PR Flack Caught on Tape Raises Ethical Problems for Coal Exports Campaign

Last month, Mike Stark from attended Platt's 36th Annual Coal Marketing Days and caught an interesting glimpse into the minds of coal industry operatives pushing to build coal export terminals in the Northwest.

Audio recordings released by Fossil Agenda show Lauri Hennessey, a Vice President at Edelman and the spokeswoman for Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports (ANJE), laughing with coal company executives on a number of topics including climate change and international development in the "far east."

The transcript of the conversation exemplifies the extent to which some in the public relations industry will go to push additional fossil fuel development. Edelman is one of many companies working to distort the facts and spin the energy debate on behalf of their fossil fuel industry clients.

Stark writes "[Hennessey] told me that the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports is making the case that thermal coal from the Powder River Basin will displace coal with lower thermal content from Asia, thus reducing GHG emissions." But, ANJE is also "countering the decision to evaluate the ultimate emissions footprint of the coal that would move through the proposed export terminals" in an attempt to undermine the environmental review of the proposed export terminals.

Instead of upholding the free flow of accurate and truthful information about coal exports, Edelman and the ANJE are spinning the facts and claiming that exporting U.S. coal would "reduce emissions." David Roberts at Grist made it very clear -- "digging up and burning that Powder River Basin coal will put enough carbon in the atmosphere to undo all of Obama's other climate work."

This distortion goes against the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) Code of Ethics, which asserts "ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member" and "professionals should be honest and accurate in all communications." PRSA's Board of Ethics goes on to say [PDF] that "protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society."

While Lauri Hennessey is not a member of PRSA according to the Puget Sound chapter, the organization says on its website that "all public relations professionals should look to [PRSA's Code of Ethics] as a model of professional behavior."

Fossil Agenda's audio recordings shed a light on the true nature of these fossil fuel industry operatives -- and unfortunately, Edelman and its coal industry clients are not upholding these ethical standards.