(Screenshot of a Natural Allies digital ad)
This week I want to share a story I've been working on for quite some time.
Many months ago, sweating in a Providence Airbnb knockoff, I stumbled upon a web ad that looked perfectly generic: A photo of a cute kid, some vague language about clean energy. It was paid for from a group called “Natural Allies, Inc"
Being me, I immediately googled and less than an hour later I had found a Facebook ad page full of similar ads, and a pdf explaining major liquid natural gas exporter Cheniere had given $250,000 to the group and a few other clues, but not much else.
But something about it really bugged me. While there are plenty of generic PR campaigns trying to convince both politicians and everyday voters about this issue or that; Natural Allies for a Clean Energy Future caught my eye specifically because I was trying to understand how states were changing (or not) their policies on gas infrastructure and because Cheniere is one of the largest fossil fuel companies you’ve probably never heard of.
I spent part of my time at Brown University and on-and-off since then delving into this particular group. Doing so involved lots of research, public records requests, reading SEC filings — and with the help of Bradford Roarr at Brown — writing some computer code that could help me answer deeper questions about Natural Allies’ ads.
What I found was a public relations and influence campaign with a $10 million two-year budget funded by major pipeline companies and other gas industry players. Internal documents obtained through public records requests by the Energy & Policy Institute showed the group is particularly interested in messaging to young, Black and Latino Americans — especially ones who are concerned about climate change.
What's more, they have spent significant money in media markets like Albany and Harrisburg — as New York and Pennsylvania consider both specific pipeline projects and wider climate policies. Will voters and politicians in these states be convinced by Natural Allies attempt to tie gas as a "partner" to renewables and zero-emissions energy even though it it still is a major emitter of greenhouse gases? Some of their internal polling indicates they've seen success in improving public opinion on gas, especially among the demographics the group is particularly interested in.
You can read the whole story here but I'm most interested in hearing what you thought of it. Did anything in this story surprise you? Have you seen these — or similar — ads near you? Reply to this email to share.
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