Spin Cycle

Industry flacks learn how to snooker the public with their not-so-eco-friendly messages

| January 29, 2004

Owls versus loggers. Environmental regulations versus manufacturing jobs. The war between environmentalists and industry tycoons seems to be never ending, and with the presidential election less than a year away, we can only expect the fighting to intensify. Certainly the manufacturing sector is readying itself for some cutthroat rhetorical struggles. In fact, industry bigwigs recently prepared their anti-environmentalism strategy at a conference hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers entitled 'Environmental Issues 2004: How to Get Results in an Election Year,' reports Amanda Griscom of Grist magazine.

'In general terms, we are hoping to provide our members with an education about how environmental stories are created and reported, and how the creation has an effect on the political process in an election year,' NAM spokesperson Darren McKinney is quoted as saying. But it's clear that the conference's agenda wasn't that na?ve. Take, for example, Frank Maisano from Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, who spoke on a panel entitled 'Crafting Environmental Messages,' laying out three corporate strategies for fighting what McKinney calls the 'Sierra-Club, sky-is-falling crowd.' He suggested that the best way to fight pro-environmental stories is to: simplify the issues, 'give some easy analogies,' explain that industry goals will have economic benefits like creating jobs, and 'explain that [they] will actually improve the environment.'

New EPA administrator Mike Leavitt seems to have fallen for this type of corporate storytelling: he was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. And to make matters worse, the conference follows on the heels of a report -- 'Manufacturing in America' -- released by the Commerce Department, which urges the rollback of environmental regulations.

Some environmentalists have been diligently trying to counter industry by forming the Carbon Coalition, a group of 500 activists urging Democratic candidates to make environmental policy a priority. However, even if environmental issues are pushed to the foreground of the political debate, there will still be plenty of opportunity for anti-enviro 'experts' to spin them in the media, as they try to sell us their simple black-and-white, nature-versus-money story.
-- Erica Wetter

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