Oil & Coal Interests Launch "CO2 Is Green" Misinformation Campaign

September 25, 2009 10:55 am ET — Chris Harris

Calling CO2 an "airborne fertilizer" is like calling cigarette smoke "vaporized vitamins." It sounds pretty, but it's just not true

Pulling Out All The Stops

The special interests opposed to clean energy legislation are no longer satisfied with their standard, non-committal, cookie cutter response to global warming.  You know, something along the lines of:

We recognize the immense challenges global climate change poses to our generation. Reducing greenhouse gases will require international cooperation.  We look forward to contributing to a solution that confronts these struggles while ensuring economic prosperity, etc. etc.

Well, those days appear to be over.

A new group named "CO2 is Green" (really) is contending that "CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 makes Earth green because it supports all plant life. It is Earth's greatest airborne fertilizer."

The Washington Post wrote:

The man behind the latest entry to the climate legislation wars is H. Leighton Steward, a veteran oil industry executive, co-author of the "Sugar Busters!" dieting books, and winner of an Environmental Protection Agency award for a report on damage being done to Mississippi wetlands. Now retired, he says he wants to "get the message out there" that carbon dioxide, which the Supreme Court has ruled a pollutant and which most scientists regard as a dangerous greenhouse gas, "is a net benefit for the planet."

Steward has joined forces with Corbin J. Robertson Jr., chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291 million in 2008.

Not only have Steward and Robertson founded "CO2 is Green" to take misinformation to the airwaves, they've also launched "Plants Need CO2" to educate Americans about the joys of carbon pollution.

They have formed two groups -- CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education -- with about $1 million. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L. Hogan, who also serves on the group's board.

Yes, plants need some carbon dioxide to live. We all know that.  But there is more than enough naturally occurring CO2 to sustain the earth's plant life. Oil and coal interests funding a pro-pollution "education campaign" is akin to the insulation industry funding infomercials to promote the virtues of asbestos.

Industry Renegades

Corporate special interests intentionally misleading the public in order to preserve their own profits deserve to be called out.  Accordingly, companies willing to engage in a genuine dialogue in order to solve the world's problems warrant praise.

While most fossil fuel-oriented companies are opposed to legislation encouraging a clean energy economy, a few are embracing the idea:

The new groups join an increasingly fractious debate over climate legislation that has roiled corporate and environmental groups alike. Earlier this month, Duke Energy, Alcoa and Alstom all pulled out of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group whose ads have asserted that the House climate bill would make energy unaffordable. "We thought [the bill] had evolved in ways to be affordable for our customers," said Duke spokesman Tom Williams.

This week, a group of large corporations -- including New Mexico utility PNM Resources, California utility PG&E, power generator Exelon and Nike -- denounced the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to climate legislation.

PNM said it would let its membership in the Chamber lapse at the end of the year. "At PNM Resources, we see climate change as the most pressing environmental and economic issue of our time," the company said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, PNM took aim at a Chamber official who had suggested holding a climate change trial like the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial over evolution. "We strongly disagree with the chamber's position on climate change legislation and particularly reject its recent theatrics calling for a 'Scopes Monkey Trial' to put the science of climate change on trial," said the company, whose chief executive, Jeff Sterba, is a former Chamber board member. "We believe the science is compelling enough to act sooner rather than later."

There's hope for them yet.