Kari Lydersen is a freelance writer for a newsletter published by the renewable advocacy organization, Fresh Energy, called Mid-West Energy News. I met her when she covered climate scientist James Hansen and my visit to Chicago last April.
I saw her again yesterday at our "Save the Nukes! Save the Climate!" march in Chicago, and we spoke again this morning.
The first time and second time Kari interviewed me she asked me at least three times who our funders were and whether we were taking corporate money — even though the chair of my board, and first donor, Rachel Pritzker was right there with me.
Yesterday, Kari marched up to Rachel again and asked her whether we were taking money from fossil fuel companies.
I immediately asked Kari what she was accusing.
She said, "Oh, not fossil fuel — nuclear companies."
I explained that nothing had changed since she first asked me that.
It is Environmental Progress's explicit policy since we were founded on January 1, 2016 that we would not take any energy company money, as we have stated since January 1 on our web site.
In fact, I told her, I was proud that we now have have 12 donors — all listed on our web site.
Kari then proceeded to argue with me about whether I really believe there is a conflict of interest between the two targets of our march, Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), and one of its corporate donors, the natural gas-renewables company, Invenergy.
As background, ELPC is an $6 million anti-nuclear group that represents itself as defending the public interest on climate change but killed negotiations to save Clinton and Quad Cities.
And Invenergy, and many of the other energy companies that fund ELPC, stands to benefit significantly from replacing the electricity from the two nuclear plants.
Given Kari's line of questioning, I finally asked her who funds her work.
Kari said there was a "fire wall" between her reporting and the corporate donations.
After she emailed me again last night, asking about my donors, I got so fed up that I decided to do some digging.
Would you be shocked to learn her employer, Midwest Energy News, which is run by Fresh Energy, takes money from both fossil and renewable energy companies?
I interviewed her about all of this today.
I think Kari means well, but there are some troubling findings here — findings I only inadvertently discovered because of her lack of awareness of the double standard she is prosecuting against those she disagrees with.
Interview conducted by telephone on October 25, 2016
I asked you before if you have a firewall between you and the corporate donations that come to your organization.
Yeah we do.
What happens if you get money from a wind company and you have to cover that same wind company?
I can tell you my experience but I know from my own experience that the editor comes from mainstream journalism and wouldn’t let that affect it.
I go about my reporting as though it were for a corporate mainstream outlet so I don’t know or care what other connections there may be and have never had any pushback or question so I know that the firewall
My editor wouldn’t work there because he comes from the journalism world.
I didn’t catch his name.
I didn’t say it but it’s Ken Pauman, editor
Is it a conflict of interest for Breitbart news to take money from a fossil fuel company and report on that fossil fuel company?
In the old days it was rightly considered that way but things have changed because media have changed as you know. There are different standards now.
I feel like the industry standard is just transparency. You see nonprofits funding stories that go in the New York Times and Washington Post and all media take sources of funding that they haven’t taken in the past
So transparency is the key.
Do the fossil fuel and other corporate energy donations bother you?
I don’t know exactly the set up and for those reasons and is affiliated with Fresh Energy but wouldn’t be the person to ask.
Did you know they take money from all those fossil fuel companies?
No, I didn’t know that.
Does that bother you?
Not in the slightest. In fact I’m glad to hear that because I’m coming from journalism world and not the advocacy world, and fossil fuels are not black and white, and there’s not one way to cover one fossil fuel company, so I’m glad to hear that.
In an ideal world, though, media is funded by regular capitalism and subscriptions but if there’s underwriters it’s different.
If that’s the case does it worry you that there’s no nuclear donors?
They can if they want to. The nuclear companies probably didn’t offer. But I haven’t looked at the specific companies.
Is it a problem for environmental groups like ELPC to be taking money from companies like Invenergy that stand to benefit financially from taking down Clinton and Quad?
I really don’t. There’s a difference between — I’m talking Mid-West Energy News. In terms of advocates, and I don’t think it’s a problem because climate change is complicated. We’ve had this conversation about ELPC already, so no. I don’t think it’s a problem. All these companies are calling for clean energy and you’re not going to find any of them that are pro-climate change. So I don’t share your concern.
You don’t think it’s a conflict of interest for a natural gas company that stands to make significant money from the closure of Clinton and Quad funding a group that is trying to shut down Clinton and Quad?
It’s such a big landscape. I know you don’t take money from any company. But other groups advocate for nuclear and they have interest on the ideological level and the financial level on these issues and you can’t make generalizations and they are complicated and there are situations where there might be a clear conflict of interest.
You don't’ see that conflict with Invenergy and ELPC. They are allowed to lobby.
That doesn’t look like greenwashing to you?
For me, I’m not speaking for any group, and am speaking in my opinion. That whole question is framed wrong because nobody is trying to close those plants. It’s just a market.
Come on, you really think Illinois electricity markets are free? You worked at In These Times, I think you know it’s not free.
I don’t think Invenergy is trying to close Clinton and Quad. Nobody’s trying to pass a law to close the plants. Exelon is saying they need money to keep them open.
You think it’s a free market?
There are unfair things but there are other unfair things.
What if the tables were turned and solar and wind were at risk of being cut in half and only needed half the subsidy nuclear gets?
I’d be curious. It’s just a different issue. And there’s a million different policies. And it’s different issue.
So just to be clear — are you saying you have no problem with ELPC and your employer taking money from fossil fuel and clean energy companies?
Everything I’ve said here I’ve said with journalism colleagues over the years and I definitely think it’s an interesting conversation. I’m speaking on my own behalf.