The Skywriter

Astroturf group protests regional carbon-capping program & non-existent bill


Astroturf group protests regional carbon-capping program & non-existent bill


By Lauren Shuster, Esq., a 1Sky organizer at NYPIRG. -- Luis

On Wednesday, I attended the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) anti-RGGI rally in downtown Manhattan. For those of you who may not be familiar with AFP, they describe themselves as " organization of grassroots [emphasis added] leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels."

Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, think again. AFP has its sights set on dismantling the most successful regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction agreement in the country: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). On Wednesday, about one hundred sign-wielding protesters arrived in two luxury charter buses bearing the name Citigroup in front of the so-called "clandestine" offices of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protest the RGGI auction taking place "secretly" inside.

The protesters claim that the RGGI and other cap and trade agreements like it are nothing more than a "secret tax" that will "kill jobs" and "cap our energy production." They also claim that RGGI does nothing to protect the environment and therefore, "even environmentalists should rise up against RGGI."

Let’s consider some facts about RGGI before drawing any conclusions:

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced "reggie") is an agreement between ten northeastern states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) to reduce pollution from power plants. The pollution reductions are achieved by limiting the amount of carbon that polluters can emit. RGGI sells permits to polluters; polluters must buy enough permits to cover the amount of pollution they release. Theoretically, once the permits run out, no more pollution can be emitted from these polluters. Over time, fewer permits will be made available so that less pollution can be emitted. It’s just that simple.

RGGI is also delivering significant new investments in energy efficiency. To date, the RGGI auctions have raised more than $300 million, and that money has been used to make energy efficiency and clean energy technology more affordable for homeowners and small businesses. In addition, based on recent analysis from Environment Northeast, the efficiency programs driven by RGGI are estimated to deliver job growth of 14,000 jobs per year and will increase gross state product (GSP) by nearly $2 billion. Finally, since RGGI was enacted, greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector have declined by about 30%, and wholesale electricity prices are down by 40-50%.

Why, with all of this, is AFP dead set on killing RGGI? While claiming to speak for the public, AFP represents special corporate interests that will benefit if RGGI, and other programs like it, cease to exist. AFP is bankrolled by Koch Industries, one of the top ten air polluters in the country. While Koch has a diverse portfolio, they derive substantial revenue from petroleum refining. According to the Federal Election Commission, since 2008, Koch Industries Political Action Committee (KOCHPAC) has spent nearly $35 million lobbying Congress to push their agenda.

Even worse, the rank and file APF members seem to have no idea why or what they are protesting. The brief exchange I had with one of the protesters is illustrative:

"So tell me" I asked innocently, "What are you guys doing out here today?"

One woman answered, "We’re here to kill the bill!"

"What bill?" I asked.

"The bill."

"I thought the bill was dead?"

"Yeah! We killed it!"

"So then why are you here?"

This last question was answered with absolute silence. This one conversation is unfortunately representative of the vast majority of interactions I had that day.

I guess it’s easy to mobilize the uninformed masses when you get loads of money from corporate polluters to pay for things like buses, fancy signs, and a treasure trove of audio/video equipment. It’s unfortunate that AFP seems not to be out in force because they care about the issue, but to protect corporate profits and bottom lines by preventing the transition to a clean energy economy.

By contrast, the grassroots climate movement is not an "astroturf" movement; we are passionate, educated individuals who care about the environment and understand the stakes of winning or losing. We are personally invested in the outcome and will fight like our lives depend on it, because in reality, they do.

We must continue to mobilize against these corporate front groups. If we don’t get out there and provide the facts, then AFP and other groups like it will continue to spread their industry-financed agenda. We have passion, commitment, and most importantly, the truth on our side. Let’s get out there and make ourselves heard!

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