Spiders defend their Web Of Denial - to the tune of at least $92m

As Democrat Senators spent their second day this week outlining the cash funneled to front groups in the fossil fuel-funded climate Web of Denial, predictably, some of the spiders started crawling out of that web.

The senators received a sharply worded missive from a line-up of 22 free market groups, 21 of whom have received money from fossil fuel companies – or “dark money” (money laundered to hide the funders), and the majority of whom are fighting climate action - or the science.  The total funding added up to more than $92m. 

“Sadly, our democracy and our freedom hangs in the balance as you use your office to bully and single out groups to blame rather than ideas to debate,” they lamented. 

The American Citizenry “deserve and increasingly demand healthy and respectful political dialogue, and well-informed, well-debated public policies.”

The letter, hosted on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) website*, started off reasonably politely, but quicky turned nasty as the writers accused the Senators of being tyrants, of shutting down free speech, yada yada yada.

Southern Company's 'Big Bet' on Kemper: A Rigged Game?

Kemper Power Plant

From the very beginning, the story of utility giant Southern Company's Kemper clean coal plant is a long trail of broken promises, according to a New York Times investigation - and the project's numerous critics.

These include many of the 186,000 utility customers in 23 largely rural, mostly low-income counties in southeastern Mississippi that are now on the hook for a good part of the plant's estimated $6.6 billion cost - this after Southern promised them and state and federal officials in 2010 that the first-of-its-kind power station wouldn't cost more than $2.4 billion. 

That figure lasted only a few months, followed by a promise of $2.8 billion. 

The plant was supposed to have been completed in four years, but insiders say that Southern and its subsidiary, Mississippi Power, the operator of the plant, knew very well that was impossible for a complex, novel technology that promised to capture 65 percent of the CO2 generated by locally-mined lignite, a moist, low-grade coal one engineer described as "one step up from peat moss." 

According to Brett Wingo, a former engineer and supervisor at the plant, he tried to point out that the projected timeline wasn't feasible as construction fell further and further behind. 

Starting in earnest in 2013, Wingo called, emailed and button-holed senior engineers and managers warning them that the company was violating the law by not being truthful in public statements about when the plant would finally go on line.

After fighting all the way up the chain of the Southern Company officials at Kemper, Wingo called Southern chief executive officer Tom Fanning, and during a 21-minute phone call on March 10, 2014, explained his concerns that as the CEO he was signing off on forward-looking statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission that could be shown to have been deliberately faked.

 Said Wingo, "He was really nice, totally supportive. He told me, 'You did exactly the right thing by calling me.'  But nothing happened. Nothing changed."

Moving the Money

 In order to make the Kemper plant a reality, Southern Company convinced the federal Department of Energy to transfer of a grant for $270 million for a "clean coal" power plant from its original site in Orlando, Florida to the backwoods of Kemper County.  

The story really began with a lobbyist's email that skipped all the usual formalities and went straight to the office of then-Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, or "S-1."

The lobbyist who sent it, Eric Burgeson, worked for the BGR Group, which happened to be then-Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's own firm, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request by the Climate Investigations Center.  In late, January 2008,  Burgeson arranged for a meeting the following month between Barbour, Bodman, and officials of Southern Company and Mississippi Power to discuss moving a federally-funded "clean coal" project from Orlando, Florida to a remote corner of eastern Mississippi.

In the process, the size of the project roughly doubled, and the technological requirements became much more demanding.  The Orlando project was supposed to be a test of an advanced coal technology called TRIG, for Transport Integrated Gasification, that was developed by Southern Company and Kellogg Brown & Root with funding from the Department of Energy.  TRIG was designed to burn coal more cleanly by using extreme heat and pressure to gasify the coal after which more of the sulfur dioxiode and other pollutants could be scrubbed out than was possible in a conventional coal plant.

But to win money from the newly-available federal Clean Coal Power Initiative, Southern now promised to also use TRIG to capture most of the plant's carbon dioxide, which would be compressed and piped out to older underproducing oil fields and injected into the ground to drive more oil to the surface - a process called enhanced oil recovery.  The project was now not only twice as big, but a good deal more complex, with even more first-of-its-kind bells and whistles.

Why won’t Exxon publish its 2015 denial funding?

For some reason, ExxonMobil has delayed publishing its corporate giving report this year, well beyond the normal timing.  Is the report undergoing new internal scrutiny due to the investigations launched by several states?

Normally, by this time of year, Exxon has published what it calls its Worldwide Giving Report , as part of its Corporate Citizenship Report.  This report details to whom the ExxonMobil Foundation has given grants - everything from universities to health organizations to think tanks and corporate trade associations. 

This data has been the source of the running tally ExxonSecrets has kept since the late 1990’s on the company’s funding of climate denial.   The report (called "dimensions in the early days) is a summary of the filings the ExxonMobil Foundation has to give to the IRS each year.  

Exxonsecrets looked carefully at the groups receiving Exxon funding under its “Public Policy and Information” section, selected those running climate denial campaigns, and tallied the funding, adding figures from “corporate” funding. 

The running total of ExxonMobil funding from 1997-2014 is $$31,853,735.

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