Keystone XL pipeline

Big Oil and Canada thwarted U.S. carbon standards

Emails show how a Washington lobbyist enlisted Canadian officials to beat back U.S. carbon standards

  • title=''
    Michael Whatley to Gary Mar, Sept. 30, 2009

    “Die an ugly partisan death”

    This is one of the first emails in the entire 300+ page package I obtained from the Alberta government. People often talk about the intimate relationship between Canadian officials and the world’s leading oil companies, but here we see it (literally) personified.

    “Are your kids keeping you up?” Gary Mar, then Alberta’s U.S. diplomat, writes to his friend, Michael Whatley, a tar sands industry lobbyist with ties to the Republican establishment.

    Whatley’s pledge “to keep Lamar Alexander from offering an LCFS amendment” refers to the Tennessee Senator’s support at the time for low carbon fuel standard policies. Without a Republican sponsor, the measure will “die an ugly partisan death in the Senate,” he predicted.

    What Whatley doesn’t mention here is that his “grassroots” organization, the Consumer Energy Alliance, had launched an anti-fuel standard ad campaign in Alexander’s home state that August. The Alliance would later make a big deal of the Senator’s announcement, two weeks after this email, that he’d become undecided on the policy he once favored.

  • title=''
    Michael Whatley to Gary Mar and A. Browning, December 31, 2009.

    The “grass roots” in Washington

    In this early morning email on New Year’s Eve, oil industry lobbyist Michael Whatley warns Canadian diplomat Gary Mar (“InternationalMar”) about the plans of 11 U.S. governors to support the idea of Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS).

    “This fight cannot take place in DC,” Whatley says. “Please let me know your thoughts.” The documents which follow describe in exhaustive detail Whatley’s proposal to build a campaign in support of Canada’s tar sands industry.

    What’s remarkable about his strategy is the boldness of its language. Whatley talks candidly, for instance, about “defeating” fuel standards in dozens of states. And his repeated use of “grassroots” to describe his campaign, developed by a lobbyist representing some of the planet’s largest oil companies, is either an unknowing misuse, or cynical reinterpretation, of a term typically describing broad-based social movements.

    Either way, this email was the beginning of a successful campaign to prevent many low carbon fuel standards across the U.S. from being adopted.

  • title=''
    Michael Whatley to Gary Mar, July 6, 2010

    “Draft After-Action Report”

    The “attached draft after-action report” that oil industry lobbyist Michael Whatley refers to in this email is an update of sorts on the tar sands campaign he proposed earlier that year.

    The campaign had proven effective. A month before, Alberta’s then-environment minister, Rob Renner, had delivered the keynote address at an anti-low carbon fuel standard forum in Boston. Organized by Whatley’s Consumer Energy Alliance, that event exemplified the oil industry public relations strategy. As Whatley notes to Albertan diplomat Gary Mar (“International Mar”) in the “after-action report”, 18 reporters covered Renner’s address. And several participating trade groups — “stakeholders” — pledged that they would write anti-fuel standard letters to key policymakers in the Northeast and Congress.

    Though Whatley recommends the Alberta government should “fund additional LCFS [low carbon fuel standard] programs” in other Northeast cities, this doesn’t yet appear to have happened.

  • title=''
    Michael Whatley and Gary Mar, July 16, 2010

    “Thanks for being great to work with”

    By the time this email was sent, oil industry lobbyist Michael Whatley and Albertan diplomat Gary Mar had a lot to celebrate. Earlier that year, Mar had played a prominent role in Wisconsin’s decision to abandon its low carbon fuel standard. And several attempts to establish one in Congress over the past year and a half had either stalled or been outright abandoned.

    This email should be seen as a “high-five” between the Canadian embassy, personified here by Mar, and the major global oil companies that Whatley helps represent. It also signals how effectively the smooth-talking and politically ambitious Mar was able to ingratiate the Canadian province of Alberta to Washington’s power players. Whatley’s response to Mar’s praise shows how inseparable Canadian interests have become from those of the North American oil industry.

  • title=''
    Excerpt of a January 26, 2011 email from N. Joubert to K. Koehler and D. Holt of Consumer Energy Alliance.

    “Echo Chamber”

    These bullet points are strategy updates prepared by the Consumer Energy Alliance and sent by oil industry lobbyist Michael Whatley to Albertan diplomat Gary Mar and others.

    Note the bullet labelled “‘Echo Chamber’ Update & Discussion.” The fact that an oil industry-supported public relations group would explicitly make reference to creating an “Echo Chamber” is quite remarkable. This term is typically part of lexicon used by environmentalists to evoke shady fossil fuel conspiracies — as in, “such and such an oil company created an Echo Chamber to spread its propaganda across the blogosphere…”

    In practical terms, the Consumer Energy Alliance’s “Echo Chamber” is a strategy where any message created by that group or its supporters would be “echoed” across many different blogs and websites, creating the impression of a large-scale movement. The Alliance appears to have also utilized this tactic to rally support for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline.