Coal Industry Bribes “Activists” with T-Shirts and Lunch to Fight the EPA

coal industry, big coal, epa, Sierra club, chicago, coal, carbon dioxide, carbon emissions, EPA chicago hearing, Leon Kaye, astroturf groups
America counts on coal, more so when paid $50 to wear this t-shirt

If Citizens United and “Fast Fashion” had a love child, it would have been the coal industry’s attempt last week to influence Environmental Protection Agency hearings by dragging in a few rented activists to wear t-shirts and show their (paid) support for a morning.

The bizarre incident occurred last week in Chicago and Washington, DC, where hearings were held to discuss the EPA’s carbon standards for new power plants. Naturally the coal industry and its stakeholders are not happy about the agency’s attempt to slash 123 billion pounds of carbon emissions a year. Apparently a few folks wearing ill-fitting and frumpy t-shirts were supposed to intimidate regulators and organizations like the Sierra Club during the hearings.

Details started unfolding when a Chicago-based environmental group sent out a tweet about the rumor of a pay-to-protest ad that was posted on Craigslist by an alleged “astroturf group.” The ad opened with the promise of “a couple of dollars for a few hours of your time,” which sounds bizarre considering there is such a thing as a minimum wage law. Anyone interested was promised a bus ride to and from the EPA Chicago hearing’s venue, $50 cash and lunch once the event was over. No word yet whether those who signed up for the deal had to fill out a Form 1099 or had a choice over the size and color of the t-shirt they could wear at the hearings.

But if one were student or between jobs, it would be easy to see why anyone would take the time out of his or her morning and attend such an event fully paid for by Big Coal: after all, most likely such a gig pays better than working for Greenpeace with a clipboard in hand, accosting customers walking out of a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to ask for donations to stop global warming.

The coal industry has been ramping up its efforts against the EPA’s moves to limit carbon dioxide pollution from new power plants with stunts like this and with increased political donations during elections. Polls about opinions over the issue over climate change and its effects are all over the map, but Thursday’s chapter is a lesson in how debates like this one is not just about press releases and the establishment of phony foundations, but of creative tactics and spending heaps of money. With all the frantic rhetoric currently blasted over yet another contentious issue, on thing is clear about the kind of businesses from this odd episode: the companies that sell leftover and unwanted t-shirts from these one-off events will most likely find a market for them in Africa.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Sierra Club’s blog.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

One response

  1. Embarrassing.  I wonder if they had to sign a waiver or something saying “I won’t tell anyone I was bussed here and paid to walk around”.

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