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Environmentalists just gained a new enemy in the fight against natural gas pipelines — ThinkProgress

By Mark Hand

The electric utility sector’s top lobbying group is teaming up with fossil fuel trade associations as part of an effort to intensify the industry’s campaign against citizen and environmental groups opposed to fracking and new natural gas pipelines.

A senior official at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said at a recent conference in Pittsburgh that her trade group has grown “very aware of the ‘Keep It in the Ground’ movement” as its member companies have become more reliant on natural gas. These activists are opposed to the extraction of all fossil fuels, not just coal, said Karen Obenshain, senior director of fuels, technology, and commercial policy, according to Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, who attended the conference. (Kasper worked at the Center for American Progress from 2012-2014. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent project of CAP.)

From Keystone XL to Dakota Access to ongoing efforts to curtail oil and gas drilling, anti-fossil fuel activists caught the attention of energy companies and their representatives in Washington years ago. Aside from only a small number of victories, however, the activists have largely been unable to stop pipelines or slow down fracking. And yet the gas industry isn’t taking any chances; it wants to ensure its winning percentage remains strong.

EEI brings to the table a budget of $90 million and a strong lobbying network in Washington and state capitals that can be used to help squelch fossil fuel resistance. The trade group plans to join the American Petroleum Institute, the American Gas Association, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America to advocate for natural gas, Obenshain said at Platts’ Coal Marketing Days conference in late September, according to Kasper.

EEI and the fossil fuel industry groups, Obenshain said, are in the “early stages” of putting together a campaign to counter opposition to fracking and pipelines. “We’re looking at what advocacy platforms we have out there — that the [natural gas] trades have already — to use and push back against the opposition,” she said, according to Kasper.

Natural gas groups have been running advocacy campaigns and paying for television advertisements to promote fracking for almost a decade. EEI has experience fighting citizen-driven movements — for instance, the lobbying group’s efforts to stymie rooftop solar — that it can bring to the industry partnership. EEI did not respond to ThinkProgress’ multiple requests for comment regarding the new effort described by Obenshain.

Altogether, EEI and the three natural gas trade groups received about $350 million in revenue from their members in 2015, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, a utility watchdog organization. The industry groups have used these membership funds to pay for advertising campaigns or new organizations, with the aim of reaching the general public and policymakers at the state and local levels.

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