Destroyed homes in Seaside, NJ, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. © Greenpeace / Tim Aubry
Greenpeace has posted these stark images of the destruction Sandy brought to the New Jersey shore. The devastation on the ground is heartbreaking, and Americans are grateful for the courage and determination of people responding to the crisis. At the same time, it's imperative that we start asking why we have seen so much extreme weather lately -- and what kind of leadership it will take to truly address the crisis.
In the wake of the disaster, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, "There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement. That is a factual statement. Anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality." Today, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) called for congressional hearings, writing, "Hurricane Sandy is exactly the type of extreme weather event that climate scientists have said will become more frequent and more severe if we fail to reduce our carbon pollution."
Unfortunately, big energy companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying, advertising, and propaganda aimed precisely at denying the powerful evidence that burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change -- and at blocking common sense energy reforms. And while Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on these issues, he has surrounded himself with people tied to the climate denial industry.
Romney's campaign press secretary Andrea Saul previously worked, from 2005-07, at the Washington DC lobbying and public affairs firm DCI Group, where, on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, she worked on a campaign seeking to undermine global warming evidence and policy changes. Saul was listed as a contact person on a 2006 press release that stated, ''Coming off one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, many are quick to blame the strength and frequency of these storms on global warming. Leading climate scientists, however, say there is no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate." Matt Rhoades, Romney's campaign manager, also worked at DCI, from 2007-10.
In addition, while both Romney and President Obama have praised "clean coal" -- even though there's no such thing, at least not yet -- Romney's campaign is deeply connected to the coal industry, which is the biggest human-made source of carbon dioxide emissions and a major funder of climate denial.
Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the nation's largest privately-owned coal company, hosted a $1.7 million fundraiser for the campaign this year, and his firm's employees have given Romney over $120,000.
Last fall, the Romney campaign released an energy policy paper that included a statement by Romney adviser and former Senator Jim Talent blaming government regulation for America's energy challenges: "The problem is not that America does not have energy. The problem is that our government--alone among the governments of the world--will not allow its own people to recover the energy that they possess." Where can such energy be found? Talent writes, "America has hundreds of years of coal reserves.'' Talent, a top candidate for Romney's cabinet, has a day job: co-chairman of Mercury Public Affairs, a D.C. lobbying and communications firm. As the Boston Globe first reported last year, Mercury lobbies for St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the world's biggest private sector coal company. Peabody has paid Mercury nearly $700,000 in the past six years. The Romney energy paper did not disclose that Talent's firm was earning money from the coal industry when Talent praised coal as a pillar of America's energy future for centuries to come.
Newsweek ranked Peabody energy 500th out of 500 -- dead last -- in its environmental ranking of America's 500 largest corporations in 2009 and 2010, because of the impact of mining and burning coal and because of Peabody's aggressive stance against regulation. (The company managed to move up in the ratings for 2011 -- to 492.) Peabody is a corporate leader in denying the dangers of global warming. Peabody's website says today, "The greatest crisis society confronts is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve... with coal" (ellipses in original).
Peabody is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry group that has spent millions campaigning against efforts to halt global warming. A leaked 2004 "strategy letter" from the president of that organization to Peabody's CEO outlines plans to oppose the McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill "that would be highly injurious to coal-based electricity" and to "sow discord" among Northeast states committed to a greenhouse gas reduction plan. Peabody has spent about $42 million on lobbying in Washington since 2005.
A U.S. President should not take advice from people who have worked to advance climate denial efforts, which have already caused immense harm.
Follow David Halperin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DaHalperin