Society, who’s top donors include The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Her opposition to oil and natural gas development on public lands is readily apparent online, and you don’t have to look further than Twitter to know she believes Biden’s ban is good for western states. Her position is more extreme than the progressive western governors who recently wrote a letter opposing the ban.
The second source is Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability (CPA), a “watchdog” group organized to “bring transparency and accountability to corporate political spending.” While it carries out the mission of “ending the pervasive secrecy that hides corporate political activity,” CPA conveniently does not disclose its own sources of funding. The non-profit’s website, however, offers a glimpse of the people leading the organization, many who’ve worked for the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, BlackRock, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for American Progress.
The Guardian’s research is based on open-records requests submitted by Documented, a watchdog group that “investigates how corporations manipulate public policy, harming our environment, communities, and democracy.” Similar to CPA, Documented does not hold itself to the same level of transparency that it expects of others. It does not disclose its funders. However, it is quite clear the group is tightly connected to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). The group’s co-founder, Lisa Graves, is currently president of the board of directors at CMD (more about her in a moment), and Executive Director Nick Surgery was previously director of research at CMD.
CMD touts itself as a corporate watchdog focused on policy and the environment. It’s funded by well-known philanthropic foundations that aggressively push anti-oil-and-gas policies including the Tides Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Family Foundation, and Open Society Foundation. Graves, the board president, has a history as an anti-oil and natural gas activist. In 2011, she signed a letter calling on President Obama to use any legal means necessary to end hydraulic fracturing and was joined by numerous Keep-It-in-the-Ground groups.
Although CMD’s presence behind today’s story is behind the scenes, last week they were out front attacking the Alliance. They partnered with The Guardian in another story focused on Republican senators citing an industry-funded economic study during the confirmation for hearing of Rep. Debra Haaland for Interior Secretary. The story quoted sources from organizations that included Center for Western Priorities, Data for Progress and the Western Environmental Law Center. These groups are funded by the Tides Foundation, the Rockefellers Brother Fund, the Hewlett Foundation and the New Venture Fund.
These groups are part of a broad network of philanthropies, watchdogs, environmentalists, and media that advocate for extreme policies.
The network starts with billion-dollar philanthropies that brand themselves as a well-meaning, white-hat-wearing groups that address the cares of society. They don’t tarnish their carefully curated reputations by directly making negative attacks, but instead financially support front groups that happily do the dirty work so long as the checks keep coming. They’re often promoted as nonpartisan public interest groups focused on progressive causes. CMD and Documented are just two examples.
The philanthropies also spend lavishly on partisan media, $1.8 billion in six years according to a Harvard study, which in turn write stories advancing narratives from the same “public interest” groups they fund. For example, National Public Radio is supported by the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which also fund The Wilderness Society and Data for Progress.
While The Guardian’s website doesn’t list funders like many other media organizations, we know it receives funding from the Knight Foundation. In addition, the paper is financially supported by the Society of Environmental Journalists, which receives grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Earthjustice, and The Wilderness Society.
Nearly all of the sources cited in the news stories over the past week have ties to philanthropies and their front groups dedicated to opposing oil and natural gas development. It’s really a marvelous ecosystem they’ve created. The allied groups that pose as watchdogs seem only to care about watching corporations and groups like the Alliance. They’re deeply concerned about the $8,000 the Alliance spent doing outreach on the Wyoming study while conveniently ignoring the billions spent advancing an agenda that kills the livelihoods of tens of thousands of hard-working Americans.
Why the Attacks on the Alliance?
The Guardian article today is not a surprise. Because we’ve been so effective at opposing the Biden leasing ban, we’re in the crosshairs. Western Energy Alliance appears to be just the second organization to have sued the Biden Administration. We were vocal in national media over the last several months opposing the impending ban, and then sued within minutes of President Biden signing it. We’ve effectively raised awareness of the economic costs of the ban. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that the network of environmental groups, watchdogs, and media allies would spring into action to attack us and the information we’re elevating.
One of the most effective tools in telling the story about the heavy costs of Biden’s ban has been the study released in December from Dr. Timothy Considine of the University of Wyoming. We discussed the original idea for the study with the professor before the Wyoming governor’s office, the state legislature, and the Wyoming Energy Authority took it up, funded it, and ran with it. We helped promote the study through the media and an advertising campaign, and made sure regional and congressional policymakers knew about it.
The study reveals a reality that is very different from what President Biden and the environmental lobby are claiming. The report shows that by the end of the president’s first term, Gross Domestic Product across eight western states would decline $33.5 billion, 58,676 jobs would be cut annually, wages would drop $15 billion, and state tax revenue would plummet $8.3 billion.
We understand groups like CMD and Documented cannot sit idly by as we challenge the president’s narrative. We understand how the network of philanthropies are organized and how they coordinate to advance their preferred policies. Yet we find it ironic that The Guardian and Wyoming Public Media reported that any involvement by industry somehow taints the data and research while relying on sources with obvious financial and political biases.
Similar front groups have attacked the Alliance recently. Two weeks ago, Accountable.US issued a press release citing the reduction in our membership over the past several years. They tried to attribute it to lack of support, but anyone who’s followed our industry understands there’s been significant consolidation of companies and bankruptcies in recent years.
The group’s president, Kyle Herrig, also heads up a network of watchdog groups. Although those groups don’t reveal their funders and fail to meet the standard of transparency they set for others, we know until a year ago Herrig was a member of the New Venture Fund (NVF) board, were he oversaw research and strategic communications for progressive projects like Western Values Project. NVF is funded by the same philanthropies cited above and has been key in the climate divestment movement through its financial support of leading environmental groups such as 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club. (Disclosure: Western Wire is a project of the Alliance.)
Another piece released in early February by Public Citizen on campaign contributions to members of Congress from the oil and natural gas industry focused specifically on the Alliance’s political giving, but remained completely unconcerned with that from the environmental lobby.
Public Citizen is funded by many of the same anti-oil and natural gas philanthropies as CMD, Documented, and Accountable.US. The group’s president, Robert Weisman, has penned several editorials opposing oil and natural gas and in 2011 joined Lisa Graves of CMD in signing the letter lobbying President Obama to end fracking.
Peel back the layers of all these attacks and the same funders and front groups keep appearing.
The numerous reports and news stories over the past month are the opening salvo in the attacks against the Alliance. While we’re not able to point to specific individuals within the philanthropic groups who are pulling the strings to promote this anti-oil-and-gas agenda, the network of shadow groups provides sufficient evidence that this is a highly orchestrated, well-funded campaign.
In the coming weeks and months, as our lawsuit against Biden’s ban advances, we expect similar news stories attempting to discredit us.