The New Soldiers in Propane’s Fight Against Climate Action: Television Stars


For D.I.Y. fans, Matt Blashaw is a well-recognized face, judging toilet remodels or planning shock house makeovers on in style cable tv exhibits.

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

“After I consider winter, I consider being inside. I consider cooking with the household, of being by a roaring fireplace — and with propane, that’s all doable,” he mentioned on a section of the CBS affiliate WCIA, calling in from his brilliant kitchen. “That’s why we name it an power supply for everybody.”

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

The Propane Training and Analysis Council, or PERC, which is funded by propane suppliers throughout the nation, has spent hundreds of thousands of {dollars} on “provocative anti-electrification messaging” for TV, print and social media, utilizing influencers like Mr. Blashaw, based on 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 campaigns. However based on 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, based on the paperwork, which have been obtained from PERC’s web site in addition to a public data 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, fuel 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 lower these emissions to keep away from a catastrophic escalation of lethal flooding, warmth waves, drought and species extinction.

The propane trade sees issues otherwise. It must “fight the rising narrative that fossil gasoline combustion is the primary explanation for local weather change, and that propane is a grimy fossil gasoline,” Stuart Weidie, chairman and chief govt of North Carolina propane firm Blossman Gasoline, advised the propane council at a February 2021 assembly.

“The motion to affect all the pieces is quickly gaining momentum, and poses a considerable risk to the sustainability of our trade,” he mentioned, based on assembly minutes.

Erin Hatcher, who heads communications at PERC, mentioned its marketing campaign “asserts propane’s position in a clear power future” and “promotes some great benefits of a large path to decarbonization.” Influencers like Mr. Blashaw, she mentioned “use and specify propane of their building initiatives and are very accustomed to propane’s benefits.” Ms. Hatcher wouldn’t say how a lot her group has paid Mr. Blashaw.

Mr. Weidie mentioned that his basic perception within the significance of a low-carbon future had been “misplaced in out-of-context dialog.” He mentioned he believed electrification was set to “play a giant position however is just not the one reply,” and that propane was “an amazing power for generations to come back.”

Mr. Blashaw referred inquiries to PERC.

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

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

Congress has accepted billions of {dollars} to assist Individuals 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 cut back demand for propane, which is utilized in 50 million American houses, in furnaces, stoves, fireplaces and a variety of home equipment, based on the Nationwide Propane Gasoline Affiliation. Propane, like pure fuel, doesn’t emit as a lot planet-warming greenhouse gases as coal, gasoline or diesel. But it surely’s nonetheless derived from fossil fuels.

“If you happen to’re burning fuel to warmth your own home anyplace in a northern local weather, it’s an enormous quantity of emissions, most likely the biggest a part of your emissions,” mentioned Forrest Meggers, an affiliate professor at Princeton.

The propane trade’s anti-electrification marketing campaign has been significantly effectively funded due to PERC’s standing as a federally-sanctioned commerce affiliation.

A 1996 regulation licensed the creation of PERC and allowed it to gather a half-cent charge on each gallon of propane it sells, an instance of what’s referred to as a federal “checkoff program” designed to help particular trade sectors, usually agricultural commodities. These charges are supposed for use for security and shopper schooling, coaching, or analysis and improvement initiatives.

However ambiguous language within the authentic invoice, along with restricted oversight by the Division of Vitality, has meant the group has diverted hundreds of thousands of {dollars} from the charge towards advertising, 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 charge, 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 trade group to handle the “huge problem from well-funded efforts to affect your complete state” — particularly, to struggle 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 environment by 2040.

New York had handed “probably the most radical local weather change laws within the nation” and propane was “marked for extinction, together with pure fuel, heating oil and gasoline,” Wealthy Goldberg, whose public relations agency led the trouble, warned final yr in a weblog put up. The propane trade wanted to run an “aggressive, fuel-neutral marketing campaign geared toward slowing down the CLCPA electrification freight practice,” he mentioned, referring to New York’s Local weather Management and Neighborhood Safety Act.

On social media and an opposition web site, the native New York Propane Gasoline 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, mentioned Dr. Meggers of Princeton. Federal rebates of as much as $8,000 for low- and moderate-income households, in addition to varied state-level incentives, have made warmth pumps extra inexpensive. And environment friendly warmth pumps can save households a whole bunch of {dollars} a yr, in comparison with oil and fuel programs, based on the Division of Vitality.

Nonetheless, by the New York propane group’s personal accounting, its social media adverts reached 2 million folks, and its movies have been proven greater than 2.8 million occasions. “PERC is working the biggest nationwide anti-electrification marketing campaign I’ve encountered anyplace in america,” mentioned Charlie Spatz, a researcher on the Vitality and Coverage Institute. “Propane prospects, whether or not they’re shopping for gasoline for his or her house heating or for his or her grill, they’re unwittingly funding PERC’s anti-climate agenda.”

In an interview, Mr. Goldberg stood by his characterization of the New York local weather regulation. “Individuals could be required to transform their power use of their home, how they drive, how energy is produced,” he mentioned. “That’s fairly excessive.”

Ms. Hatcher of PERC, in the meantime, mentioned the council was unaware of any present issues about its spending. She mentioned the group makes positive the actions it funds are licensed below the 1996 regulation and added that almost all of its funds goes to analysis and improvement, coaching, and security schooling.

PERC budgets for 2021-2023 seen by The Occasions present that advertising and communications is the biggest spending class.

The Vitality Division and New York Propane Gasoline Affiliation didn’t present remark.

The propane trade’s messaging has gone past heating.

“Area Gal” Emily Calandrelli is a Massachusetts Institute of Expertise-trained science communicator who has hosted exhibits on Netflix.

She is now a paid influencer for the propane trade, based on PERC paperwork.

Final August, Ms. Calandrelli appeared on native Houston community CW39 to malign electrical bus know-how as costly, unreliable — and, the place the electrical grid remains to be powered closely by coal and pure fuel, not very clear.

“The excellent news is that there are actually higher options for cleaner faculty buses at present, like propane faculty buses,” she mentioned, which may scale back tailpipe emissions for a far decrease value.

Consultants query that declare. For tailpipe emissions that might each hurt youngsters’ lungs and heat the planet, “electrical buses are going to alter the sport,” mentioned Li Hailin, a professor at West Virginia College. And with the federal authorities offering $5 billion towards electrical faculty buses, there may be little purpose to go along with propane, he mentioned.

Federal guidelines require broadcasters to announce when content material has been sponsored or paid for in any method. CW39 did state that Ms. Calandrelli is working with “Vitality For Everybody,” however didn’t identify the propane trade.

Ms. Hatcher of PERC mentioned TV networks have been totally conscious of their friends’ sponsors. Ms. Calandrelli referred inquiries to PERC. CW39 didn’t reply to requests for remark.


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