Becoming Energy Advocates: Fossil Fuel Producers Must Begin to Work Together Pt. II
By Jason Hayes
In the previous issue of American Coal magazine, I argued “Fossil Fuel Producers Must Begin to Work Together.” I discussed how important it was for energy producers to recognize the common threat we face from those working to target and stop the production of domestic fossil fuels.
This threat has expanded in many ways. It includes some environmental activist groups pushing well past the boundaries of reasonable involvement with federal agency officials. In fact, Christopher Horner and the Energy and Environment Legal Institute have “produced several hundred documents affirming the uncomfortably close working relationship between the current U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) and activist left-wing environmental groups in their effort to make abundant energy resources, particularly coal, much more scarce in America.” It includes other groups keeping score of environmental “wins” and coal “losses.” On their “Beyond Coal” website, the Sierra Club openly brags that they have “retired” over 230 coal-fueled power plants and state that they have another 290+ plants to go. It includes rolling out new “anti-fossil fuel” slogans. Bill McKibben, who was described by the Boston Globe as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist,” coined the phrase “keep it in the ground” to describe his campaign to stop the production and use of at least 80 percent of fossil fuels.
The presence of a politically influential and well-funded movement to stop the use of fossil fuels entails that energy producers must work together to defend the use of abundant, affordable, reliable energy. But to make that happen, we need to do more than just state this need as a fact. We also need to provide industry stakeholders with a framework and the messages for making this cooperative effort possible, and then growing that effort.
At the end of 2015, I had the opportunity to take part in a 6-week program that instructs participants in the basics of becoming more confident, outspoken grassroots champions. The program was focused on the promotion of traditional rights and freedoms. However, I was able to easily mold the concepts from that program to fit the needs of our industry in the following six steps:
- Make the case for fossil fuels: Get clear on what you want to do and why you want to do it.In his book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein refers to this as developing “moral clarity” on the issue. As coal industry (and fossil fuel) advocates, we support improving and bettering human life through the provision of abundant, affordable, reliable electricity.When one compares the quality of life and life expectancy of people in developed vs. developing nations, it is immediately evident that living with access to abundant electricity is unmistakably superior. By advocating for energy abundance, you are serving humanity, and stand on the moral high ground when dealing with those who would impose energy poverty on people through restricted energy choices and increased energy costs.
- Get clear on who and what we are dealing with: As I noted in the introduction to this article, we are facing a politically influential and well-funded force that has, as its core goal, stopping the use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. The end result of their goal is energy poverty, deprivation, and reduced options.A 2015 Sierra Club, Energy Resources Policy document demonstrates this objective clearly when it explains that the Club officially opposes the use of any form of coal-fueled energy, boldly claims “There is no such thing as ‘clean coal,’” then commits to “campaigning to end the use of coal no later than 2030.” They continue by stating their opposition to nuclear energy, new large hydroelectric plants, the incineration of municipal solid waste, and energy production from landfill gas. They do allow for the restricted use of natural gas in the immediate future but cover that use with the following caveat. “The Sierra Club’s goal is to develop and use as little natural gas as possible and to wean ourselves from most fossil fuels, including natural gas, as swiftly as possible and by no later than 2050.”
Other green groups demonstrate they are equally inhospitable toward the development and use of fossil fuels. For example when Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians, was questioned about the job losses and economic impacts of his group’s repeated legal actions against the Colowyo Mine near Craig, CO, Nichols responded, “My initial response is tough s**t. They [the Department of the Interior] didn’t appeal and there is nothing they can do about it now.”
These groups clearly do not offer rational or realistic options when it comes to energy. They only offer demands that we “stop,” and little else.
- Build communities: Energy producers need to work together with communities of like-minded supporters to promote the benefits of energy abundance. Those communities must be made up of people who are aware, engaged, active, and willing to support our industry.When I speak to people and groups about energy issues, I find many of them are interested and concerned about how energy prices are rising as trusted, reliable, and affordable energy resources are regulated out of existence. These people are concerned about tens of thousands of jobs being lost as extreme and unnecessary regulation shutters plants and closes mines. They know that the loss of direct jobs in these industries will cause further job losses, as indirect jobs in affected towns and counties also disappear.People facing the loss of their way of life will likely be highly motivated to support fossil fuels and energy abundance. These people are more likely to take an active role in speaking up against the unreasonable demands of special interest groups whose respond with “tough s**t” when confronted with the loss of jobs and life associated with energy poverty. That’s what the people of Craig, Colorado did.
- Build a story: Simply put, people relate to stories. This point reminds me of the song we used to sing as kids when watching Sesame Street. “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” We can and should use the same sort of idea to explain, “who are the people in your industry,” as the people in our neighborhood are quite often our friends and family. We know and trust them.In contrast, the anti-coal movement works to paint our friends and family in the coal industry as greedy, dirty, and uncaring. However, the real industry – the industry that you and I know – is made up of dads, moms, grandparents, cousins, friends … real people. It is made up of companies who pay taxes and provide well-paying jobs to real people who just want to pay their bills and raise their families.People in the energy industry breathe the same air as the green groups and drink the same water. Coal industry employees want our kids to grow up and have the same (or better) opportunities that we had and we know that providing those opportunities requires both a healthy environment AND a healthy economy.That is your story. Get out there and tell it to your community and encourage them to do the same.
- “Going Viral” – Social Media: We need to be active on social media because the reality today is that, if you’re not telling your story online, someone else is. The green groups have mastered the art of presenting wildly inaccurate, emotionally charged stories about the energy industry. We must be actively countering those stories with ours and we must provide accurate, balancing information.We can be aware of business realities in that we don’t need to share trade secrets or sensitive information; we don’t need to be extreme and irrational. We need to be connecting with other people, telling our social media friends and acquaintances about coal’s success stories, how working in the energy industry provides for our families and our nation. We need to be daily countering anti-energy misinformation.
- Develop effective written messaging: There is a straightforward need for accurate, well-written, well-defended written materials, infographics, video, audio, etc. that tells the story of the good work that people in our industry are doing.
We provide a great deal of this information on our website – www.americancoalcouncil.org – with publications like American Coal magazine, the Coalblog, our newsletters, event-related presentations, Issues Pages, Tomorrow’s Leadership Council annual reports, and our submitted comments and statements on proposed regulations.
Other related organizations like the National Mining Association (www.nma.org) produce in depth industry statistics, advocacy positions, and have developed industry-leading safety programs. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (www.americaspower.org / www.coalfacts.org) has produced extensive fact sheet and infographic resources on how coal-fueld electricity is produced and used. The National Coal Council (www.nationalcoalcouncil.org) regularly publishes in depth research on key issues like carbon capture and storage and energy policy.
It behooves us all to make use of their resources to share coal’s story with family, friends, co-workers, the media, elected officials, educational institutions, and the public at large.
So, the next step is to get started. I’ve given you a framework and some initial links to resources that can help to guide your activities.
Now what will you do to defend your industry?
What would you be willing to do if I told you that your job and your way of life depended on it?
 Energy & Environment Legal Institute. (2014). Plans by EPA and Sierra Club to cripple coal industry exposed by FOIA documents obtained as a result of E&E Legal FOIA request. Retrieved March 28, 2015 from http://eelegal.org/2014/01/14/plans-by-epa-and-sierra-club-to-cripple-coal-industry-exposed-by-foia-documents-obtained-as-a-result-of-ee-legal-foia-request/
 Hayes, Jason. (2012). When the Ends Justify the Means. American Coal Council. Retrieved March 22, 2016 from https://issuu.com/american_coal/docs/american_coal_1-2012-lr?e=12743319/8635439.
 Sierra Club. (2015). Energy Resources Policy. Sierra Club. Retrieved March 26, 2016 from http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/energy.pdf.
 WildEarth Guardians spokesperson to Craig: “tough s__t” Advancing Colorado. Retreived March 25, 2016 from http://www.advancingco.org/media/press-releases/wildearth-guardians-spokesperson-to-craig-tough-s__t/.