Out West in Utah, a controversy is supposedly brewing in relation to a planned, new, small nuclear reactor power plant.
It’s been generating opposition from a bunch of environmentalists (ironic, since nuclear is emissions-free and we’re constantly being told by the left that combating climate change is priority #1). But it is also generating opposition from the conservative group Utah Taxpayers Association. That, itself, is raising eyebrows among a bunch of people in the energy space and with ties to Utah politics. Rumor is, the Utah Taxpayer Association’s opposition to the project is the result of pay-to-play, or “rent-a-conservative” also known as astroturfing, and there’s some pretty decent evidence mounting up.
At the center of the anti-project advocacy is a Washington, DC-based left-of-center PR firm that does work for various and sundry lefty clients including a bunch of anti-nuclear interests like the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Green America, NRDC, Renewable Nation and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
That firm is the Hastings Group, and you can check out their client list here. Note that it includes all of these groups, but not the UTA. However, Hastings has been blasting around press releases that blast the project on UTA’s behalf.
Again, UTA isn’t apparently a client, and that makes sense— why would a conservative Utah group hire a left-of-center DC PR firm to do its handiwork?
But someone is paying for Hastings to do PR for UTA related to this project, and since UTA’s website indicates the organization has never before weighed in on an energy issue— only straight up-and-down tax and budget items— it sure smacks of one of UTA’s existing clients footing the bill for UTA’s involvement, and also paying for Hastings’ work promoting UTA’s involvement. After all, it’s unlikely that a bunch of environmentalist lefties are going to influence public opinion on deep red Utah on much of anything— for that you need a conservative group. And that group is apparently UTA.
People tracking this possible example of “rent-a-conservative” say Hastings and its clients may be moving to cover their tracks as more media focus has been brought to bear on this odd situation.
Yesterday, Hastings hosted a media call to bash the project. Featured on that call was Dr. Edwin Lyman, the Director, Nuclear Power Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists. Someone who participated in the call tells me that towards the end of it, Dr. Lyman chose to respond to a question that, according to the group chat for the Zoom call did ask about possible astroturfy behavior involving UTA. However, Dr. Lyman chose not to answer that question but instead took the opportunity to claim that UCS is not represented by Hastings— something that sounds a lot like a deliberate attempt to create distance where in fact, there is very little.
In any event, what Dr. Lyman said is very much not what Hastings’ website says. Here is a screenshot from yesterday, taken right after the call.
So what is going on here? It certainly looks like a coordinated campaign is being executed from the left to shut down a planned no-carbon-emissions power plant that could benefit Utahans, with a very thin veneer of “conservatives hate this, too” being applied for the sake of better marketing in a very much not liberal state.
Something definitely smells fishy here, and Utahans should make sure they’re not taking even a local conservative group’s word for it where the project is concerned. This looks a lot like a stealth campaign by the left to achieve a Bernie Sanders-esque outcome by amplifying voices from the right, who possibly are not coming to this debate out of sheer altruism and principle.