Documents Reveal Dem Efforts to Discredit EPA Critics

Emails and talking points memos detail ways to ‘sow doubts about our opponents motives’

Emissions from a coal power plant / AP
October 7, 2015

Supporters of a controversial Environmental Protection Agency regulation commissioned Democratic pollsters to plot ways to attack the motives and credibility of the regulation’s critics, documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveal.

Aides to a dozen Democratic governors and the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial advocacy arm circulated talking points and political messaging memos on EPA’s new power plant regulations that laid out ways to "sow doubts about our opponents [sic] motives," in the words of one of those memos.

The previously unreported documents, obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute through an open records request and shared exclusively with the Free Beacon, provide a window into the Democratic messaging machine’s approach to an issue that its own pollsters acknowledge is a hard sell among its target voter demographics.

The Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates conducted research on voter attitudes about the regulation, which has faced intense criticism since the EPA unveiled its proposed rule last year. Hart found that voters generally shared the concerns of Republican critics of the regulation.

"Research indicates that many voters’ default belief is that electricity bills will go up" as a result of the regulation, according to a Hart talking points memo circulated by an employee of Advocacy Advisors, a political consulting firm that, emails indicate, worked closely with the Climate Action Campaign, an initiative pushing EPA regulations.

"Denying [electricity] rate increases strains credulity with many audiences," according to the memo.

Advocacy Advisors partner Melissa Roy sent that memo to aides to the governors of Oregon and Washington, and Ian Walton, the policy director of the Democratic Governors Association. Walton forwarded the memo to an email listserv titled "Democratic Governor’s Caucus Staff list."

The Oregon staffer was Dan Carol, a top aide to former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). Kitzhaber resigned in disgrace in February facing a criminal investigation into an influence-peddling scheme involving his fiancé, Cylvia Hayes. Carol secured Hayes a $118,000 fellowship, then landed the highest paying job on the governor’s staff--$67,000 more than Kitzhaber himself. Hayes’ fellowship involved environmental advocacy work while she was advising the governor’s office on clean energy issues.

Carol and a handful of other Democratic gubernatorial aides in 2013 teamed up with the White House and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s network of political and business groups. Their focus was marketing EPA power plant regulations at the state level.

Leading the White House component were climate advisor Dan Utech and state government liaison Rohan Patel. When Walton forwarded CAC’s talking points memo, he also plugged a White House conference call where Patel and Utech would brief governors’ staff on the EPA’s impending power plant regulations.

The memo, based on Hart's research, was particularly troubled by rate hike concerns among "our most vulnerable support groups (independents, younger women, moderate Democrats)." Supporters of the regulation needed to prevent them "from turning against the plan," the memo said.

It proposed that Democrats "strongly and consistently sow doubts about our opponents motives when responding to any criticism of the Climate Action Plan or its components," including EPA regulations.

"The key to success is a visible adversary," the memo said. "In this case, that adversary is power companies, though this line of messaging easily could be adapted to encompass the coal industry or any other dirty energy advocate."

The memo suggested blaming rate hikes on power companies themselves despite acknowledging the widespread view that EPA regulations would raise electricity rates. "Big power companies are using pollution limits as an excuse to raise rates—and we shouldn’t let them get away with it," suggested one talking point.

Another talking points memo circulated a few days earlier expanded on Hart’s approach to undermining opposition to the EPA rule. "Big Polluters Put Profits Over People," was one talking point suggestion. "Big Polluters Are Bad Corporate Citizens and Pollute Communities," read another.

It also proposed attacking "polluters," which it defined to include power companies and their "allies," for "doing all they can to avoid paying their fair share" in taxes, and for "pay[ing] their CEOs millions of dollars each year."

Sam Ricketts, the director of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Washington, D.C., office, sent that memo to a group of aides to other Democratic governors. He also included a template for statements on the EPA rule that suggested blaming some local extreme weather event on climate change.

"Today’s announcement by the Administration is a welcome sign that [STATE] now has a partner in fighting climate change," it suggested. "We have seen the impacts climate change is having on our communities, from increased health risks to [LOCAL EXTREME WEATHER EVENT] hurting thousands in [TOWN], and have recognized we can no longer fail to act."

According to Ricketts, the sample statement was developed by the communications staff at the Climate Action Campaign. The CAC also drafted the talking points memo based on Hart research, he said.

Hart is a prominent Democratic firm that since last year has done polling work for billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s Super PAC, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D., Nev.) Senate Majority PAC, pro-Hillary Clinton group Ready for Hillary, and a handful of Democratic congressional campaigns and party organs.

The CAC is an initiative of the Partnership Project (PP), a nonprofit consortium of prominent environmental groups that listed payments to Hart in excess of $300,000 on its latest annual tax filing.

Among PP’s most prolific funders is the Sea Change Foundation, which listed $6 million in grants to the group on its most recent tax filing.

Sea Change is run by wealthy hedge fund manager Nathaniel Simons, who also runs a venture capital firm that has invested in a company that consults with state governments on how to meet the emissions targets in EPA’s new power plant regulation.

Neither the Partnership Project nor Advocacy Advisors returned requests for comment on this story.

Published under: EPA