Dark Money Behind Food & Water Watch Ad Blitz Attacking Clean Energy in New York

A $14 million-a-year anti-nuclear outfit called Food and Water Watch refuses to say who is funding its slick, last minute TV ad blitz and lobbying effort aimed at killing New York's largest source of clean energy in the state legislature.

Food and Water Watch created a front group called "Stop the Cuomo Tax" that does not reveal who is financing the effort, and Food and Water Watch spokespersons Alex Beauchamp, New York Director, and Eric Weltman, Senior Organizer, also refused to reveal the funding source.

Climate scientist James Hansen denounced Food and Water Watch earlier this year, calling the group "the most anti-environmental of all of the anti-nuclear groups operating in New York state." Hansen is Senior Science Advisor to Environmental Progress, which worked to save nuclear plants in Illinois and New York last year.

Now, Food and Water Watch has expanded its efforts with advertising in New York — one of the most expensive media markets in the country — with the apparent goal of killing the historic legislation passed last year by the New York Public Service Commission, which recognized the importance of nuclear as a source of clean, reliable power. 

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When asked why Food and Water Watch is running the ads, Beauchamp said, "We’ve been opposed to nuclear power forever. There’s a way you can close these plants and replace them with renewables."

When asked for an example of when a nuclear plant had closed and not been replaced by fossil fuels, Beauchamp said, "I'm not an expert on that. But there’s been a whole series of hearings and testimony by Mark Jacobsen and NYPIRG and others."

The US Energy Information Administration, Environmental Progress, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance have all done studies showing that when nuclear plants close, they are replaced overwhelmingly by coal and natural gas, which would also happen if New York closed its nuclear plants.

Fossil fuel interests have been extremely active in New York trying to kill nuclear, and the main organizations working to kill nuclear power — including the Sierra Club and NRDC — take money from and are invested in natural gas and renewable energy companies that stand to make a profit from closing nuclear plants.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the American Petroleum Institute joined the effort led by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club to kill nuclear energy, spending millions on direct mail advertisements, one of which was even mailed to Hansen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Environmental Progress reported earlier this year that two top former aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with a major Cuomo campaign contributor, the natural gas company Competitive Power Ventures, to close the Indian Point nuclear plant.

Environmental Progress discovered this after a federal criminal indictment was filed by Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, on September 22, 2016.

"Based on my review of publicly available documents and my interviews of witnesses," wrote the US attorney, "including employees of [Competitive Power Ventures], the importance of the [CPV Valley Energy Center] to the State depended at least in part, on whether [Indian Point] was going to be shut down."

Beauchamp said the other reason to close the nuclear plants was that "they are dangerous." When asked for the evidence that nuclear is more dangerous than other ways to make electricity, Beauchamp said, "We’re not too far from Fukushima." When asked how many died in Fukushima, Beauchamp said, "Is that the standard? How many people died?"

A study published in leading medical journal the Lancet finds that nuclear is the safest way to make reliable power.

Another Food and Water Watch spokesman, Peter Hart, emailed later to say, "Food & Water Watch does not disclose the names of its individual donors publicly."