Saturday, November 15, 2008

AWEA--Not in Kansas Any More

Denise Bode was named by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Friday as its next CEO, and will take over from Randall S. Swisher on January 2, 2009. Swisher headed the AWEA for the past 19 years.

Not surprisingly, the AWEA press release was effusive:

Bode, who is currently CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation, is a nationally recognized energy policy expert and served for nine years on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Her experience in the energy field is extensive and includes seven years as President of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and nine years on the staff of then–U.S. Senator David Boren (D-OK) as his legal counsel, focusing on the areas of energy and taxation.

“Denise Bode is an extremely dynamic and well-respected leader on energy issues in Washington, D.C.,” said Swisher, “and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to AWEA. We are very fortunate to have such a talented and able individual available to lead the Association at a time when renewable energy stands on the threshold of dramatically expanding its contribution to America’s energy supply.”
No doubt space considerations were the reason to leave out a few other parts of Bode's energy credentials, particularly her service on George W. Bush's Energy Transition Advisory Team. In that role perhaps she also participated in Dick Cheney's still-secret energy task force which is thought to have largely shaped administration energy policy for the past 8 years. (That policy, so favorable to the Fossil Industry, represents an enormous lost opportunity that will now be much harder to accomplish.) Bode has also been a lecturer at the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

Bode is currently the CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF), a position she has held from its founding last year. What is the ACSF? It may not have an agenda, but its backers in the natural gas industry sure do. The appointment of Bode suggests opportunism by a still-committed Fossil Industry to co-opt a new political mandate and shape it for their own benefit. The AWEA press release includes an endorsement from her current employer:
“We were very lucky to have Denise’s leadership to get ACSF established as a real player in the debate on energy and the environment,” said Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman and Founder of the American Clean Skies Foundation.
ACSF has certainly been running ads extolling natural gas, but the extent to which it has been a "player in the debate" is subjective at best. Bode's position at the helm, however, had little to do with luck. ACSF was founded by Aubrey McClendon, billionaire owner of Chesapeake Energy, one of the country's largest producers and sellers of natural gas. Source Watch lists Bode and McClendon as the "personnel" of the foundation, and their relationship extends back many years. Together McClendon and Bode have sought to advance the purpose of ACSF: to advocate for "clean-burning" natural gas and to attempt to position natural gas as a "natural partner" for truly clean renewable energy, like wind.

McClendon was one of the members of the Professional Basketball LLC, a group lead by fellow Oklahoman Clayton Bennett who prevailed on a gullible Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to sell them the Seattle SuperSonics, Seattle's NBA team owned by Schultz. The group publicly insisted that "It is our desire to have the Sonics and Storm stay in Seattle," but McClendon, in an unguarded moment, let slip the truth: "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle." Not for speaking the truth, but for revealing the lie, smarmy carpetbagger David Stern, the NBA commissioner, fined McClendon $250,000. After a year of making unreasonable demands for large taxpayer subsidies and fending off lawsuits, they took their new plaything back to Oklahoma.

McClendon was also one of the chief financiers, along with his good friend T. Boone Pickens, of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the "independent" group that played such an instrumental role in besmirching John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. The smear group's claims proved to be exaggerations and outright lies, but achieved their intended effect.

McClendon has also helped fund and direct political campaigns of people who can help him pursue his business interests. His support ranges from his pal Picken's eponymous Plan, to their joint (but failed) effort to foist Proposition 10 on California voters two weeks ago. McClendon also contributed to Bode's unsuccessful run for Oklahoma's 5th congressional seat in 2006. (She lost in the Republican primary to the then Lieutenant-Governor.)

So why am I writing so much about Aubrey McClendon when he's not actually becoming the head of AWEA? Because he doesn't need to personally run AWEA to get what he wants. McClendon's history shows that he backs and funds liars who shill for him and his political and business interests. With the plunge in natural gas prices, the broader economy and general confidence, McClendon's fortunes have declined both economically and politically. There may be a cautionary morality tale in all this; however, the tale is not over and McClendon, as Fortune noted, is too combative to simply give up.

For her part, Bode was enthusiastic on taking control of one of the country's leading voices for renewable energy:

I am thrilled by my new opportunity of working with the AWEA team to grow wind power in the U.S. I am particularly proud of the role I played as Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner to bring commercial wind power to Oklahoma.
We can perhaps give Bode some of the benefit of the doubt; her advocacy of wind energy does go back several years, even if her motivations are less apparent. As recently as this past April she showed her first priority:
Bode, former Oklahoma Corporation commissioner who is now CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation, told about 1,100 oil and gas producers at a Texas Alliance of Energy Producers’ luncheon Wednesday that the natural gas industry needs to “elbow our way into the debate on energy.”
The sharp end of the elbow is encapsulated by their preferred term "clean-burning." In reality, natural gas does not and can not burn "cleanly" but only "cleaner," emitting about half the greenhouse gases of dirty coal. Suggesting our clean and environmentally sustainable future should use gas rather than coal is literally a half-measure. Traveling at full speed or at half-speed on the wrong road still takes one to the wrong destination.

Of greater concern than the elevation of an unabashedly pro-fossil workhorse like Bode to head a renewable energy advocacy organization is the man behind the curtain, to whom, based on the wizardry of his earlier successes, we should be paying very close attention.
Digg It! Delicious Stumble Technorati Twitter Facebook


A Siegel said...

Very good discussion, illuminating. Hadn't had the time to consider the implications, but ACSF to AWEA was already concerning enough. This moves the issue beyond simply concerning.

Alessandro Machi said...

Bode was just on C-SPAN about an two hours ago. She believes we will run 20% of our energy off of wind by 2030.

She did speak well of natural gas at some point near the end of the show, but she seems to be an advocate of wind energy based on the final portion of the show that I happenrd to catch.

CBL said...

After nearly a year at the helm of AWEA, Bode appears sincere in advancing wind energy. She remains, however, a gas partisan and has a long history of shilling for gas interests like Chesapeake even after leaving ACSF for AWEA.

Saying gas is better than oil is damning with faint praise. Gas may have a necessarily increased role in the transition to a clean energy economy, but overblown claims about supposedly proven reserves could also lead to a mistaken belief that gas is a long-term answer, leading to lessened investment in renewables.

For all her good words on wind, Bode is still fond of gas, especially the Barnett Shale. Shale has a lot of problems and is a political distraction. Bode should stick to advocating wind and seek alliances with other renewable energy generation and storage technologies.

(My apologies for the delay in moderating the previous comment; not sure why Blogger insists o archiving these when I keep specifying no moderation.)