In public, the coal industry proclaims that it accepts the mountain of scientific evidence that humans’ burning of fossil fuels are warming the planet. But a secretly recorded conversation at an American coal industry conference between Arch Coal executive Matt Ferguson and lobbyist Lauri Hennessey revealed that in private, they believe climate change is not real and regard with contempt the broader public who their industry threatens.
Hennessey works for the greenwashing public relations company Edelman, and the Astroturf lobby group Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports. Ferguson had just given a presentation explaining that coal projects in other countries such as Australia would progress regardless of how much coal exported by the US, at odds with Hennessey’s public argument that expanding US coal exports will not add to climate change. Their conversation was recorded by Mike Stark from FossilAgenda, a website devoted to exposing the dishonest behaviour of fossil fuel companies:
They think anti-coal activists are “wacky”:
Lauri Hennessey: You guys got what I call the insider version, which is like, ‘here’s what we’re facing out here, here’s how wacky it is. We want to do more.’ We have different kind of focuses with this crowd, it’s definitely an insider crowd.
They admit the industry’s attempt to intimidate the public by painting its expansion as inevitable is part-bluster:
Matt Ferguson: Yeah, OK, and uh, so, yeah, it’s an exciting project. We were just in the Far East last week, and of course we’re telling everybody, “It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming. [laughter] I just hope it is! [laughter] I hope we’re not lying to them.
Arch Coal representative 2: You need to make it happen.
Matt Ferguson: We’re just depending on you, Lauri.
Lauri Hennessey: Yeah, no pressure! [laughter]
They think it’s “weird” that the public doesn’t like coal:
Lauri Hennessey: It’s a very, um, interesting experience for people who don’t live out there [in the Northwest] – like our board on the Alliance, you can just tell them “it’s awesome” but it’s like, ‘No! This is so weird!’ So, yeah it’s kind of like an education process.
They see opposition to coal as a childish joke:
Matt Ferguson: Your comment on the civil unrest was quite funny.
Lauri Hennessey: Oh wasn’t it? Yeah, I got, I got hassled.
Matt Ferguson: Yeah, it’s like, let’s be adults here.
They think it’s ironic to talk about climate change and having worked for an environmental regulator, because the industry doesn’t believe in climate change:
Lauri Hennessey: I grew up in the Northwest, and I don’t know if you saw, I used to work for EPA a long time ago?
Matt Ferguson: Did you? [laughter]
Lauri Hennessey: Yeah. [inaudible] So I have – and I also worked for Bob Packwood on the Hill – so I have both sides. But we’re connected.
I worked with EPA, and I pull that out in the right crowds, because in the Northwest, that’s a good thing, right? But it’s funny because I never really went out of my way to mention it to our Alliance board before. And one day I was quoted in the paper, because again I was speaking to the audience in Seattle, and I was like, “Well of course we’re concerned about climate change. Everyone’s concerned about climate change. But what we’re saying is this is not going to contribute to climate change.”
But someone from Peabody got on a call, it was my second week on the job, and said, “You were quoted saying coal’s worried about climate change? We don’t believe in climate change!”
They admit the industry tailors its professed acceptance of scientific facts to its audience:
Lauri Hennessey: And I remember I was on the phone and I was like, “I can’t say that. [laughter] I can’t say that in Seattle!”
Matt Ferguson: Not worried about it!
Arch Coal rep 2: You can say that in St. Louis, but you can’t say that in Seattle.
Matt Ferguson: Yeah. It’s not gonna happen.
Lauri Hennessey: Yeah, I can’t say it in Seattle, and I remember she just goes, “Wow, we really have different regions, do we?!”
They cynically mocked their industry’s own argument that it is raising the living standards of poor countries:
Matt Ferguson: I think what you do is say, you’re trying to help people out of poverty in the Far East. Yeah.
Lauri Hennessey: Exactly! And I did that.
Matt Ferguson: Do they not deserve to enjoy prosperity? Like we have? Don’t be so selfish, you jerks! [laughter]
Lauri Hennessey: And I said, ‘These are countries that are going to get coal,’ and ‘how are you going to say which coal they can get.’ You know, you try to take them down that path.
And finally, they again laughed about climate change and the environment:
Lauri Hennessey: But it was just more this great metaphorical “Welcome to the Alliance” moment. She’s like, “Why would you ever say we care about climate change?” And then she goes, “I looked at your bio, you worked at EPA. What’s going on here? You’re just a…”
Arch Coal rep 2: You’re an insider, a narc!
Lauri Hennessey: Exactly.
The arguments made for coal mining and exports in the US are exactly the same arguments the industry makes in Australia. Why should we buy their arguments if they don’t?
Next time you hear a fossil fuel industry representative trying to paint their industry as harmless and altruistic, remember they themselves admit in private they’re just trying to take you down a path. And no matter how much they deny it, that path leads to climate catastrophe. And that’s just not funny.