An essay by Taylor Smith on Anthony Watts’ Watts Up With That? blog caught my attention: “EPA ‘Public Listening Session’ Turns Into Sierra Club Talking Session.”
Although the EPA hearing yielded the same mix of speakers, this time I noticed they were all wearing green Sierra Club “Climate Action Now” shirts.
The reason for this, I would later learn, was that the Sierra Club had mobilized hundreds of activists, transported them via bus (I presume of the fossil-fuel powered kind), prepped their testimonies the night before, and completely dominated the morning speaker slots. (There were several coal industry representatives in the morning, and a few other dissenters, including Heartland Policy Adviser Paul Driessen, who covered his experience here). By the afternoon, the Sierra Club had completely monopolized the speaking time (at least in the room I was in).
After the hearing, everyone was invited to a “Climate Social” held at the Sierra Club’s office with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, and Illinois state Sen. Michael Frerichs.
Now maybe it’s just me, but I felt a slight level of discomfort when I saw a single organization dominate a “public” hearing in the way that they did. I don’t care what the organization is or what they say they stand for, because if their 2011 listed revenue is over $97 million, then you know not all of it could have fallen in their laps from heaven.
The session concerned EPA carbon regulations, but I have attended forestry-oriented public meetings and listening sessions at which most, if not all, attendees seemed to represent the same position, if not the same organization. I’ve been to others at which everyone seemed independent. In this case, the Sierra Club didn’t do anything wrong; I’ll bet that industry groups have done the same at hearings on various issues. It’s a bit like asking its members to sign a form letter and e-mail it to an agency. But I’m curious about the effect of “packing” public meetings like this. Agencies these days often count and report the number of “original” letters and form letters for project or plan proposals. Do agencies somehow give more or less weight to public comments from attendees organized or transported by a single group?
Note that Driessen was one of the speakers and he certainly wasn’t wearing a Sierra Club shirt. So, Smith was incorrect — they were not “all wearing green Sierra Club “Climate Action Now” shirts.” The photo on the blog shows a lot of those green shirts in the audience.