House Dems accused of ‘bogus’ investigation into public relations firms for gas and oil industry


House Democrats probing public relations firms that represent fossil-fuel companies ran into sharp criticism Wednesday for trying to muzzle political foes while ignoring misinformation peddled by the left.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources oversight subcommittee took aim at consultants that provide advertising and strategic campaigns for oil and gas companies, saying their efforts hinder action on climate change.

Republican lawmakers accused the panel of chilling free speech.

“Let’s just simply state what we’re talking about today: That it’s okay for environmental groups to put out spin or narrative and create a storyline … but it’s not okay for American energy companies to tell their story,” said Rep. Blake Moore, Utah Republican. “You cannot have it both ways. Today’s hearing is entirely about not even looking at the misinformation or narratives that we’ve seen from environmental groups.”

Rep. Jody Hice, Georgia Republican, called the hearing “totally bogus, totally hypocritical.” Rep. Lauren Boebert, Colorado Republican, accused Democrats of labeling arguments that counter the “progressive orthodoxy” as misinformation or disinformation.

“I really just want to know why isn’t the committee issuing subpoenas for PR firms that offer support for the climate-change lobby like the Sierra Club,” said Ms. Boebert at the hearing on “The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Action on Climate Change.”

The hearing comes with the committee initiating the subpoena process for FTI Consulting after the company rejected the panel’s request to provide information on its public-relations work and clients, including their names and how many the company serves.

The committee has also requested “all documents” from Story Partners, DDC Advocacy, Blue Advertising and Singer Associates related to their work for oil, gas and coal companies and related trade associations.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva defended the investigation by saying that the climate-change debate needs to take place on “common ground, and that common ground to me is fact, it’s science.”

“The discussion today is not about ending gas and energy access for the American people, but to expose and seek truth in advertising from the gaslighting that big oil and big gas are doing on the American people through public relations, not just firms, but specific strategies,” said the Arizona Democrat.

Christine Arena, CEO of the Generous Ventures marketing agency, said popular industry tactics include delegitimizing the opposition, creating “fake grassroots organizations” that echo the industry’s talking points, and “greenwashing” or the promotion of a firm’s environmental record.

“We do not object to the fact that these companies are communicating. We are objecting to how they’re communicating and the strategies and tactics that they’re using,” said Ms. Arena.

Mr. Hice swung back by objecting to the Democratic majority’s tactics. He referred to documents showing that Fossil Free Media sent out an Aug. 17 email about the threat to subpoena FTI Consulting that was time-stamped two hours before the committee announced it.

Ms. Arena, whose group is part of the Fossil Free Media campaign, acknowledged that she learned of the subpoena threat in advance, saying, “Yes, I was made aware it would potentially happen.”

Mr. Hice also said that Clean Creatives, a public-relations project supported by Fossil Free Media, released Tuesday a committee report, “The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Action on Climate Change,” a day before the committee did.

“We have Clean Creatives yet again collaborating with the majority, getting information before anyone else, getting information about subpoenas before anyone else has it, getting reports before anyone else has it,” Mr. Hice said. “This is just absolute insanity what’s going on here, and the real investigation ought to be taking place about that type of collaboration.”

Colorado climate activist Anne Lee Foster said signature-gatherers were followed around and harassed by opponents during the 2018 campaign for an anti-fracking measure, Proposition 112, that was ultimately defeated.

“It’s a far cry from the kind of typical image promotion or advertisements that we think about with PR firms,” said Rep. Katie Porter, California Democrat. “These unethical practices, these unethical PR firms are often most effective at the local level, where powerful corporate interests can overwhelm local communities.”

Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana Republican, said if anyone should be called out for spreading climate disinformation, it’s President Biden, given that both energy prices and emissions have risen during his tenure.

“I can’t say it enough. I’m glad we’re talking about misleading the American people because we have the chief misleader who’s out there telling the American people that these policies are working, and they’re not,” Mr. Graves said.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is scheduled to take up the issue at a Thursday hearing entitled “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Examining Big Oil’s Prices, Profits, and Pledges.”


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