The Weekly Carboholic: ACCCE hired Bonner, but didn't notify Congress of forgeries when they were discovered

Posted on August 5, 2009

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Before the House voted on the American Climate and Energy Security Act (ACES) earlier this year, someone hired Bonner & Associates (hereafter Bonner) to manufacture some grassroots opposition against ACES. At least one employee did so by forging letters from non-existent people to Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia. These letters were discovered, Bonner claims to have fired the employee, and a partner at Bonner apologized to the two minority groups from which the letters were supposedly sent. The apologies were, it’s fair to say, emphatically not accepted.

Since the Bonner story broke last Friday, there have been a lot of new information about who hired them, whether there were other Congresspeople who received forged letters, the legality or lack thereof, and an official response from a House committee with subpoena powers.

We now know that Bonner sent at least 12 letters to three different Congresspeople – the aforementioned Rep. Perriello, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, and Rep. Christopher Carney, both of Pennsylvania. We also know that these 12 letters were identified by Bonner and brought to the attention of the clients. And, as of Wednesday, we also know that two more letters have turned up in Rep. Perriello’s office – these forged on letterhead belonging to the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and the American Association of University Women. We don’t presently know if these two additional letters are part of the 12 discovered by Bonner or whether they represent two additional letters, for a total of 14 forged letters.

We also know that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) was the end client (via another PR company, the Hawthorn Group, which has released its own statement) who had hired Bonner to create the grassroots backlash against ACES – they admitted so in a statement by ACCCE president Stephen L. Miller on their Website. It reads, in part:

We are outraged at the conduct of Bonner and Associates. Bonner and Associates was hired by the Hawthorn Group – our primary grassroots contractor – to do limited outreach earlier this year on H.R. 2454. Based upon the information we have, it is clear that an employee of Bonner’s firm failed to demonstrate the integrity we demand of all our contractors and subcontractors. As a result, these egregious actions led to falsified letters being sent to Members of Congress.

ACCCE has always maintained high ethical and professional standards. In this case, the standards and practices that we require for grassroots advocacy outreach were not adhered to by Bonner and Associates. In this sense, the community groups involved, the Members of Congress who received the fraudulent letters, as well as ACCCE, were all victimized by this misconduct.

However, we also know that the ACCCE knew about the forgeries at least two days before the House vote and did not inform Congress of that fact. This comes from an ACCCE document describing the relationship between the ACCCE and Bonner:

Based upon information ACCCE received from the Hawthorn Group, it was Bonner & Associates’ own internal that identified these false letters and it was Mr. Bonner who first brought this to the attention of the Hawthorn Group. ACCCE was then made aware of the situation by Hawthorn on July 24, 2009.

The House Roll Call vote on ACES occurred on July 26, 2009.

The Sierra Club announced on Monday that it had mailed a letter to Attorney General Holder asking the Department of Justice to investigate whether Bonner’s actions were legal or not. The letter from Patrick Gallagher, Sierra Club Legal Counsel, reads in part:

First, the Department of Justice should ascertain whether forged letters were sent to other Representatives or Senators…. Second, the Department of Justice should investigate whether other community organizations were similarly misrepresented…. Finally, the Department of Justice should pursue criminal charges against Bonner & Associates.

At a minimum, Bonner & Associates, acting through its employees or representatives, appears to have violated 18 U.S.C. 1343 (“Fraud by wire, radio, or television”) and 19 U.S.C. 1346 (“Definition of ‘scheme or artifice to defraud'”).

markeyletterRepresentative Edward Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, sent a letter to Jack Bonner with a list of 14 questions to be answered by August 12, 2009. S&R obtained a copy of the letter – you can read it here. Some of the more interesting questions from the letter can be summarized as follows:

  1. Who did you do your lobbying for, is your client a registered lobbying firm, and how much did did they pay you?
  2. Did Bonner lobby other Congresspeople on ACES and for what clients?
  3. Give us details (compensation, contractor vs. employee status, etc.) about the employee you claim to have fired.
  4. If you script your employees, give us copies of those scripts.
  5. We want copies of all faked letters Bonner sent to any Congressperson, and we also want to know how you got ahold of actual letterhead from the two minority groups from which letters were forged.
  6. Explain how you caught the fakes and what methods you used to ensure that you found all the faked letters and their recipients, and if you destroyed anyting, we want to know that too.

Rep. Markey has also sent a letter to the ACCCE demanding answers to questions similar to those posed to Bonner. S&R has also obtained a copy of this letter and you can read it here. It says, in part:

Press reports indicate that ACCCE may not have told the other affected offices that they too had received fraudulent letters until Monday, August 3, 2009.

The deliberate inaction prior to the House vote and the extended silence after the House vote – some 40 days after the ACCCE knew what had happened – raises serious concerns.

This story is still developing, and S&R will bring you periodic updates as the become available.

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hummerCash for Clunkers doesn’t do much for climate

According to an Associated Press article, Cash for Clunkers (C4C) has not had an appreciable effect on U.S. consumption of oil or its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the article, C4C reduced oil consumption by about 72 million gallons of gas per year, or the amount of gasoline consumed by Americans every 4.5 hours. Similarly, the GHG savings equates to about saving 57 minutes of GHG emissions per year.

The problem is that the estimated number of clunkers removed from the roads is only 250 thousand, compared to at total of approximately 260 million cars in the U.S.

There are certainly benefits to this program, but according to the individuals interviewed for the AP story, the benefits aren’t GHGs. Instead, the benefits are to the economy as a whole and the reduction of standard pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. But two climate experts interviewed for the article had this to say about it:

“As a carbon dioxide policy, this is a terribly wasteful thing to do,” said Henry Jacoby, a professor of management and co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT. “The amount of carbon you are saving per federal expenditure is very, very small.”

and

“It’s not that it’s a bad idea; just don’t sell it as a cost-effective energy savings method,” [Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University,] said. “From an economic standpoint it seems to be a roaring success. From an environment and energy perspective, it’s not where you would put your first dollar.”

It’s also entirely possible that these complaints are actually the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. As S&R reported last month, GHG and pollution emissions vary with the total lifecycle of that transportation method. For this reason, replacing “clunkers” that aren’t truly clunkers could actually increase GHG and pollution emissions as a result of the emissions created in the process of manufacturing the new vehicle.

Whether this is actually so remains for someone else to determine.

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ocoNational Academy of Sciences: we need independent GHG emission confirmation

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Committee on Methods for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the National Research Council sent NASA administrator Charles Bolden a letter expressing their support for the replacement of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) that failed to reach orbit earlier this year. The letter says that a replacement OCO is necessary for independent verification of carbon emissions reports that are presently self-reported by nations on an irregular basis.

National emission inventories, required under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, are self-reported and are not required regularly for all countries. Verification requires checking these self-reported emissions estimates. However, independent data against which to verify the statistics used to estimate CO2 emissions, such as fossil fuel consumption, are not available.

In addition, while the Japanese GOSAT has the ability to monitor CO2, the letter claims that GOSAT’s spatial resolution is too low and it’s accuracy insufficient to measure the emissions of a power plant against the background CO2.

The letter points out that, while OCO’s short on-orbit lifetime and poor global coverage makes OCO unsuitable to observe trends, but that OCO would be an ideal testbed for the technologies that could monitor the entire globe for years or decades at a time. And given the significant limitations of terrestrial monitoring of GHGs, satellites will be necessary to confirm the self-reported national emissions.

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Climate disruption may, or may not, make disease worse

It’s long been a tenet of climate disruption that increasing global temperatures will result in a wider range for tropical diseases and thus greater incidence of disease. But a feature article in Conservation Magazine asks a number of questions about the accuracy of this understanding and ultimately concludes that there are too many unknowns at this point to really know how diseases will respond to a warming world.

The basic problem is this: when there are so many other possible factors in the spread of disease, how can you accurately attribute the wider spread of a disease to climate disruption? The examples provided in the article illustrate this difficulty.

According to the article, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) increased in the Baltics at the same time that the region warmed up significantly. But the Soviet Union collapsed over the same period as well, and the rate of poverty rose as a result. Since poorer people are less likely to get vaccinated and are more likely to forage for food in areas where ticks are more common, TBE researcher, Sarah Randolph concluded that “the disease surge probably had far more to do with human actions than planetary changes.”

Mosquitoes are some of the most prolific disease vectors in the world, spreading malaria and West Nile Virus among dozens of other pathogens and parasites. According to the article, West Nile cases in the U.S. appear to have more to do with the lifecycles of the mosquitoes that carry the virus than with climate change. Specifically, in the western U.S., West Nile cases spike the year after a dry year, while West Nile cases spike in wet years in the eastern U.S. These differences result from the relationship between different mosquitoes and their predators. Hot years in the West kill off mosquito predators and the mosquitoes recover before the predators do, leading to an increase in mosquitoes and accompanying West Nile cases. In the East, however, mosquitoes breed in standing water (water-filled tires, for example), and so rainier years produce more mosquitoes and more West Nile cases.

However, the data is only over a few short years, and whether this relationship holds for longer periods is, as yet, undetermined. But the observed reaction of West Nile to precipitation and heat illustrates that whether the disease gets more common and widespread or not will vary from region to region.

The questions are not limited just to human disease and parasites – how animal parasites, and the animals afflicted, will change as a result of climate disruption is also uncertain. According to the article, monarch butterflies are often afflicted by a parasite that makes the butterflies less able to fly long distances. Because so many monarchs migrate to Mexico, the migrating butterfly population remains healthy. But non-migrating monarchs in Florida have a much higher incidence of parasite infection than the migrating monarchs do. And so it’s possible that, if monarch wintering sites move further north out of Mexico and into Texas, the incidence of parasitic infection in monarch butterflies could rise.

But other parasites, such as those that infect musk ox in the Arctic, may respond differently, according to the article. The parasites infect the musk ox via accidental ingestion of slugs. If climate disruption kills off the slugs, then musk ox may actually get healthier as a result of climate disruption.

At this point there’s not enough information to know.

Image credits:
PhotoCarsOnline.com
NASA/JPL

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