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The New Troopers in Propane’s Struggle In opposition to Local weather Motion: Tv Stars



For D.I.Y. fans, Matt Blashaw is a well-recognized face, judging rest room remodels or planning shock dwelling makeovers on standard cable tv exhibits.

Mr. Blashaw additionally has an unusually robust opinion about how People ought to warmth their houses: by burning propane, or liquid petroleum gasoline.

“When I think of winter, I think of being inside. I think of cooking with the family, of being by a roaring fire — and with propane, that is all possible,” he stated on a phase of the CBS affiliate WCIA, calling in from his vibrant kitchen. “That’s why we call it an energy source for everyone.”

Much less well-known is the truth that Mr. Blashaw is paid by a fossil gasoline business group that has been operating a furtive marketing campaign in opposition to authorities efforts to maneuver heating away from oil and gasoline towards electrical energy produced from wind, photo voltaic and different cleaner sources.

The Propane Schooling and Analysis Council, or PERC, which is funded by propane suppliers throughout the nation, has spent tens of millions of {dollars} on “provocative anti-electrification messaging” for TV, print and social media, utilizing influencers like Mr. Blashaw, in keeping with the group’s inner paperwork considered by The New York Occasions.

As a federally-sanctioned commerce affiliation, PERC is allowed to gather charges on propane gross sales, which helps fund its advertising and marketing campaigns. However in keeping with the regulation that created this technique, that cash is meant for use for issues like analysis and security.

In 2023, the group plans to spend $13 million on its anti-electrification marketing campaign, together with $600,000 on “influencers” like Mr. Blashaw, in keeping with the paperwork, which have been obtained from PERC’s web site in addition to a public information request by the Vitality and Coverage Institute, a pro-renewables group.

The overwhelming majority of scientists across the globe agree that the burning of coal, gasoline and oil produces greenhouse gases which might be dangerously heating the planet. Scientists commissioned by the United Nations have warned that nations should deeply and shortly minimize these emissions to keep away from a catastrophic escalation of lethal flooding, warmth waves, drought and species extinction.

The propane business sees issues in another way. It must “combat the growing narrative that fossil fuel combustion is the main cause of climate change, and that propane is a dirty fossil fuel,” Stuart Weidie, chairman and chief government of North Carolina propane firm Blossman Fuel, instructed the propane council at a February 2021 assembly.

“The movement to electrify everything is rapidly gaining momentum, and poses a substantial threat to the sustainability of our industry,” he stated, in keeping with assembly minutes.

Erin Hatcher, who heads communications at PERC, stated its marketing campaign “asserts propane’s role in a clean energy future” and “promotes the advantages of a wide path to decarbonization.” Influencers like Mr. Blashaw, she stated “use and specify propane in their construction projects and are very familiar with propane’s advantages.” Ms. Hatcher wouldn’t say how a lot her group has paid Mr. Blashaw.

Mr. Weidie stated that his basic perception within the significance of a low-carbon future had been “lost in out-of-context conversation.” He stated he believed electrification was set to “play a big role but is not the only answer,” and that propane was “a great energy for generations to come.”

Mr. Blashaw referred inquiries to PERC.

Most American houses are heated by pure gasoline or oil. However in states the place the vitality grid is more and more powered by wind, photo voltaic and different renewables, electrical warmth pumps are quick turning into a lower-carbon different to gasoline and oil. They warmth in addition to cool.

Researchers at Princeton College discovered that for the USA to cease including greenhouse gases to the ambiance by 2050, almost one-quarter of American houses would want to change to warmth pumps. That’s double the quantity in the present day.

Congress has accredited billions of {dollars} to assist People electrify buildings, together with tax credit for warmth pumps, as a part of the key local weather regulation handed final summer season.

However such a shift would scale back demand for propane, which is utilized in 50 million American houses, in furnaces, stoves, fireplaces and a variety of home equipment, in keeping with the Nationwide Propane Fuel Affiliation. Propane, like pure gasoline, doesn’t emit as a lot planet-warming greenhouse gases as coal, gasoline or diesel. However it’s nonetheless derived from fossil fuels.

“If you’re burning gas to heat your house anywhere in a northern climate, it’s a huge amount of emissions, probably the largest part of your emissions,” stated Forrest Meggers, an affiliate professor at Princeton.

The propane business’s anti-electrification marketing campaign has been notably nicely funded due to PERC’s standing as a federally-sanctioned commerce affiliation.

A 1996 regulation approved the creation of PERC and allowed it to gather a half-cent payment on each gallon of propane it sells, an instance of what’s often called a federal “checkoff program” designed to assist particular business sectors, sometimes agricultural commodities. These charges are supposed for use for security and shopper schooling, coaching, or analysis and growth initiatives.

However ambiguous language within the unique invoice, along with restricted oversight by the Division of Vitality, has meant the group has diverted tens of millions of {dollars} from the payment towards advertising and marketing, together with its anti-electrification campaigns. The Authorities Accountability Workplace, the investigative arm of Congress, has repeatedly raised issues that PERC has been misusing the funds it raises from the payment, which involves greater than $40 million a yr, and criticized lax authorities oversight.

PERC has additionally funded teams engaged on campaigns in response to federal and state local weather insurance policies, probably violating a provision within the 1996 regulation that bans the group from lobbying, the G.A.O. has warned.

In 2022, for instance, PERC dedicated almost $900,000 to a New York propane business group to deal with the “massive challenge from well-funded efforts to electrify the entire state” — particularly, to combat insurance policies stemming from New York’s 2019 local weather regulation which, amongst different targets, goals to make sure that buildings and automobiles cease including greenhouse gases to the ambiance by 2040.

New York had handed “the most radical climate change legislation in the country” and propane was “marked for extinction, along with natural gas, heating oil and gasoline,” Wealthy Goldberg, whose public relations agency led the trouble, warned final yr in a weblog put up. The propane business wanted to run an “aggressive, fuel-neutral campaign aimed at slowing down the CLCPA electrification freight train,” he stated, referring to New York’s Local weather Management and Group Safety Act.

On social media and an opposition web site, the native New York Propane Fuel Affiliation panned warmth pumps as cripplingly costly and unreliable, particularly in chilly climates, urging residents to oppose the state’s local weather plans. The group additionally lobbied in opposition to a state carbon tax, which did not advance.

The group’s declare about warmth pumps is deceptive. Advances in know-how imply the pumps are efficient in colder areas, stated Dr. Meggers of Princeton. Federal rebates of as much as $8,000 for low- and moderate-income households, in addition to numerous state-level incentives, have made warmth pumps extra reasonably priced. And environment friendly warmth pumps can save households lots of of {dollars} a yr, in comparison with oil and gasoline techniques, in keeping with the Division of Vitality.

Nonetheless, by the New York propane group’s personal accounting, its social media advertisements reached 2 million individuals, and its movies have been proven greater than 2.8 million occasions. “PERC is running the largest national anti-electrification campaign I’ve encountered anywhere in the United States,” said Charlie Spatz, a researcher at the Energy and Policy Institute. “Propane customers, whether they’re buying fuel for their home heating or for their grill, they’re unwittingly funding PERC’s anti-climate agenda.”

In an interview, Mr. Goldberg stood by his characterization of the New York climate law. “People would be required to convert their energy use in their house, how they drive, how power is produced,” he said. “That’s pretty extreme.”

Ms. Hatcher of PERC, meanwhile, said the council was unaware of any current concerns about its spending. She said the group makes sure the activities it funds are authorized under the 1996 law and added that most of its budget goes to research and development, training, and safety education.

PERC budgets for 2021-2023 seen by The Times show that marketing and communications is the largest spending category.

The Energy Department and New York Propane Gas Association did not provide comment.

The propane industry’s messaging has gone beyond heating.

“Space Gal” Emily Calandrelli is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained science communicator who has hosted shows on Netflix.

She is now a paid influencer for the propane industry, according to PERC documents.

Last August, Ms. Calandrelli appeared on local Houston network CW39 to malign electric bus technology as expensive, unreliable — and, where the electric grid is still powered heavily by coal and natural gas, not very clean.

“The good news is that there are now better alternatives for cleaner school buses today, like propane school buses,” she said, which could reduce tailpipe emissions for a far lower cost.

Experts question that claim. For tailpipe emissions that could both harm kids’ lungs and warm the planet, “electric buses are going to change the game,” said Li Hailin, a professor at West Virginia University. And with the federal government providing $5 billion toward electric school buses, there is little reason to go with propane, he said.

Federal rules require broadcasters to announce when content has been sponsored or paid for in any way. CW39 did state that Ms. Calandrelli is working with “Energy For Everyone,” but did not name the propane industry.

Ms. Hatcher of PERC said TV networks were fully aware of their guests’ sponsors. Ms. Calandrelli referred questions to PERC. CW39 did not respond to requests for comment.

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