When it comes to environmental activism, the competing sides have two very different strengths: clean air and clean water advocates have grassroots support and motivated activists, while industry groups have cash.
As a result, the former has grassroots support; the latter has astroturf.
This isn't exactly new. A few years ago, the American Petroleum Institute urged oil industry employees to pose as regular ol' "citizens" who oppose climate change legislation. Around the same time, a D.C. lobbying firm, working for the coal industry, sent bogus letters to Democratic lawmakers in opposition to a cap-and-trade bill.
In these cases, the industry and its lobbyists couldn't rally real support, so they faked it, using their financial resources to perpetrate a fraud. It's textbook astroturfing.
And it's not going away. The Environmental Protection Agency has hosted some public hearings, soliciting feedback on the agency's proposed carbon-pollution safeguards. The Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago and the Sierra Club discovered that the coal industry went so far last week as to put an ad on Craigslist, offering people money to go to an EPA hearing, pretending to be pro-coal activists. The ad read:
Looking for people THIS THURSDAY, MAY 24 who want to make a couple of dollars for a few hours of your time.
All you need to do is wear a t-shirt in support of an energy project for two hours during the public meeting. We will be departing the Tinely Park convention center at 8:15 am for the meeting and we will be back by 1:30 pm. For your time we will pay you $50 cash and provide you lunch once we return to the convention center.
One side of the fight has earned dedicated supporters; one side has to buy what it can't earn and hope no one notices the difference.