Environmentalists and conservation-minded politicians who have been compared to terrorists by Americans for American Energy, a Golden-based pro-domestic-energy front group, can in part thank Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, fresh off her night winking and talking about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for launching the group in Colorado.
In May 2007, Alaska Gov. Palin apparently became squeamish about a $3 million no-bid contract that state’s Legislature had just voted to extend and expand for a conservative, Oregon-based public relations firm called Pac/West Communications.
Pac/West was hired by the Alaska Legislature in 2006 to put together a national lobbying campaign to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, and in turn Pac/West subcontracted Americans for American Energy, a 501(c)4 nonprofit now based in Golden, Colo.
Pac/West, with the help of AAE, reportedly spent about $1.3 million of Alaskan taxpayer money to unsuccessfully convince residents in four other states to support drill-here, drill-now candidates who would help turn the tide on ANWR in Washington.
When questions were raised about the sole-source, no-bid nature of the Pac/West, AAE contract, Palin, according to the Anchorage Daily News, reluctantly pulled the plug.
The Alaska newspaper reported Palin first supported the Legislature’s vote to re-up and broaden Pac/West’s efforts beyond ANWR, which seemed dead in the water with a Democratic Congress, but then had a change of heart.
According to a Palin spokeswoman quoted by the ADN, Palin’s problem “was not with the campaign itself but with the hurried $3 million contract, which ‘was not part of an open and transparent process.’”
A little less than a year later, Palin had no such qualms about a similar no-bid deal, albeit for a much more modest $50,000, that she doled out to a Massachusetts public relations company called MCB Communications — this time to make a national case for a $500 million state subsidy to a firm trying to build a $40 billion pipeline from the state’s oil-rich North Slope through Canada.
Palin proudly mentioned that pipeline during Thursday night’s debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and also echoed many of the themes of Americans for American Energy, insisting on more drilling for the sake of national security and questioning the causes of global warming. And she reiterated he support for drilling in ANWR despite Sen. John McCain’s opposition.
“A team of mavericks, of course we’re not going to agree on 100 percent of everything,” she said with a wink. “As we discuss ANWR there, at least we can agree to disagree on that one. I will keep pushing him on ANWR.”
Regardless of her motivations, the effect of Palin shutting down the Pac/West and AAE deal for ongoing “education” on the benefits of developing more energy sources in Alaska was to send AAE south to begin lobbying hard to open up Colorado’s Roan Plateau to natural-gas drilling, as well as lift a moratorium on commercial oil-shale leasing in the state — a ban that expired Wednesday.
“When I got involved,” said current Americans for American Energy chairman of the board Bill Vasey, a Wyoming state senator, “I looked at some Web pages and of course there were some that were stridently against (AAE), and one of them was this ANWR connection.
Vasey, a Democrat, said he asked AAE President and CEO Greg Schnacke and the organization’s Policy Communications President and CEO Jim Sims to explain. “They said they’d started that way [in Alaska] and things just went sour, so they decided they’d come down [to Colorado] and go a little different direction,” Vasey said.
Sims, whose Golden-based firm “provides guidance to state legislators who run Americans for American Energy,” is the former communications director for Vice President Dick Cheney’s controversial energy task force.
Sims did not return calls and e-mails, but Schnacke, former executive vice president for 13 years of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said in a phone interview Wednesday that, while the ANWR project was before his time at AAE, it remains on their radar.
“The state of Alaska funded through a vote of the Legislature a fund to promote the development of ANWR, and they did hire Pac/West, who in turn hired other subcontractors, including Americans for American Energy, to help with that effort,” said Schnacke, who added he did not know the details surrounding the contract’s termination.
He did say, though, that the group remains very active on the Alaska front.
“We’ve been involved with polar bears and other types of issues that have been taken into the netherworld of politics as opposed to science, and so we’ve commented on those issues, and we’ve discussed what’s available in terms of possible energy reserves that are supported by the state of Alaska,” Schnacke said.
“There’s a lot of support for energy development up there. We support ANWR. We’ve supported a couple of pieces of legislation that were introduced in Congress this year, and one of them included ANWR, and we support the development of oil there.”
Mainstream environmental groups say AAE’s “Strike back at terrorists” and “Stop the war on the poor campaigns” are both thinly veiled attempts to pad the already enormous profits of oil and gas companies by pandering to base-level fears and blaming runaway energy prices on conservationists and politicians instead of the industry itself.
“I’ve seen some of the scurrilous stuff that (AAE’s) put out,” said Dave Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society. “I assume that they’re funded by oil and gas industry interests, but beyond that don’t know too much about them and quite frankly don’t pay too much attention to them. I’ve seen their name-calling, and they really sound like crackpots to me.”