Fossil Fuel Interests and Dark Money Donors Are Behind Opposition to Offshore Wind 

A report from Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab reveals a network of bad actors behind offshore wind misinformation.

Rows of wind turbines on the water

We can build offshore wind in ways that minimize the impact on the marine environment. Photo: Shutterstock

When a young right whale washed up on Martha’s Vineyard in January, scientists could see fishing rope deeply embedded in its tail. Entanglement in fishing gear is a leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales, but an alternate theory immediately emerged on social media feeds. With no proof, people claimed that the rope had been placed there after the whale – one of barely 350 right whales left on the planet – washed onshore and that she had actually been killed by offshore wind construction. It was the latest foray in the well-organized effort to stop offshore wind development.

That effort looks innocuous on the surface, led by groups with names like Green Oceans, Deep Sea Defenders, and Environmental Progress. But once you dig deeper, you find a complicated web of climate-denying organizations, dark money donors, and fossil fuel interests. 

Fossil fuel interests and climate-deniers are fueling the anti-offshore wind push

A recent report from the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University has helped expose this hidden network. The report lays out the dizzying tangle of conservative think tanks, Koch-funded initiatives, and climate-denying nonprofits behind the many small community organizations that provide a public-friendly face to the movement to stop offshore wind development.  

The report organizes these groups into a few main clusters. The pleasantly named “Save the Right Whales” coalition, which supports 11 ostensibly grassroots organizations, is founded, funded, and staffed by Environmental Progress, a nonprofit known for downplaying the risks of climate change while undermining renewable energy. The equally innocent-sounding “American Coalition for Ocean Protection” was founded and funded by the Caesar Rodney Institute, a libertarian think tank that promotes offshore drilling over offshore wind. The “State Policy Network” is a key part of the Koch network and helps fund all of these efforts. These clusters overlap and share key staff, funding, and misleading talking points.  

Didn’t follow all that? That’s understandable – it’s complicated on purpose. The people and groups fueling the anti-offshore wind movement don’t want the flow of money and misinformation to be traced back to them. The details can be hard to follow, but the report’s conclusion isn’t: Supposedly “grassroots” organizations opposing offshore wind are quietly being funneled money, staff, information, or resources (sometimes all four) by parties with no interest in the deep sea or the greenness of our ocean.

Anti-offshore wind groups are following a dishonest playbook

You don’t have to take our (or Brown University’s) word for it. The anti-wind movement has admitted that this is their strategy. In 2012, a group of wind opponents, mainly representing conservative think tanks, gathered for a conference and developed a memo to outline their strategy. The attendees’ ultimate goal: to cause “subversion … so that [the wind industry] becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it.” Check out some highlights:

“Create a ‘think-tank’ subgroup to produce and disseminate white paper reports and scientific quotes and papers that back-up the message.” 

“Identify and connect with like-minded groups such as tax, tea party, true environmentalists, business organizations, property rights advocates, etc.” 

“Provide local groups support materials, like PowerPoint templates to put on local education seminars, document templates for them to file with their state utility commission, etc.” 

“Public opinion must begin to change in what should appear as a ‘groundswell’ among grass roots.” 

If these tactics sound familiar, it’s because they are. The same groups behind this memo successfully derailed progress on fighting climate change for decades. And today, we can see this latest coordinated campaign playing out like clockwork here in New England. Anti-offshore wind think tanks and advocacy groups are churning out misleading, biased reports and talking points. (In fact, seven of the organizations that the memo proposes as potential allies appear in the Climate and Development Lab’s report as currently involved parties.)  

The misleading information is filtering out into the mainstream via an artificial “groundswell” of “grassroots” organizations. According to Brown’s report, several of the people involved in the creation of the memo are still involved in the movement. 

We can (and must) develop offshore wind in ways that minimize harm

We can build offshore wind turbines in ways that minimize the impact to the marine environment. There are environmental tradeoffs attached to the creation of any energy infrastructure, but the risks of building offshore wind can be managed. CLF and our partners have provided science-based input on where and how offshore wind can be located in New England to ensure it delivers its clean energy promise while minimizing harm to the ocean and all who depend upon it.  

What’s more, the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action. Offshore wind is a crucial component of staving off climate change, which is a much bigger threat to the marine environment than turbine construction. Communities of color, low-income communities, and other vulnerable communities are suffering the most from climate change. They face the greatest risks from threats like heat-related illness, increased extreme weather, and more as climate change worsens. Offshore wind is a vital step toward protecting them.  

Ultimately, the choice is not between offshore wind and no offshore wind. It is a choice between clean, renewable energy and polluting natural gas and other fossil fuels. We are not choosing between offshore wind and a healthy ocean. We are choosing between protecting the New England we love for future generations and worsening climate change – the actual biggest threat to the ocean, marine wildlife, and coastal fisheries. We cannot meet our clean energy goals without the contributions of offshore wind.  

Wealthy donors, monied think tanks, and the literal Koch brothers’ network shouldn’t be allowed to make this choice for us. While many of the people involved in the “grassroots” front groups are no doubt sincere in their desire to protect the ocean, they are unwittingly doing the bidding of groups who don’t share their beliefs.  

Don’t be misled by well-funded misinformation. Offshore wind will ultimately protect both communities and ocean life threatened by climate change. 

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.