America's Power Army
|This article is part of the Global Energy Monitor coverage of "clean coal."|
In 2008 Americans for Balanced Energy Choices was merged with Center for Energy and Economic Development to form a new coal industry front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, on April 17, 2008. In April 2009, ABEC announced that it had changed its name again to become America's Power Army. The group stated that the name change was undertaken "to be consistent with our advertising campaign, 'America's Power' and the corresponding website, Americaspower.org."
History of ABEC
Formed in 2000 to develop astroturf support for coal-based electricity, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) promotes the interests of mining companies, coal transporters, and electricity producers. A domain name search reveals that ABEC's website is registered to the coal industry trade organization Center for Energy and Economic Development. (ABEC originally used the www.balancedenergy.org domain but later switched to a website titled America's Power).
From ABEC's website: "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) is a national, non-profit organization designed to promote a dialogue with community leaders across the U.S. on issues involving America's growing demand for electricity. ABEC will advocate in support of policies that strike the proper balance between protecting the environment and providing for continued economic growth and prosperity for America's working families.
"Because they recognize the essential role that electricity from coal plays in protecting the environment while providing over half of the electricity used each day in the U.S., America's coal-based electricity industry (producers, transporters, and electricity generators) have provided the primary initial funding for this worthwhile project." 
In 2008 ABEC was merged with the Center for Energy and Economic Development to form the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity which represents the interests of coal producers, transporters and utilities.
Federal lobbying expenditures
Between 2002 and 2007, ABEC spent an average of $93,000 each year on federal lobbying. In 2008, its successor, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, spent $9.9 million on federal lobbying in addition to $38 million for an ad campaign promoting "clean coal."
ABEC's promotion of coal-generated electricity ignores or downplays concerns about current industry emission levels and their links to health and environmental concerns.
Outreach by ABEC has included program underwriting on National Public Radio in the spring of 2002 promoting coal as America's energy source of the future.  ABEC also produced a short subject video that played on United Airlines flights. According to ABEC, the video "discusses coal's role in providing reliable, affordable, and increasingly clean electricity for American homes, schools, and businesses."
Clean coal ads
ABEC sponsored three TV ads that ran a total of 845 times in Washington, D.C. in 2002.
"One ad stated that Americans 'are learning that advancements in clean coal technologies are effectively making our environment cleaner.' According to a second ad, 'electricity from coal is an increasingly clean source of energy.' The ad said that according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 'new coal-based power plants built beginning in about 2020 may well use technologies that are so advanced that they'll be virtually pollution-free.' Another ad, which aired in 2001 as well as 2002, stated that over 50% of the American energy supply comes from coal. The ad advocated coal power as a principal energy supply, noting that $50 billion was invested in creating technologies that make coal power cleaner and safe for the environment."
In 2001, ABEC ran one TV ad a total of 940 times in Washington, D.C. "The ad, which also appeared in 2002, stated that over 50% of the American energy supply comes from coal. The ad advocated coal power as a principal energy supply, noting that $50 billion was invested in creating technologies that make coal power cleaner and safe for the environment."
2007 - 2008 Ad Campaign on CNN from Waylon Ad
According to a June 20, 2007 piece on the American Coal Council website, "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, in cooperation with Waylon Ad has announced the release of the second spot in a $10 million bid to promote coal-based energy. The ad will air on CNN for the remainder of the year and further ads are being discussed. The St. Louis ad agency's spot, which follows a debut effort that broke in April, suggests coal use is economically efficient and environmentally friendly. In the latest spot, a panorama of people and faces, including a man in the middle of a field with an electric guitar, is shown as a voiceover touts coal use. Utilities, the viewer is told, have invested more than $50 billion in new technologies to reduce emissions by one-third, and coal provides more than half of all electrical power
2008 presidential campaign outreach
In September 2007, ABEC released "requests for proposal," seeking public relations help "in targeting the public, politicians, interest groups, and the media" on the national level, and also in Pennsylvania and Nevada. In the proposals, ABEC stated "Nevada (DOC) is perhaps one of the most volatile states in the west regions for ABEC's industry," so its PR work in the state includes issues management, as well as presidential candidate outreach and identifying "cities and communities critical to helping shape policy at the grassroots level." ABEC's Pennsylvania (DOC) PR campaign is less intense, involving "regulatory / legislative communications," "grassroots assistance," and various types of media outreach.
The National Journal reported that ABEC's budget for PR, advertising and "grassroots" organizing quadrupled, from $8 million to $30 million a year, from 2007 to 2008. "Two words sum up why" the coal industry and its allies "opened their checkbooks," wrote the Journal -- "global warming."
In 2007, ABEC advertised during the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential candidate debates.
In January 2008, the Washington Post reported that ABEC "is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change." As of mid-January, ABEC had spent $1.3 million on ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. The ads talked about "clean coal" and "70 percent cleaner" coal plants, though those reductions have been mostly in non-greenhouse gases.
ABEC also deployed staffers to the January 15, 2008, Democratic candidates' debate. "About 50 people, many of them paid, walked around as human billboards and handed out leaflets outside Tuesday's Democratic debate in Nevada with questions for voters to ask the candidates," reported the Washington Post.
Misleading Phone Call
In May 2008 ABEC was busy organizing opposition to America's Climate Security Act of 2007 proposed by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner. The Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) reported that Pete MacDowell, an activist with the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, received a phone call from ABEC asking if he would put his name to a fax to Lieberman and Warner opposing the bill. Asked whether ABEC was an environmental group, the caller said "yes" and denied it had any links to power utilities. In response to ISS's revelation, Steve Gates from ABEC's parent group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, stated that "one new staff member -- who is no longer working on this project – decided to 'wing it' when asked some questions that were off her script. This staff person clearly should have answered 'Yes' when asked if ABEC was related to the utility industry."
PR and lobbying
According to the 2001 "O'Dwyer's Directory of Public Relations Firms," ABEC is listed as a client of the Denver-based MGA Communications. In its agency statement, MGA Communications specializes in "communications planning involving community involvement and education, sitings and compliance issues, public-private partnerships, 'green' product marketing, dispute resolution and crisis communications, media relations, primary research and marketing communications. MGA also has a substantial technology marketing and corporate reputation practice." A 2008 biographical note for Jeffrey Julin, the President of the Denver-based PR firm, MGA Communications and the Chair & CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, states -- under the sub-heading of "recent work" -- that he had worked for Americans for Balanced Energy Choices.
ABEC's president Stephen Miller is a registered lobbyists for ABEC on energy and environmental issues, according to Lobbyist.info. CEED and the Willard Group have also lobbied on behalf of ABEC.
NRDC parody of America's Power website
In 2008, the environmental group NRDC created a website, COAL POWER: Warming America, Warming the Planet, parodying the "America's Power" campaign sponsored by ABEC, the predecessor to ACCCE. The parody website (which is clearly labelled as a project of NRDC), mimics the America's Power website design. It is sponsored by an organization called "Americans for Burning Every Chunk of Coal" (ABECC). On the site are "facts," an "ask the experts" section, and "news."
Americans for Balanced Energy Choices
P.O. Box 1638
Alexandria, Virginia 22313
- America's Power
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
- Audio news releases
- Clean Coal
- Clean Coal Marketing Campaign
- Clean Coal Technology
- Fake news
- Mining industry
- National Mining Association
- "New Multi-Industry Coalition Aligns to Advocate Energy Security and Environmental Stewardship", Media Release, April 17, 2008.
- Scott Barker, "ABEC is Changing its Name to America's Power Army", Energy & Environment News, Spring 2009.
- "About ABEC", archived version dated August 30, 2004.
- Coral Davenport, "Coal Industry Digs in with Lobbying Campaign" CQ Weekly - Politics, 3/21/09
- Laura Miller, "is the 'Disinfopedia'?," PR Watch, Fourth Quarter 2003.
- Erika Falk, Legislative Issue Advertising in the 107th Congress, Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, page 60.
- "ABEC ad spots to appear on CNN", Coal Blog, American Coal Council, June 20, 2007.
- "Coal Group Seeks PR Firms," O'Dwyer's PR Daily (sub req'd), September 26, 2007.
- Steven Mufson, "Coal Industry Plugs Into the Campaign," Washington Post, January 18, 2008.
- Sue Sturgis, "Big Coal makes deceptive phone calls on climate change legislation", Facing South, Institute for Southern Studies, May 22, 2008.
- Steve Gates ACCCE Senior Communications Director, "SMG3333 said...", Facing South, May 23, 2008.(Scroll down)
- Jack O'Dwyer, editor, "O'Dwyer's Directory of Public Relations Firms," J.R. O'Dwyer Co., 2001 - page 167. (No link available.)
- Public Relations Society of America, "Board of Directors", Public Relations Society of America website, accessed September 2008.
- "Jeff Julin, APR President", MGA Communications website, accessed September 2008.
- Mercury Releases from Power Plants, Environmental Media Services, June 28, 2001
- Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, Earthdayresource.org
- Rebecca Stanfield, Darkening Skies: Trends Toward Increasing Power Plant Emissions, U.S. PIRG Education Fund for Clear the Air, the National Campaign Against Dirty Power, April 4, 2002.
- EPA issuing rules on power plant mercury, USA Today, March 14, 2005.
- Rainforest Action Network, "Rainforest Action Network to Wall Street: No New Coal", Media Release, February 25, 2007. (Also via the Business Ethics Network website here).
- David Roberts, "'Even Santa is rethinking his position on coal!': Coal industry kicks off a PR campaign aimed at influencing lawmakers", Gristmill, December 19, 2007.
- Matthew Brown and Matt Gouras (Associated Press), "Amid Election, Coal Takes the Offensive," Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2008
- "New Name For Coal Group; Gore Raps Coal", O'Dwyer's PR Daily, September 25, 2008. (Sub req'd).