Earlier this year, a national conservative think tank fellow organized a gathering in Washington to hear how local wind energy opponents were fighting wind projects in their communities and to discuss launching a national public relations strategy to subvert the industry and influence wind energy policies.
The gathering and a strategy memo outlining a national PR campaign against wind energy caught the attention of the pro-clean energy Checks and Balances Project, which charged that oil-and-gas backed think tanks were working to organize local NIMBY groups into a national campaign against wind energy. “This is the first time that we’ve seen this level of coordination,” said Gabe Elsner, the co-director of the Checks and Balances Project.
But, the meeting’s organizer and attendees say the February event was simply a gathering of likeminded activists, not a grand strategy funded by oil and gas interests. The national PR campaign the activists discussed never got off the ground, but the meeting did appear to plant a seed as the attendees continue to discuss launching a future anti-wind campaign.
John Droz, a senior fellow at the conservative American Tradition Institute, a think tank funded in part by oil and gas interests, said he organized the meeting without any funding or oversight from ATI – a point the organization’s executive director echoed. Droz said the meeting was meant to bring together people who “all have the view that wind energy needs to justify its existence, and it has just not done so.”
Droz said he convened the conference to share best practices with local activists. “They’re going about fighting the issues in different ways,” he said. “Some of their methods are ineffective, low yield.”
Paul Driessen, a senior policy advisor at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, also attended the meeting and, like Droz, said he was there representing only himself. CFACT has received money from foundations associated with oil interests and Driessen’s attendance fueled the Checks and Balances Project’s speculation that the meeting was part of a bigger effort by oil and gas interests to undermine the wind industry. CFACT, Driessen said, had nothing to do with the conference.
Attendees emphasized that they paid their way to Washington and for their own food and lodging.
“We’re just citizens from across the United States,” said Tauna Christensen, who opposed a proposed wind turbine near her home in Idaho. “We’re self-funded.”
The Checks and Balances Project found the list of conference attendees and a “National PR Campaign Proposal” labeled “confidential” buried on Droz’s website – a plan Droz said was written by a local wind energy opponent, not a think tank. The proposal outlines plans “to constructively influence national and state wind energy policies.”
The goals of the PR campaign, according to the document, include providing “credible counter message to the (wind) industry” and causing “subversion in message of industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal).” The document also discusses creating a “funded national organization” that “would allow for a more comprehensive PR effort” and “joining forces” with an established conservative organization.
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