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Richard Caperton on How Clean Energy Can Out-Communicate the Fossil Fuel Industries on MLPs

3 min. read

This is our fourth post in a series on on Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). The posts are driven by a recent Scaling Green Communicating Energy lecture by nationally recognized energy finance expert Richard Caperton of the Center for American Progress.  In Part 1, Caperton explained MLPs, as well as the potentially huge impact they could have on clean energy in the United States. In Part 2, Caperton's focus turned to the pluses and minuses of MLPs relative to the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) and solar’s Investment Tax Credit (ITC). In Part 3, Caperton talked about the need to level the playing field between clean and dirty energy (hint: it’s drastically tilted toward dirty right now).

But to Caperton, there’s another uneven field as well: the communications landscape. The heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry puts out reams of disinformation, mostly about the (scantly subsidized) clean energy industry's supposed “dependence” on government policy support. A few thoughts from Caperton paint a picture of the communications playing field we're dealing with:

[The fossil fuel industries] have done a very, very good job of turning conversation around and making renewables less popular than they should be, especially on Capitol Hill. Now if you go out to the general American public, the public is extremely supportive of clean energy, very supportive of dealing with climate change, very supportive of the economic development and clean air that comes from these investments in clean energy. But you go up on Capitol Hill and it's a different story. It's people talking about "Drill Baby Drill" and various updates of that. But it's a tough time in Washington D.C. for national legislation because of that.

The fossil fuel industries have practically unlimited amounts of money to propagandize the conversation into the fantasy land in which the heavily subsidized get everyone to focus on the lightly supported.  Caperton’s remedy?

Fairness…That point sells very well on Capitol Hill. People on both sides of the aisle like this point and I think it's very effective...These people are taking our money, they're taking our resources, and then they're profiting from it in a way that you and I can't profit from. It's unfair. And it's especially unfair because it's a resource that's poisoning the air and causing climate change. And it's especially unfair, beyond those, in that it's not available to everybody. The way you can sell MLPs is that this is a logical step that renewable energy can benefit. I would also add that you can't be afraid of talking about tax policy. Energy policy is tax policy in the United States, and we need to find ways to communicate it better.

Fighting back against the fossil fuel lobby by pointing out the unfairness of wealthy, powerful, entrenched industries continuing to receive massive handouts from the taxpayer looks like an eminently intelligent strategy. It looks even more intelligent when considering the context: our country is suffering through a period of serious economic problems and budget constraints, in which everybody but the fossil fuel industries - even the military, which had been essentially untouchable until recently - has been forced to sacrifice. ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers get welfare checks, while funds are slashed for other important, national priorities. Does that sound fair to you? It certainly doesn't to us.