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Coal PR flack caught on tape laughing about climate change

Apparently coal company execs and public relations flacks crack up over climate change. Posting on the desmogblog, Mike Stark of FossilAgenda writes of an interaction he recorded at a September coal conference in Pittsburgh. Lauri Hennessey does PR for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports (which Stark calls "a front group for coal mining and rail corporations that would profit from the export of Powder River Basin coal").

Hennessy was on a panel called "Moving Coal from Coast to Coast — Domestic Infrastructure Challenges for Rail, River, and Ports" in which Stark says she "repeatedly called the citizens of Oregon and Washington 'weird' and 'strange.'" Stark approached  Matthew Ferguson, Arch Coal's senior vice president for thermal coal marketing for an interview. But before the interview, Ferguson chatted with Hennessey. Stark recorded the conversation. You can read the transcript here or listing below, but here's what Hennessy and Ferguson said:

Matt Ferguson: Your comment on the civil unrest was quite funny.

Lauri Hennessey: Oh wasn’t it? Yeah, I got, I got hassled.

Matt Ferguson: Yeah, it’s like, let’s be adults here.

Lauri Hennessey: That was a project like a year ago, and, I think it was my second week on the job. So, I grew up in the Northwest, and I don’t know if you saw, I used to work for EPA a long time ago?

Matt Ferguson: Did you? [laughter]

Lauri Hennessey: Yeah. [inaudible]  So I have - and I also worked for Bob Packwood on the Hill - so I have both sides. But we’re connected.

I worked with EPA, and I pull that out in the right crowds, because in the Northwest, that's a good thing, right? But it's funny because I never really went out of my way to mention it to our Alliance board before. And one day I was quoted in the paper, because again I was speaking to the audience in Seattle, and I was like, "Well of course we're concerned about climate change. Everyone's concerned about climate change. But what we're saying is this is not going to contribute to climate change."

But someone from Peabody got on a call, it was my second week on the job, and said, "You were quoted saying coal’s worried about climate change? We don't believe in climate change!”  And I remember I was on the phone and I was like, "I can't say that..ha. I can't say that in Seattle!"

[laughter]

Matt Ferguson: Not worried about it!

Arch Coal rep 2: You can say that in St. Louis, but you can't say that in Seattle.

Matt Ferguson: Yeah. It’s not gonna happen.

Lauri Hennessey: Yeah, I can’t say it in Seattle, and I remember she just goes, "Wow, we really have different regions, do we?!" 

Matt Ferguson: I think what you do is say, you're trying to help people out of poverty in the Far East. Yeah.

Lauri Hennessey: Exactly! And I did that.

Matt Ferguson: Do they not deserve to enjoy prosperity? Like we have? Don't be so selfish, you jerks! [laughter]

According to Hennesey's old bio on her former Hennessey PR webpage (courtsey of the Wayback Machine) before she worked for Big Coal, Hennessey "began her career in the newsroom at KIRO radio twenty years ago. In the years after that, she worked as a press secretary in Washington, D.C. for two Northwest Members of Congress, ran a large public affairs office for a Northwest federal land management agency, and worked as a special assistant for the regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency." 

One of the Northwest members of Congress was Bob Packwood, who stepped down after a sexual harrassment scandal. Her bio goes on to say ""Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Oregon and Washington, Lauri worked closely on issues involving forestry, salmon, growth management, tourism, and much more. She supervised a large staff, and was directly responsible for Congressional relations, and was the lead spokesperson for the agency in the Northwest. She was also loaned to the office that implemented the Northwest Forest Plan, then President Clinton's attempt to end long-running debates over Northwest forests, and worked with the White House on message development, organized press conferences, and worked with local governments. At the EPA, Lauri worked with the Regional Administrator, and worked closely with the public on his behalf."

Stark writes of the conversation he recorded, "They also seemed to talk as if they are a separate species from the people who happen to live in the path of their planned rail and port terminal expansions, mocking those who are asking reasonable questions about the impacts of exporting America's coal to Asia. They clearly regard with contempt the majority of Americans concerned about climate change."