In 2019, New York state passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which set emission targets and spending goals, prioritizing frontline communities and establishing other social equity goals. Now, if you only judged New York by what Fox News and other rightwing disinfo outlets said about it, you may be surprised there are any fossil fuels left in the state. But there are, and the industry has been plenty busy using its considerable resources to try and keep it that way.
A new report from the Public Accountability Institute and LittleSis shows the extent to which fossil fuel interests are lobbying on New York's climate standards, and it's not the liberal love-fest you might expect. In addition to the $15 million spent by 10 fossil fuel interests on lobbying since 2016, they've also held multiple seats on the state’s Climate Action Council which oversees the CLCPA's implementation.
And then there's the industry's front group, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy (NYAE). Its website claims the group is simply “dedicated to supporting access to cleaner, reliable and affordable sources of energy for residential and business consumers," but per the report, its IRS filings admit the true purpose is "to expand natural gas service."
That IRS filing listed three founding directors: Katie Gibbs; Karen Merkel, a communications manager for National Fuel Gas Company; and Michelle Hook, Danskammer Energy VP for Public Affairs. And the address they gave was the same as "the address of Albany-based law and lobbying firm Plummer & Wigger, which also represents other fossil fuel industry clients, such as Millennium Pipeline, where Hook is a former public relations executive."
Hook is making $10,000 a month lobbying for the group, through a contract with Virago Public Affairs, for whom NYAE is the only registered lobbying client.
But Hook's not their only lobbyist. The "Democratic-Party tied lobbying firm" SKDKnickerbocker, "a powerhouse influencer in Albany," is "lobbying for the group 'on a pro bono basis'" that the report explains doesn't mean they're doing it for free, but rather "likely means that its lobbying is incidental to a larger, paid, public relations contract."
Unclear what that contract may be, but "one of the SKDKnickerbocker lobbyists registered to advocate for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy is the managing director of the firm’s Albany office, Morgan Hook."
Huh, Morgan Hook is working on this project with Michelle Hook.
If you're wondering if there's any relation there, congrats! You win a "suspicious coincidence" prize, because the report states flatly that "Morgan Hook is married to Michelle Hook."
Talk about playing the long game! Now they're arranging marriages between fossil fuel front group operatives and public relations professionals?
Are there any lengths to which the fossil fuel industry won't go?
(We joke, but there is plenty more serious stuff in the report that you should go check out!)