Home Energy and Environment Dominion Power and Its Sponsored Blog Embrace a Post-Truth World

Dominion Power and Its Sponsored Blog Embrace a Post-Truth World

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by Ivy Main and Seth Heald, cross posted from Power for the People VA

A sign at a protest against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

A sign at a protest against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

This post was co-written with Seth Heald, an attorney currently serving as Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Donald Trump’s campaign for president upended the conventional wisdom that politicians must treat voters with honesty and respect. For Trump, no amount of lying, bullying, pettiness, crudeness and erratic behavior proved too much for an electorate hungry for change.

Indeed, some of his followers feel Trump succeeded because of his vices, not in spite of them. These trolls, bigots and bullies make up what historian Patty Limerick calls the Jerk Pride Movement, and they think they’re having their moment in the sun.

And lest anyone forget that corporations are people, the fossil fuel industry and its apologists have set out to prove that corporations can be jerks, too. Fossil fuel interests seized on the election as a mandate to gut the EPA, strip away clean air and water protections, open up public lands for exploitation, and renege on international climate commitments.

Since fake news and conspiracy theories served the Trump campaign so well, the anti-regulation crowd is stepping up its own use of half-truths, diversionary tactics and outright lies. Sure, they risk undermining the very foundations of American democracy, but fossil-fuel interests smell profit; nothing else matters.

Decent Americans should be outraged no matter who they voted for—and even more so when they see it happening in their own back yards, involving the people and institutions they deal with. We may not be able to staunch the flood of falsehood flowing across the internet, but we can hold our own leaders and institutions accountable when they add to it.

The corporate parent of Virginia’s own largest electric utility was already one of these corporate jerks, working with the American Legislative Exchange Council on state legislation undermining federal clean air and water protections. But recently Dominion Resources has gone further, adopting disinformation tactics in claiming its proposed fracked-gas pipeline will actually lower carbon emissions, and implicitly endorsing spurious reports and lies on a blog it sponsors. Dominion has gone from spinning facts to its own advantage, to actively misleading the people of Virginia.

Dominion is one of the partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which if built will bring massive amounts of fracked gas from West Virginia through Virginia and down to North Carolina. An analysis of the ACP’s climate change impact and that of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, conducted for the Sierra Club by physicist Richard Ball, showed that building these two pipelines would result in the emissions of twice the climate pollution of Virginia’s entire current greenhouse gas footprint.

Yet in a recent Facebook posting, Dominion claimed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would “play an instrumental role in reducing carbon emissions in Virginia and North Carolina, which will allow both states to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan. In fact, the ACP alone could contribute as much as 25 to 50 percent of the carbon reductions necessary to meet interim goals in 2022.”

In the words of the Virginia Sierra Club’s former director, Glen Besa, “This is just not true and does not pass the sniff test. My personal rating is: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire. Both of Dominion’s new gas plants in Virginia are fueled by existing pipelines. The ACP will bring in more fossil fuel for burning. At the same time Dominion has made NO new commitments to retire existing coal plants. Dominion can meet the Clean Power Plan without the ACP, but more importantly, the ACP will markedly increase carbon emissions, not decrease them.”

This bogus claim that a fracked-gas pipeline will help lower carbon pollution is in keeping with Dominion’s history of playing to both climate-concerned liberals and moderates on the one hand, and climate-denying conservatives on the other. Promising lower carbon emissions and Clean Power Plan compliance is intended to mollify the left, while Dominion courts the right through its work with ALEC, its lavish contributions to lawmakers, and its sponsorship of the libertarian Jim Bacon’s blog, Bacon’s Rebellion.

Even before Dominion signed on as his sponsor, Bacon exhibited an exasperating credulity when examining claims by Dominion and other fossil fuel companies. No doubt that endeared him to Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell, II and Company. If I were selling poison under the guise of medicine, I too would value a man who advertised my wares while proclaiming his independence.

But since joining the Dominion team and featuring its bright blue logo with every post, Bacon has adopted tactics familiar from the Trump campaign. These include promoting a sham “report” slamming a supposed new renewable electricity mandate that Virginia does not have and defending fake news about voter fraud. (Suppression of minority voting is a historic ALEC priority, along with opposition to wind and solar and promoting climate-science disinformation.)

Bacon’s post about supposed voter fraud is particularly instructive, as it adopts the “alt right’s” tactic of putting the onus on others to disprove absurd, baseless claims. Recall that Trump recently claimed, with no evidence, that he would have won the popular vote but for two million fraudulent votes supposedly cast against him. On the one hand Bacon (in perhaps the understatement of the year) acknowledged that Trump’s claim is a “huuuge stretch.” But then Bacon chastised “the news establishment” for not “distinguishing itself in debunking” Trump’s allegation. Indeed, Bacon posits, the national media’s reaction to Trump’s baseless allegation was “unhinged.” This, Bacon reasons, lends credence to Trump’s claim that the media is biased.

So now, according to a blog post with Dominion’s blue logo at the top, a president-elect’s lie about vote fraud is a stretch, but calling it a lie is unhinged. Welcome to the post-truth world.

Fossil fuel companies and their minions spreading disinformation is hardly a new tactic, of course. Read Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt for a compelling account of how the tobacco, chemical, and fossil fuel industries have used industry-funded “studies” and science-for-sale to stave off regulation for decades or longer.

If Americans aren’t in a panic about climate change, the reason isn’t a paucity of information about what is happening and why. It is due to a calculated disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry and a cadre of front groups like ALEC to make people believe the science is unsettled, exploiting the natural human tendency to do nothing in the face of uncertainty. As one internal tobacco company memo explained, “doubt is our product.”

Dominion Resources is a special case. Its Dominion Virginia Power subsidiary is a regulated public utility that is supposed to act in the public interest. Sham reports, fake news and false claims undermine the ability of regulators, legislators, and the public to understand and address the true nature of the energy choices facing us. Virginians should demand better.

  • Here are just a few Bacon’s Rebellion headlines using derogatory language for people who “believe” in climate science and/or pushing climate science denialism/”skepticism” and/or bashing clean energy and/or… Note that anyone who uses the word “warmist” is automatically “outed” as a climate science denier, as that’s one of the denial communities derogatory terms for scientists who have studied this issue extensively and overwhelmingly concluded that man is causing the earth to dangerously heat up, the oceans to acidify, etc, etc. In the deniers’ playbook, overwhelming scientific consensus becomes akin to a religion, which is why they call climate scientists and others who LISTEN to climate scientists “warmists.” Warped.

    How Not to Turn Enemies into Friends
    Posted on June 29, 2016 by James A. Bacon | 21 comments
    by James A. Bacon Does Governor Terry McAuliffe deliberately misrepresent what skeptics of the prevailing Global Warmig Orthodoxy think, or does he simply repeat what others have said about what skeptics supposedly believe? Either way, we have a problem.

    Lawsuit Pries Loose Warmist Emails
    Posted on May 16, 2016 by James A. Bacon | 11 comments

    Dialing up the Heat on Climate Warmist
    Posted on March 2, 2016 by James A. Bacon | 15 comments

    The Non Global-Warmist’s Case for Resiliency Planning
    Posted on February 19, 2015 by James A. Bacon | 39 comments

    The Silent Sun and Climate Change
    Posted on February 19, 2015 by James A. Bacon | 4 comments
    by James A. Bacon One of the reasons I call myself a climate change agnostic — I’m not yet persuaded that man-made influences on the climate are pushing temperatures calamitously higher — is that there are alternative explanations for what has

    The EPA’s War on Virginia
    Posted on October 17, 2014 by James A. Bacon | 30 comments
    James A. Bacon Complying with proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions would cost Dominion Virginia Power customers an extra $5.5 billion to $6 billion

    James A. Bacon | August 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Log in to Reply
    Larry, here’s the difference: Hurricane researchers don’t assume the mantle of hurricane science in order to make audacious claims, based not on science but on ideology, about how to re-order the global economy in order to reduce hurricane damage.

    The Global Warmists don’t simply assert that man-made global warming is occurring, they further assert (1) that the warming will be universally detrimental, if not catastrophic, a proposition not subject to empirical proof or disproof until it does or does not happen decades from now, (2) that the only way to prevent said tragedy is to reduce C02 emissions, and that the only way to reduce C02 emissions is to restructure the global economy along lines that happen to be congenial to liberals, progressives and other statists.

    Only a liberal would have the audacity to assert that the preceding three statements are “settled science” and denounce skeptics as anti-scientific know-nothings. Quite extraordinary!

    Kaine Administration De-funds Global Warming Heretic Patrick Michaels
    Posted on September 26, 2007 by James A. Bacon | 6 comments
    As Al Gore (the “Goracle”) has frequently told us, there is a scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is real. One way to achieve that consensus is to de-fund anyone who disagrees. And that is exactly what has happened to …

    State Climatologists: The Last Bastion Against Global-Warming Orthodoxy?
    Posted on September 17, 2006 by James A. Bacon | 8 comments
    Patrick Michaels, Virginia’s state climatologist, is not alone in questioning global warming hysteria. He has allies among other state climatologists in departing from the putative “consensus” among climatologists regarding the severity and urgency of the global warming crisis. Now, according

    More Hot Air on Global Warming
    Posted on August 4, 2006 by James A. Bacon | 19 comments
    Following revelations last week that Patrick Michaels has taken $100,000 from power companies to debunk prevailing opinions regarding global warming, climatology has suddenly become a hot topic in Virginia. Now the editorial pundits are taking after the University of Virginia