Washington, D.C. – At today’s Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee hearing, Subcommittee Chair Katie Porter (D-Calif.), announced a new Committee Staff Hearing Report titled, The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Action on Climate Change. The report presents select findings and 98 pages of evidentiary documents from the Committee’s investigation into public relations (PR) firms’ work with fossil fuel companies.
The full Hearing Report is available here: https://bit.ly/3QKLGsH
For decades, the oil and gas industry denied or downplayed climate change and fossil fuels’ role in causing it. As outright climate change denial has become less accepted by the public, the industry has funneled millions of dollars into PR firms to execute subtler and more sophisticated campaigns.
The Hearing Report presents evidence—some of which is being released to the public for the first time—detailing some of the many tactics these PR firms use to misinform the public and block meaningful solutions to climate change. Their strategies generally fall into three categories.
- Corporate image promotion. This tactic includes portraying the fossil fuel industry as more environmentally friendly than it is in reality. For example, the Hearing Report presents an in-depth case study describing how PR firm Singer Associates created an entire “community news site” in Richmond, California to spread pro-Chevron propaganda to the communities harmed by its 2012 refinery fire. Singer Associates is using that model again with a new online platform in Texas.
- Third-party mobilization. This tactic includes engineering phony spokespersons or “citizen groups” to advocate for industry interests and defeat genuine climate change policy solutions. For example, the Hearing Report details pro-industry emails sent directly to Committee staff and other policymakers after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The email campaign was orchestrated by the Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry front group accused of “astroturfing” on behalf of major extractive industries.
- Delegitimization of opposition. This tactic includes targeting individuals and organizations that oppose the fossil fuel industry and attacking their reputations or credibility. For example, the Hearing Report describes how PR firms deployed multiple attack strategies—“astroturf” groups, “guerilla marketing” teams, and direct interference with activists’ signature collection efforts—to successfully defeat policy initiatives in 2016 and 2018 to limit fracking in Colorado. One of today’s hearing witnesses, Anne Lee Foster (testimony here), described her experience being stalked and harassed while running the 2018 ballot measure campaign.
Chair Porter pointed out in her opening statement that three of the PR firms involved in the investigation declined to respond to the Committee’s invitation to testify:
“We invited the PR Firm Pac/West to testify and help us understand their tactics and why they engaged in them during the Colorado ballot initiative. They declined. We invited Story Partners, another PR firm that was implicated in that Colorado ballot initiative. They declined. We invited Singer Associates to tell us about their fake news web site that was created to improve Chevron’s standing in the community after their negligence caused a massive refinery fire that sent 15,000 community members to the hospital. They declined. At this point, we might ask what these firms are trying to hide. But thanks to documents this committee has obtained and released, we know some of the answers.”
Tomorrow, the Committee on Oversight and Reform will be holding a hearing to examine Big Oil’s record-breaking profits and their continued funding of climate change disinformation.
Media Contact: Lindsay Gressard
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