Fake Grassroots Campaign Against Wind Energy Exposed

The aggressive campaign, determined to create a “groundswell” of citizen activism against any wind energy legislation at all levels of government, targeted just about every demographic group from students to potential lease grantors.

John Droz, Jr., a longtime foe of the wind turbines industry and senior fellow at the right-wing American Tradition Institute, an organization that focuses on “restoring science, accountability, and liberty to the environmental policy debate,” reportedly led the group. Droz and other anti-wind advocates gathered in Washington, DC earlier this year to discuss how they could recruit a national team of “wind warriors” that could fight companies within the wind power sector.

The memo starts with the overall theme of the PR campaign, urging targeted messages that instead of standing against something (as in wind power), be for “science.” The minimum goal was to campaign against any state and local efforts to expand wind energy, with its broadest goal to “constructively influence national and state energy and environmental policies.”

Some of the tactics in the early stages included:

Partnering with think tanks across the political spectrum such as the Brookings Institute and Cato Institute, and also conservative lobbying organizations such as the Heartland Institute and ALEC, which in hindsight would have muddled their efforts.
“Encourage critical thinking from members and the public.”
Recruit volunteers without establishing a formal national organization, use them as a lobbying effort to influence lawmakers and provide public relations training. No word whether Texas Governor Rick Perry, a supporter of wind power, was on any such list.
Collaborate with like-minded groups such as tea party activists, “true environmentalists,” business organizations and property rights activists.

In the event the group could establish a national organization, Droz et al. would launch a think tank to distribute white papers, and countering the wind energy’s outreach on PR Newswire with its own media campaign using that same company as a platform. An advertising campaign on all media would have employed a well-known spokesperson “with star credibility,” preferably on a volunteer basis. A youth outreach program targeting public schools and colleges would have sponsored science fairs and other school activities with the goal to “steer away” students from wind because they would then “discover that [wind power] doesn’t meet the criteria we set up.” Meanwhile a “dummy business’ would have entered communities considering wind power development with proposals to build 400 foot billboards.

Other “counter-intelligence” measures would have included a massive social media campaign and a tell-all “expose” book about the wind power industry. Another idea was a “meme Response Coordinator” that would have targeted companies using symbols or seals demonstrating that wind power was used to make the product. This anti-wind group in turn would then assign a tax-wasting symbol on the product and urge a boycott of the product on its website. And when PR was not enough, a team of lawyers would take property developers involve with wind energy projects to court in order to, at the very least, cause media exposure. All of these shenanigans, of course, were to then be broadcast on sympathetic news outlets including the Washington Times, Wall Street Journal and Fox News.

Considering the goals of the group, its initial finance request was rather meager. Necessary seed money for the organization would have started at $750,000, and the director of this group would have started at a minimum $80,000 a year who was both PR savvy and could “think outside the box.” And in a nod to the effects that Citizens United is having on political debates throughout the country, a professional fundraiser was recommended to collect donations for both a 501(c)3 non-profit and a super PAC.

This scheme may have fallen flat, but expect similar campaigns against clean energy and environmental policies to keep propping up and showing no transparency about who exactly is propping them up. In this era of phony non-profits and think tanks, this latest fake grassroots plan demonstrates that public policy has nothing to do with long term planning or science and everything to do with what organizations have the most money and connections to our political leaders.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.