If you’re reading this blog, you know what a grassroots movement looks like. It’s a group of just plain ordinary folks who develop concerns about an issue that impacts their lives, their families, and their communities.
They meet with other like-minded individuals. They discuss the issues. They educate themselves. They blog, tweet, and Facebook with their friends. They write letters to the elected officials that represent them. They propose non-binding resolutions. They sign petitions. They march across the state. They write letters to the editor. They hold a rally at the State House. They write letters to federal regulators. They hold yard sales to raise a legal defense fund.
A genuine grassroots movement looks like all the things we’ve been doing all along.
A genuine grassroots movement creates an educated, informed, enthusiastic electorate that represents everything good and right about our democratic system of government.
A genuine grassroots movement is something we can all be proud of.
But sometimes, when a grassroots movement starts moving public opinion, and when there are deep pockets on the other side, and when those deep pockets are morally and ethically bankrupt, a strange thing will happen. An odd little organization that vaguely resembles a grassroots movement will suddenly pop into existence with an opposing viewpoint. Fueled by corporate money and staffed by lobbyists, this fake grassroots entity will pump out slick press releases and a blitz of TV commercials full of false and misleading information.
Allow us to present The Coalition to Lower Energy Costs, a suddenly-formed non-profit group that is campaigning hard for pipelines, pipelines, and more pipelines.
Although purporting to represent electric rate payers, the Coalition is voiced by Anthony Buxton, a Maine Attorney and registered energy industry lobbyist whose client list includes Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company.
Anthony Buxton’s name might be familiar to you from documents obtained over the summer by the Conservation Law Foundation. It was Mr. Buxton who initially drafted a proposal to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, kicking off a shady backroom process through which Buxton’s “tariffs for pipelines” proposal became NESCOE’s “tariffs for pipelines” proposal to drop billions of dollars in public subsidies directly into Kinder Morgan’s pockets.
Yeah, that Anthony Buxton.
Buxton’s Coalition is not a group of concerned citizens advocating lower electricity rates. They are a group of energy insiders who are gunning for higher profit margins. The Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton and Amherst published an amazing editorial on this subject:
Let’s put those dots together: The coalition wants to help energy consumers lower costs in the long term by building a pipeline that will raise their costs.
Kathryn Eiseman of Cummington, a lawyer and executive director of the Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network, cites evidence that new natural gas supplies arriving in the Northeast would be sold globally, where prices are higher. She believes a new pipeline could increase costs in New England.
One of Buxton’s clients is the New England State Committee on Electricity, which has advocated for bringing new gas supplies to the region through the addition of pipelines. Massachusetts is represented on that panel, but the state pulled out of lock step in August when Gov. Deval Patrick said he was skeptical of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. State officials are taking a fresh look at the state’s power needs due to the closing of coal and nuclear plants.
That information is a critical piece of the puzzle. At the same time, a competing pipeline is on the horizon in a proposal from Northeast Utilities and Spectra Energy Corp. of Houston that would use existing coastal pipeline routes rather than cross environmentally sensitive areas.
If it is true that New England’s energy future depends on natural gas, in part because of the welcome retirement of coal-fired plants, expanding pipeline capacity may be needed. But an assessment of costs to consumers must be made by independent parties, not by those with a financial interest in the outcome, like members of the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs.
Moneyed interests that purchase a fake grassroots movement are engaged in a process called astroturfing, after the fake grass used in stadiums where real grass can’t take hold. An astroturf movement exists solely to corrupt and confuse a decision-making process. It seeks to undermine and poison our democracy.
The appearance of a Kinder Morgan funded pro-pipeline astroturf group is flattering in a way. It means that the natural grassroots movement against the pipeline is having an impact that Kinder Morgan and its allies can’t counter with a business-as-usual playbook. It means that Kinder Morgan and its allies can’t present a real costs-to-benefit analysis to support their project. It means that Kinder Morgan and its allies are becoming desperate.
And all of that means we must be doing something right.