From Dr. Evil, with love

Recently The Sentinel’s editorial page repeated a charge that’s been formulated by the right-wing echo chamber: that the movement to oppose fracking is brought to you by “Russkies.” The more we see these desperate attempts to malign advocates (in this case, a Hail Mary pass that’s reminiscent of red baiting during the McCarthy era), the more we know: we’re winning.

The “journalistic investigations” referred to in Rick Wagner’s column linking the environmental movement to Russia have not come from journalists at all: the people behind the attack are the folks at a front group led by PR man for the oil and gas industry, Rick Berman — a man 60 Minutes has dubbed “Dr. Evil.” His dishonest attacks have targeted public interest groups from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to unions — and are bought and paid for by industry. He’s the man corporate executives call when things go horribly, horribly wrong for them in the court of public opinion.

And, for the oil and gas industry, that’s precisely what has happened. Despite paying more than $85 million to PR and advertising firms since 2012, and spending just shy of $12 million to influence the 2014 elections in Colorado, polls are not looking good for fracking. A recent Pew Poll, for instance, showed that 51 percent of the general public is opposed to increased fracking. The number leaps when you look at the scientists (66 percent) and biologists and medical scientists (73 percent) opposed to increased fracking. These numbers have the industry on high alert.

Coloradans are not fooled by these oil and gas industry scare tactics. Despite being outspent 30-to-1 by the oil and gas industry, five communities along the Front Range have voted to protect their health, safety and property from this dangerous, industrial practice. Gov. John Hickenlooper and the industry are desperately afraid of this bipartisan opposition to fracking and they have teamed up to undermine these public votes in the courts.

It’s also ironic that this line of attack is coming from Berman since he was secretly taped at a recent industry event in Colorado. The New York Times quoted Berman as saying, “You can either win ugly or lose pretty.” He also told the executives present, “Think of this as an endless war” (apparently touting his own services) “and you have to budget for it.” With the proliferation of front groups across Colorado promoting fracking — including the innocuously named Vital for Colorado, CRED, and Energy in Depth — it appears the industry is heeding his advice.

According to the Times, Berman told the executives that he could hide their role in funding his campaigns. “We run all of this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”

So “Dr. Evil” knows a little something about obscuring facts. And as happens with a specious argument not based on facts, somewhere along the way, it was claimed that Food & Water Watch has been given money by the Sea Change Foundation, the foundation that Berman’s organization linked to Russian interests — a charge repeated in Wagner’s column. Food & Water Watch has never been funded by Sea Change.

Please don’t look to the oil and gas industry and their right-wing echo chamber to stay up on the facts, because on the facts, they lose on every count. Fracking is bad for the environment, communities and public health, and should be banned.

Sam Schabacker is the Western Region director for Food & Water Watch and is based in Denver. He is a native of Boulder.

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