As the lights went out during last month’s cold snap, Texas politicians turned to talking points from Alex Epstein, a regular on the climate denial circuit, to explain their way out of the mess. NBC reported Thursday that Epstein’s propaganda found its way into the inbox of Gov. Greg Abbott and that the chairman of a powerful regulatory commission in the state amplified them.
Emails obtained by the group Documented and seen by Earther show that Epstein, the founder of the denier group Center for Industrial Progress and the author of a 2014 book called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (yes, really), contacted Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff on Feb. 16 as the spiraling power crisis gripped the state. National media also began turning their attention to the state’s woes as the grid failed to meet demand.
“The TX blackouts will be a big topic today,” Epstein wrote, including a link to a Twitter thread with his “high-level take” on the blackouts that falsely argued “the root cause of the TX blackouts is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar energy over reliable energy.” (“If you agree I hope you share it,” he added.)
While Abbott did not share Epstein’s tweet thread (sad!), he did go on Sean Hannity’s show a day later to proclaim that the blackout happening in free-market happy Texas “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” and noting that “it just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” This flies in the face of research around the blackouts and science showing the dangers of fossil fuels to human health and the planet.
It wasn’t just Abbott being treated to Epstein’s talking points. The same day Epstein sent his email, Wayne Christian, a member of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, retweeted Epstein’s original thread. Less than a week later, emails show, the communications director for the Railroad Commission forwarded a set of Epstein talking points with the subject line “FYI” to the communications director of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobbying group.
For anyone who ever dipped a toe into the swamp of climate denial, it’s completely unsurprising that Epstein’s talking points ended up in the inboxes of elected officials. There’s an enormous Rube Goldberg machine of climate denial organizations and individuals operating in Texas and beyond, who feed talking points back and forth to each other—and to elected officials—that then become weaponized in times of crisis. Epstein is a member of that ecosystem that continues to shape public policy.
Take the industry-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation, which, as we reported last month, was busy during the blackouts pushing the false line that renewables were totally responsible for the blackouts. The group has routinely hosted Abbott and other prominent politicians at its annual conference. TPPF’s Life:Powered project was created entirely to promote the idea that fossil fuels “advance the human condition,” a key message of Epstein’s 2014 book, and one that major fossil fuel companies like Peabody Energy have begun touting as a justification for their continued existence. Epstein himself has been a speaker at a 2017 TPPF conference that it co-hosted with the Heritage Foundation.
This type of denial is directly funded by the oil and gas industry. NBC reports that Abbott’s aide didn’t respond to questions on whether he passed the talking points along to his boss—but even if Abbott hadn’t seen Epstein’s post specifically, he still has wholeheartedly charged ahead with promoting the false idea that frozen wind turbines were responsible for the blackouts. Abbott, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual oil and gas donors, is one of several Texas politicians whose pockets were lined by the industry, who have links to organizations like TPPF, and who have continued to place blame for the blackouts on wind energy.
The propaganda Epstein, TPPF, and others in the denialist industry put together eventually dribbles it out of the denial echo chamber and into mainstream media. And because these groups are nonprofits or think tanks, their outlandish claims have an air of authority.
“Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, last month’s storm made painfully clear that climate catastrophists have an oversize influence on public policy,” Texas Railroad Commissioner Christian wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on March 19. In the same piece, he later links to a TPPF/Life:Powered paper on renewable energy subsidies. Epstein has also authored a petition to end investment in “unreliable energy” and subsidies for wind and solar—echoing recent legislation authored by state senators to kneecap renewables—which Epstein then promoted on his own feed.
The symbiotic relationship is how climate deniers end up filling up the inboxes and shaping the talking points of elected officials. And it’s pretty clear that the lies will continue as long as the fossil fuel industry keeps its pocketbook open.