Breaking the 'Be Nice' Rule in the Energy Family

Krist Novoselic, former bassist for Seattle-based band Nirvana and the new chairman of advocacy group FairVote, uses a camera to record a news conference on elections at the Washington state capitol last year.
Krist Novoselic, former bassist for Seattle-based band Nirvana and the new chairman of advocacy group FairVote, uses a camera to record a news conference on elections at the Washington state capitol last year. (File Photos -- Associated Press)
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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To everyone feeling glum about $3.50-a-gallon gasoline, here's some good news: The fat-and-happy energy industry is fighting with itself.

A new natural gas organization called the American Clean Skies Foundation has riled all sorts of energy interests, including producers of coal, oil and even natural gas. Its critics have accused the multimillion-dollar foundation -- bankrolled by Oklahoma billionaire Aubrey K. McClendon-- of trying to snatch customers for natural gas away from other forms of energy.

That's a no-no in the close-knit energy world.

The dispute erupted a year ago when the Natural Gas Council, whose members include such energy lobby mainstays as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gas Association, wrote to lawmakers to distance itself from ads purchased by a McClendon-backed group. The ads' theme: "Face it: Coal is filthy."

The council said the ads "have been characterized as an effort by the natural gas industry to capture market share from coal." In fact, they explained, "They were not purchased by the natural gas industry and were not developed with the knowledge of the industry."

The ads did not appear again, and McClendon, who heads a major natural gas company, went on to create the foundation.

In February, the same controversy reemerged. Denise A. Bode, the foundation's chief executive, wrote a piece in the Hill newspaper that again read like an attack on coal. It congratulated the Energy Department for canceling funding for a low-emission, coal-based power plant and suggested that the Bush administration end its backing for "clean coal" technology.

Kraig R. Naasz, president of the National Mining Association, immediately wrote to Bode. He called her article "a diatribe against coal" that "marks a disturbing departure from the understanding we tacitly share in the energy industries to avoid denigrating competing fuels."

Asked about the foundation, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute added, "Our country needs all forms of energy; we can't afford to leave any out."

Bode and McClendon have been busy meeting with energy lobbies to reassure them that they plan to say only positive things about gas and nothing nasty about any other forms of energy. But Bode said, "We probably had some false starts in our messaging earlier this year."

Nice.

Of Grunge and Voting

Krist Novoselic is best known as the bassist in the groundbreaking rock band Nirvana. But he recently added another title: chairman.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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