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Unions, industry collaborate on big oil astroturfing campaign in RI



The Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council (Council) is working with a Koch brother-funded astroturfing campaign to fight against renewable energy, an email obtained by UpriseRI reveals. Michael Sabitoni, president of the Council, had distributed to union members and legislators an email from Paul Hartman of Energy4US, a shadowy oil industry insider, asking if “someone from your shop could add a comment or two” to a Facebook post that labeled Energy4US as a “‘big oil’ entity,” according to the email.

Efforts to contact Mr Sabitoni were unsuccessful.

“We are thrilled to have the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council on board with Energy4US and I look forward to working with you and your members in the future,” said Hartman in the email.

Energy4US is an astroturfing campaign attempting to raise support for fossil fuels and downplay the expansion of renewable energy sources. In Rhode Island, Energy4US has concentrated on opposing the carbon tax bill proposed by Representative Aaron Regunberg. Astroturfing “is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by a grassroots participants.”

On June 20 Paul Hartman, the coalition advisor for Energy4US, sent Sabitoni the following email:

In the email Hartman notes the existence of “a few comments on Facebook” that call Energy4US out as an astroturfing group, or in the words of Hartman, “only a ‘big Oil’ entity.” Hartman asks Sabitoni if “someone from your shop could add a comment or two to the post highlighting your collective concerns with such proposals.”

Sabitoni promptly forwarded the email to three recipients under the header, “Energy4US and RI Carbon Tax proposal” saying:

Scott send this out to all b[uilding] t[rades] reps… Faith put this up on our web site please…thx M

Here’s the Facebook post in question, and here is a link to the ‘op-ed’ –

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According to Frackorporation, “Energy 4 Us lists no one by name with regards to staff or contact… To the casual viewer it appears to be an independent ‘grassroots’ group.” Paul Hartman, who identifies himself as Energy4US’s coalition advisor in his email to Sabitoni, is mentioned as the Regional Director, State Affairs for America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) in the Frackorporation piece. Hartman does not list his involvement with Energy4US on his LinkedIn page.

In an email Hartman confirmed that he has “recently come on board as the Coalition Advisor.” He answered none of my questions regarding the claims that Energy4US is an astroturfing group, instead claiming that, “E4US is a collaboration of diverse organizations from across the northeast who have an interest in affordable, reliable energy for our families, employers, employees, communities, schools, hospitals and the most vulnerable among us.”

The Council is listed on the website, seen below, second from the bottom of the list. Hartman wrote, “I would encourage you to check back often to see the growth of the collaboration and check our social media feeds for educational posts on national and regional energy issues.”

The Council is listed as a member of the Energy4US coalition, along with many other union groups such as the New York State Iron Workers District Council and the Connecticut State Building Trades and Construction Council. Also listed on the website as a coalition member is American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). The AFPM is yet another coalition, of big oil companies that includes ExxonMobil, Citgo and Koch Industries.

[This post originally appeared on RI Future.]

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.