"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

04/20/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to "insert name/group/entity."

 Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter

Image Credit: Quit Coal

The "carbon copied" (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a "fair return" on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

"Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond," Lutey wrote. "Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn't offer were their own words."

Among those who submitted a "carbon copied" letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate "insert name/group/entity" language. 

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a "sample letter...included as part of...briefings," but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Like Coal, Like LNG

DeSmogBlog has also obtained documents via Texas Open Records Act from the Sabine-Neches Navigation District of Jefferson County that show liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry players doing the same thing. 

In its U.S. Department of Energy docket, Golden Pass Products -- owner of the Golden Pass LNG facility co-owned by ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum -- lists 11 "letters in support of application" submitted by policymakers and business groups in January 2013.

Like the Cloudpeak Energy letters, all of them have mostly the same language, except that they explain what they described as benefits to their districts or communities in the "fill in the blank" section.

Emails obtained via the open records request filed by DeSmogBlog reveal that Renwick DeVille, vice president of the firm Harris, DeVille & Associates, Inc. and head of political and governmental affairs for the Golden Pass project, provided "sample draft letters" for those submitting them to DOE on behalf of Golden Pass.

Meta-data taken from the original "sample" shows that Harris, DeVille & Associates associate Payton Keith drafted up the letter now part of the official DOE permit docket for Golden Pass. That letter is signed off on by Randall Reese, general manager of the Navigation District. 

Image Credit: DeSmogBlog

Sabine Neches Navigation District officials agreed to submit the Keith-drafted letter on their own letterhead to the DOE, offering no push-back in doing so.

Golden Pass LNG Ghost Writing

"Mr. Reese's letter correctly states 'the importance of this particular project to the economy of our area and importance to our waterway,'" Hubert Oxford III, legal counsel for the Sabine Neches Navigation District, told DeSmogBlog.

"Hopefully the Federal Energy [Regulatory] Commission will look favorably on this project and increase the use of natural gas as a clean burning fuel to energize not just the United States but the whole world."

Golden Pass LNG has yet to receive a final permit from FERC to export LNG to the global market. 

"Carbon Copy"

In May 2014, DeSmogBlog also published documents obtained via a public records request submitted in North Dakota revealing that private equity giant Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts (KKR) -- where former CIA director David Petraeus now works -- ghost wrote a press release on behalf of The Office of North Dakota State Treasurer.

KKR was promoting Petraeus's trip to the Bakken Shale hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") fields nearly a year ago. Petraeus traveled to the Bakken Shale to explore potential investment opportunities for KKR. 

And as the case study of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has made clear, copy-paste jobs for "model legislation" are the norm and not an aberration when it comes to industry-friendly politicians and the industries that bank-roll them working together to undermine public policy.

A "carbon copy," indeed.