PBS Frontline "The Power of Big Oil" Viewer's Guide: Documents and Reference Material - Climate Investigations Center

PBS Frontline “The Power of Big Oil” Viewer’s Guide: Documents and Reference Material

This post includes some of the documents, advertisements and news clips that were featured in the three part documentary, “The Power of Big Oil,” aired April 2022. I have also included additional resources from our ClimateFiles archive where appropriate

PART ONE: DENIAL

You can watch and find a handy transcript of Part One here.

Global Climate Coalition

The Global Climate Coalition (GCC) is a major topic in the first episode. There are hundreds of GCC publications and internal documents in our archives. A membership list is shown at one point for instance, but we have several other versions available in our collection that show how the group evolved over time.

Climate denier Patrick Michaels is also interviewed by Frontline about the role he played in manufacturing doubt and attacking established climate science. Our collection includes materials such as the 1995 GCC “Predicting Future Climate Change: A Primer” with a back section debunking “contrarian theories” seeded by Patrick Michaels and others.

Two former employees of E. Bruce Harrison PR company are interviewed by Frontline. This newly revealed 1994-95 E. Bruce Harrison GCC Communications Program and another similar document are also shown and discussed in the program. You can find more information on the PR firm and its relationship to the GCC in recently released peer-reviewed paper by Robert Brulle of Brown University and in Rutgers University professor, Melissa Aronczyk’s recent book A Strategic Nature.

BTU Tax

Frontline also revealed for the first-time the role Koch Industries and other Koch-backed organizations like Citizens for a Sound Economy played in killing the BTU Tax, which industry opposition groups tagged as the “Clinton Energy Tax.”

C-SPAN Footage

This event outside the Capitol featuring Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich, which was part of that broader effort, is worth watching.

Newspaper Ads

Frontline also showed how industry groups launched pressure campaigns targeting specific Members of Congress in their home states via newspaper ads like these that ran in local papers:

American Energy Alliance

And there’s more… Another element of the BTU Tax battle not covered by Frontline is the American Energy Alliance whose lead members included the American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Manufacturers and Edison Electric Institute.

The American Energy Alliance ran newspaper ads like these in states of targeted Senators:

Exxon Documents

There are many early Exxon documents shown on screen and quoted in the piece. We will try to catalog them all in coming days. The entire collection of these documents, those that have come to light, is available at our ClimateFiles archive.

NPR’s Climate Editor Neela Banerjee is shown leafing through some of documents, including the one below, that her team revealed as part of InsideClimate News’ 2015 investigation “Exxon: The Road Not Taken.”

And this one from 1996, “Global Warming: Who’s Right?”

Lee Raymond interview on Charlie Rose show in 2004

This is a fascinating 2004 interview now featured in the documentary, with Rose throwing Lee Raymond softball questions and the two talking like old friends. Raymond goes on at length denying climate change.

Lee Raymond speech at the 1996 American Petroleum Institute meeting

This address in November 1996 has Raymond in a very defensive mood, talking extensively about environmental issues, the “global warming theory,” and binding agreements on climate change on the horizon.

Ben Santer – IPCC “Scientific Cleansing”

There is much more on this era in our ClimateFiles GCC document collection.

A Fred Seitz op-ed in the Wall Street Journal targeting Ben Santer was shown in the film.

Here is the “scientific cleansing” document Ben Santer talked about in the film:

Patrick Michaels

As mentioned earlier, Michaels is interviewed and discussed as an outside voice used by industry to fight the scientific consensus. We also have a whole collection of documents on Michaels including all of the biweekly newsletters he published from UVA with coal industry and utility funding.

GCIP TV Ads

A clip from these ads run before the Kyoto Protocol meeting in 1997 as part of the campaign to weaken support for the agreement

The Greening of Planet Earth

A brief clip is shown from this video produced by the Western Fuels Association. The story of the coal industry’s role, and the electric utility companies and associations role could be another whole Frontline

PART TWO: DOUBT

“Victory Will Be Achieved When”

Episode 2 starts with a show and tell of the infamous 1998 American Petroleum Global Climate Science Communications Plan

Bush Dumps Kyoto

Later in the film, a letter from Haley Barbour to VP Dick Cheney. Barbour, then a Southern Company lobbyist, chided the young Bush Administration for going along with the Clinton-Gore environmental agenda and dismisses climate change as a viable issue. The interview with Christie Todd-Whitman is stunning, wounds still raw after 20 years.

In the segment where former government scientist Mike McCracken is interviewed, a memo from ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randal to the Bush Whitehouse, requesting MacCracken’s ouster is shown and discussed

MacCracken then reads from two letters, one from him to ExxonMobil, and a response from ExxonMobil Public Affairs chief Ken Cohen.

Koch Segment

The Koch brothers segment of the episode contains some great footage and new interviews and information.

Featured briefly is video from Lee Fang’s infamous jump interview of David Koch on his way to or from celebrating the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. Tim Phillips, former head of Americans for Prosperity, tries his best to end the interview

also featured is footage from Taki Oldham’s great film, The Billionaires Tea Party

The Americans for Prosperity No Carbon Tax Pledge is also shown and discussed

Chris Leonard, author of the book Kochland is interviewed

Pelosi Gingrich TV ad

A 2008 ad produced by Al Gore’s non-profit, The Alliance for Climate Protection, featured Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich sitting on a sofa with the Capitol in the background. Doesn’t that seem a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.


PART THREE: DELAY

Posted by Climate Investigations Center