It is, according to Lisa Margonelli at her Atlantic Correspondents blog, pointing to yesterday's Wall Street Journal report that a clean coal coalition's subcontracted "grassroots/grasstops" firm sent fraudulent letters to members of Congress (purporting to be from senior centers, but actually forged, according to Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman) about the energy reform/cap-and-trade legislation passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate. The energy bill does face some real dangers in the Senate: four moderate Democrats recently suggested breaking it into pieces, and it's expected to change somewhat in the upper chamber. The Senate may be a tougher place to enact emissions legislation, partly because so many states produce coal, and they each have two senators...at least that's one basic theory.
In the meantime, how much impact would this sort of astroturfing have on the energy debate, if gone unnoticed as astroturfing? Margonelli thinks it doesn't have much:
I know I'm supposed to be outraged that lobbying firm Bonner and Associates, acting on behalf of the (ironic tongue twister alert!) American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, has filed 13 forged letters on behalf of senior centers and the elderly with a House Committee against the Waxman Markey climate bill. And I'm also supposed to be furious that the American Petroleum Institute is trying to whip up an astroturf teabagger death panel anti Waxman Markey extravaganza by creating the illusion of "Energy Citizens" against the bill at town halls. But it makes me laugh. Who wants to be an "Energy Citizen?" Never mind call on Congress to "get it right?" Who's going to carry a loaded AR15 to such wishy washiness? Certainly not someone with a nice job in at an oil services company...
Now I'm not a big fan of coal, but I do like the occasional electric light, and I don't believe that killing coal in the US alone will cool the planet. In order to do that we'll need to figure out how the world can burn it more cleanly, or cheaply replace its power with other lower carbon energy. And the world needs US leadership to get there. The coal industry could try to jump on that bandwagon and innovate their way ahead. But instead, they're stuck in a rut and forced to forge letters of support.