Gas-Guzzler Lobby strikes back

WW4 REPORT has received the following letter from David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research (link added):

You may wish to remove the article, “The Gas-Guzzling Lobby Stops Time” from your site, as it is riddled with errors—including about my organization.

1. Let’s begin with the title of the section dealing with my group, The National Center for Public Policy Research, “What $335K Buys.” The implication is that the NCPPR was paid to oppose higher fuel economy standards by the Exxon Mobil Corporation.

This is false on so many different levels. First, we do not accept contract work of any kind. Second, we’ve never received a grant from Exxon Mobil in support of our work on CAFE standards. Third, we aren’t receiving funding from anyone to work on CAFE standards—oil, auto or otherwise.

Fourth, our total corporate funding year-to-date is 0 and last year our corporate funding represented less than 1% of our total revenue.

2. The article states that we have received “a bundle more from various auto and oil industry execs.” Okay, then. From whom? This was simply made up from whole cloth.

3. The article says that NCPPR has been “led over the years” by notable figures, including a former lobbyist. NCPPR has been led since it opened its doors in 1982 by precisely one person, Amy Ridenour, and she’s never been a lobbyist.

4. The article counters our statement that a 52 mile per gallon standard may be unobtainable by citing the popularity of the Volkswagon Jetta TDI, which it says gets “55+ miles per gallon.” A couple problems:

First, this vehicle only boasts 42 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg in the city. Test drives have indicated an overall average of 36 mpg — substantially below 55 mpg. Second, it is called a Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard for a reason. The 52 mpg figure would have to be the average for all cars AND light trucks. The most fuel efficient vehicles—such as the Prius—are not suitable for all situations (larger families, hauling, etc)—so one can not simply assume no one will drive anything else.

5. The article asserts that we rely heavily on the “pro-corporate and neo-conservative echo chamber” for our science and notes our statement regarding traffic deaths resulting from higher CAFE standards. The original source for these statistics was the National Academy of Sciences—which can be classified as neither neo-conservative nor pro-corporate.

I’ve only fact-checked a few paragraphs from the article. One assumes that the attention to detail for the rest of the article was no better.

If, as you claim, you are committed to “real journalism (as opposed to mere opinion-spewing and bloggery),” you will take the article down and send it back to the author for substantial revision.

Thank you, in advance, for your assistance.

The article’s author, Dr. Michael Niman, responds:

According to Source Watch, a project of the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy, Exxon/Mobil donated money to Mr. Ridenour’s organization specifically earmarked to support it’s “educational activities” and its “Global Climate Change / Envirotruth Website.” NCPPR’s so-called educational activities and its oxymoronically named “Envirotruth” site have been actively lobbying against action on global warming, which it argues is a myth, while claiming that environmentalists are waging a “Jihad” against corporations. Exxon/Mobil Foundation Annual Reports and Exxon/Mobil’s Corporate Giving reports document $335,000 in donations to the NCPPR from 1997 to 2006. NCPPR also received major funding from the Olin Foundation, the Sarah Scaif Foundation (funded by Mellon family [oil] money), The Carthage Foundation (also a Mellon-supported project), and Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation (Gorden was a director of Texas Petrochemicals and a vice president of Conoco), to name a few organizations with oil industry ties. Most of NCPPR’s funding, however, comes from thousands of individuals who support their work, but whose names NCPPR doesn’t release—hence it is difficult to name the specific industry officials who finance NCPPR’s activities.

Jack Abramoff served as a Director of NCPPR from 1998 to 2003, channeling his lobbying clients funds’ into NCPPR coffers. Ridenour, who served with him as Vice President and Secretary of the Board should remember sitting at the table with Abramoff. And he should remember the controversy concerning his wife, NCPPR president Amy Ridenour, who wrote a poison pen editorial tarring an opponent of Abramoff client Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad as an Islamic radical. Bin Mohammad claims to have paid Abramoff $2.2 million for services rendered.

Regarding the forthcoming Jetta TDI’s fuel mileage, Ridenour gives the EPA rating for the 2006 TDI. I specifically cite “next year’s” 2008 TDI which the auto industry press expects to earn a 60 mpg ration. To err on the conservative side, I wrote “55+” mpg. As for my assertion that NCPPR relies heavily on the neo-con echo chamber, just go to their website and read it for yourselves. I never stated that they cite neo-con sources to the exclusion of all other sources. Yes, reputable sources document that passengers in small cars are more likely to be hurt when colliding with larger vehicles —that was one of the points of my column.

See our last posts on global climate change and the struggle for control of oil.

  1. Gaz Guzzler Lobby Strikes Back?
    Michael Nimon apparently can’t admit to his mistakes. He responds to my criticisms by setting up straw men, countering assertions I never made.

    For example, to counter my claim that we have not received any money to work on CAFE standards, he cites Source Watch noting that we’ve received funding from the Exxon Mobil Corporation and a number of foundations that he claims are closely connected to the oil industry.

    Two of the foundations he cites, the Sarah Scaife and Carthage Foundations, were established by the banking branch of the Mellon family and today these foundations don’t even have a direct connection to the banking business, much less the oil business. All the foundations cited have tangential connections to the oil industry at best and certainly less direct associations than the Pew Charitable Trusts, which was established with Sun Oil Company profits, and is today one of the largest supporters of global warming alarmists.

    And now my favorite part: Nimon states as a fact that my organization received a “bundle more from various auto and oil industry execs.” In his response to my critique, however, Nimon confesses: “Most of NCPPR’s funding, however, comes from thousands of individuals who support their work, but whose names NCPPR doesn’t release – hence it is difficult to name the specific industry officials who finance NCPPR’s activities.”

    In other words, the “auto and oil industry execs” charge was a complete fabrication.

    We do, in fact, receive most of our money from thousands (as many as 80,000) of individuals. We do not disclose the names of these individuals as donor lists are valuable assets that can be diminished if exploited by unscrupulous marketers.

    We have, however, offered to disclose the names of all of our largest donors – those over $50,000 – if Greenpeace will do the same. Greenpeace has, so far, rebuffed this standard of transparency.

    All this is beside the point as I never suggested that we receive no funding from Exxon Mobil (it is small – less that 1% of our revenue). I did say we’ve never received funding from the corporation to work on fuel economy standards. Not even Source Watch makes this claim.

    Just to recap here: Dr. Nimon has said both that we receive money from auto and oil industry executives and that he has no way of knowing whether this is the case; he dismisses information from the only organization with access to detailed information about our sources of funding; and he misrepresents the meaning of information about our funding obtained from another source.

    One hopes these aren’t techniques he teaches his students.

    To divert attention from his error with regard to who leads our organization, he asserts that the former lobbyist he claimed led our organization served on our board of directors. Serving as one member of a board does not mean one leads a group. Words have meaning — even in journalism.

    The issue is also completely irrelevant to our work on CAFE standards.

    But an honest debate of the issues was not what Dr. Nimon intended. He intended to impugn our reputation through yellow journalism.

    Finally, Dr. Nimon asserts that when he spoke of the Jetta TDI, he was speaking of the 2008 version of the vehicle, which he claims the auto industry press asserts will get around 60 mpg (Edmunds estimates that the 2008 will get 45 mpg).

    Two problems with this: First, he completely ducks the issue that the CAFE standards in question would be an average for cars and light trucks. Getting to an average standard of 52 mpg simply wouldn’t be possible unless either everyone is driving cars getting close to 52 fuel economy or there are a sufficient number of people driving super-efficient vehicles (perhaps 75 mpg or better) to make up for the people who must drive less fuel efficient vehicles.

    Second, he seems content to treat the auto industry press as Gospel.

    I think Nimon is a bit confused as to who is actually in the hip pocket of industry.

    As for me, I’ll believe the 55 mpg figure when I see it.

    1. Reply to Ridenour
      Enough of this silliness. Ridenour leaves the basic points of my column intact while attempting to refocus attention to minor tangential issues within the piece. Even so, he fails at his attempts to discredit any aspect of the original column. For example, he focuses mostly on my claim that auto and oil industry execs are among his 80,000 (his number) individual donors. We’ve already established that Exxon/Mobil, both with corporation and “charitable” trust dollars fund his organization. And it’s clear that his organization is one of the main actors in the gas guzzler lobby, and that its propaganda mirrors that issued by the oil and auto (read: SUV) lobbies. We’re supposed to believe that, despite this, and the buzz in Washington that oil and auto execs fund his organization, there are no auto or oil execs among his 80,000 donors. The proof, and this is where Ridenour’s argument becomes comical, is that he won’t release his list of large donors unless Greenpeace does the same – and his list of donors contributing less than 50k isn’t on the table at all. The fact is that Ridenour won’t say there are no oil or auto execs among his financiers, and he won’t say who his financiers are, yet he tries to distract from the main points of my article by denouncing it for not naming the specific execs who fund his organization and whose identities he is protecting.

      Then there’s Ridenour’s argument that his organization never received money from Exxon/Mobil to work on (as in create propaganda opposing) CAFE standards. D’uh. Exxon/Mobil gives money to NCPPR who, coincidentally then produce Exxon/Mobil Friendly propaganda. This is how it works – you don’t leave paper trails just as whores don’t invoice their Johns.

      As for Jack Abramoff, I answered Ridenour’s charge in my initial reply. Abramoff was a Director of Ridenour’s organization. The Board of Directors is above the President in the organizational hierarchy. The President serves at the behest of the Board, as the actions of NCPPR’s President have demonstrated.

      And there’s Ridenour’s silly assertions about the 2008 Jetta TDI’s mileage. This time around he cites a seven month old article speculating what the 2008 TDI’s mileage will be instead of citing more recent articles with more up to date information. And none of this takes away from my other points such as the fact that my 1987 Hyundai beats the 2020 CAFE standard. Ridenour also wrote, “Getting to an average standard of 52 mpg simply wouldn’t be possible unless either everyone is driving cars getting close to 52 fuel economy.” I think that was my point.

  2. Niman Wrong Again
    First, let me thank Dr. Niman for the great compliment he paid about the prominence of our work on the CAFE issue. I doubt we are one of the “main actors,” but appreciate the compliment nonetheless.

    Yes, it has already been established that the Exxon Mobil Foundation is one of our funders – a rather small one.

    Now I’ll admit that I may not have nearly as much contact with oil company executives as Dr. Niman does, but I’ve never known any to be particularly concerned about CAFE standards. That may have something to do with the fact that the last standards worked out so well for them – gas consumption rose.

    Now as to proof that we don’t receive money from oil and auto executives, Dr. Nimon cites rumor (“buzz in Washington”) and the fact that we haven’t released our complete donor list. He also notes – rather conspiratorially — that releasing the names of our donors under “50K isn’t on the table at all.”

    For those of you keeping track, at Buffalo State College’s journalism department they now consider rumor as “proof.” Apparently, they also consider their own inadequacies in research – the mere existence of information that they don’t have access to – as evidence of whatever they want it to be.

    Embarrassing. Just embarrassing.

    Niman further states that “Ridenour won’t say there are no oil or auto execs among his financiers.”

    Apparently, Dr. Niman has never heard the old adage, “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

    First, let me address the 50K issue. We challenged Greenpeace to divulge the names of their donors giving more than $50,000 (vowing to do likewise) because we thought this was a practical number. Greenpeace has annual revenues of around $17 million and going for a lower threshold would likely require Greenpeace to provide a quite large list. Had Dr. Niman done a modicum of research, he would have found that on May 31 – posted on our website – we offered to go down to $25,000.

    As for Dr. Niman’s assertion that I won’t say that we receive no funding from oil or auto industry executives – he’s wrong.

    We receive no funding from such executives.

    Further, suggesting that my organization has prostituted itself to corporations is not only offensive, it is ethically wrong.

    The time to question whether an organization is being unduly influenced by its funding is when it begins supporting positions inconsistent with its mission. We’ve always been a free market oriented organization. We’ve always fought for individual freedom. We’ve always called for a more reasoned, less emotional approach to public policy challenges understanding that action taken in haste frequently produces unintended consequences. Higher CAFE standards are simply inconsistent with our beliefs.

    As for the board issue Niman raised, he is correct that the president of our organization serves at the pleasure of our board. But she serves at the pleasure of our entire board, not a single member. Further, our President is a voting member of our board and serves as board chairman – clearly the “leader” of our group.

    Still, I’m puzzled by the relevance. Again, what does this have to do with our position on CAFE standards?

    Dr. Niman goes on to label my assertions about the 2008 Jetta TDI’s mileage as “silly.” My “assertion” is that I’ll believe that it gets 55 mpg when an authoritative source says so. He’s only offered “auto industry press” with specificity. He hasn’t met even a modest evidentiary standard – certainly not one that would meet think tank standards.

    Niman is correct that my arguments don’t take away from other points he made such as that his Hyundai gets 40 mpg. But, of course, that was not my intention.

    Poor Michael Niman, he believes it really is all about him.

    The purpose of my remarks was not to comment on the overall quality of his work, but to correct false and misleading statements about The National Center for Public Policy Research. It isn’t my job to do editing and fact-checking his work – fortunately.

    I commented on the Jetta only because it was used in an attempt – a weak one at that – to refute our contention that a CAFE standard of 52 mpg is probably unobtainable.

    We stand on this for the reasons I’ve already provided.