After Massive Election Losses, Enviros Create Astroturf Groups to Save Obama Rules

(Simon Lomax, Western Wire) The 2016 election was a disaster for environmental activist groups. They spent record sums trying to push their agenda on voters, but the voters weren’t buying it. In fact, the voters went in completely the opposite direction. They chose leaders who are determined to roll back many of the energy and environmental policies imposed by the Obama administration and its allies in the environmental lobby.

Cory Gardner photo

Cory Gardner Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC)

The activists are now trying to salvage as many Obama regulations as they can, including a series of last-minute actions targeting federal lands in western states. One of the most controversial regulations is the “venting and flaring rule,” which targets oil and natural gas development on federal lands. It was finalized two months before President Obama left office, angering governorstribal leadersattorneys generalstate lawmakers and local officials from all across the West. They say the rule adds a needless layer of federal regulation that will restrict energy production on federal lands, reduce tax revenues and kill jobs.

Western lawmakers in Congress are now trying to repeal the rule, issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the name of reducing methane emissions. A disapproval motion under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) passed the U.S. House weeks ago, but environmental activists are campaigning hard to block the repeal measure in the U.S. Senate.

The activists – who were rejected in stark terms by voters last November – have been careful to keep a low profile, however. They have created a new group, the Western Leaders Network (WLN), to counter a much larger coalition of western officials who want the venting and flaring rule repealed. Pitched to the press as a group of local officials who want to maximize tax revenue from oil and gas development, WLN is really just an extension of anti-oil and gas groups like Earthworks.

Recently, however, the activists have gotten more desperate, misrepresenting one of their own as an independent third party. In an effort to pressure U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Conservation Colorado board member John Loewy recently wrote a column about the venting and flaring rule for the Denver Business Journal. But his role with the environmental activist group wasn’t disclosed. Instead, he was presented to readers as the former chairman of Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) – in other words, an environmental regulator.

“The BLM rule draws upon the work of states such as Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota and has the backing of more than 100 local officials throughout the West,” Loewy wrote. “This is an issue where Sen. Gardner has the chance to stand up for clean air and a healthy environment, and show that he stands with Colorado values.”

Conservation Colorado, where Loewy serves on the board of directors, is campaigning with other environmental activist groups to defeat CRA disapproval motion and save the venting and flaring rule. “The BLM’s methane rules are critically important,” the group told ColoradoPolitics.com last month.

Conservation Colorado is the local affiliate of a much larger national group, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which is also campaigning against the CRA measure in the Senate. The LCV – based in Washington, D.C. – calls the CRA disapproval motion “extreme” and has warned it will count any vote on the measure towards the group’s National Environmental Scorecard for individual lawmakers.

In response to questions from Western Wire, Loewy said he did not mention his position with Conservation Colorado in the Denver Business Journal column because “my most significant position, relevant to this piece, was my role as Chair of the AQCC.”

“It did not seem important to list any other associations,” Loewy said. “So nothing to hide, not trying to mislead; it just did not seem important,” he said. He added that when he served on the AQCC, his ties to Conservation Colorado were disclosed “on the record during the proceedings.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that Loewy should have disclosed his work with Conservation Colorado, and its campaign against the CRA motion, in his column. It’s not hard, either. At Western Wire, we’re proud to have the support of Western Energy Alliance, which favors the CRA disapproval motion on venting and flaring, and we want readers to know about the pro-growth, pro-development views we bring to our work.

But instead of disclosing the facts, environmental activists misrepresented Loewy as an impartial observer and a concerned former regulator to put as much political pressure as possible on Gardner. Keeping Conservation Colorado and LCV out of the column had another benefit, too – both groups campaigned hard against Gardner when he ran for the Senate in 2014.

Gardner is “an attack dog rather than a bridge builder,” Conservation Colorado said when Gardner first announced his candidacy. Its parent organization, LCV, also spent heavily on TV attack ads against Gardner.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe Conservation Colorado or the LCV – two groups with very closeties to California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer – would ever change their mind about Gardner, no matter how he votes on the BLM’s venting and flaring rule. Likewise, it’s hard to believe Gardner would be persuaded by anything these groups put forward, given their history.

It’s no wonder, then, that Conservation Colorado and LCV wanted to keep their fingerprints off Loewy’s column on the BLM venting and flaring rule. But that doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s yet another sign of desperation from environmental activist groups, who have nowhere near the kind of support they claim in the West.

Simon Lomax is the managing editor of Western Wire. A former wire-service and trade-press reporter, he now works in Denver as an adviser to pro-energy and free market groups.

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