As hearings drew nearer for Alabama Power’s plan to bury 21 million tons of toxic coal ash, the company has ramped up its faux media campaign that appeared designed to flood Alabamians with articles supportive of the company’s desires.
The company has long had the Alabama News Center, which is pretty clearly marked as being run by Alabama Power and contains a lot of fluff news peppered with stories complimentary of the utility. There’s also the Alabama Today website, filled with fluff stories from across the state and a very pro-Alabama Power slant. This “publication” carries some of the same stories as the Alabama News Center, but doesn’t list a publisher, editor or reporter anywhere on the site, which is rather odd for a news organization.
Yellowhammer News, a conservative news website, routinely runs pro-Alabama Power stories as well, often written by the utility itself. A couple of years ago, I wrote to Yellowhammer owner and editor Tim Howe to ask about his website’s relationship with Alabama Power because I’d heard there might be some ownership by the utility.
When I asked if Alabama Power owned any part of the company, he dodged the question and thanked me for being a loyal reader. Even as long as five years ago, Yellowhammer was running articles by Alabama Power PR head Michael Sznajderman, with just his byline and no information as to who he works for.
Alabama Political Reporter, another popular website dealing with state politics, has also been decidedly pro-Alabama Power’s plan to bury the coal ash instead of moving it. Whether that’s just a publication-wide stance or there’s a relationship, it’s hard to know. But APR has several writers who’ve been uncharacteristically supportive of the big company’s plan to bury coal ash in ponds that are already leaking into the groundwater.
But it goes on.
Monday, I received a press release from the Adams and Reese law firm in Mobile carrying the headline “Energy Institute of Alabama: Independent Analysis: Statewide Ash Pond Closure Plans ‘Comprehensive and Robust.’” This came the day before the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) was to hold a public hearing in Saraland regarding the Plant Barry coal ash plan.
According to the release, the Energy Institute of Alabama (EIA), has conducted an “independent” study of the plan and determined it to be better than the more expensive cleaning out of the pond and moving the ash to a lined landfill away from the Mobile River. The press release also stated that EIA is “comprised of power providers and other stakeholders,” so I wanted to know what that meant.
I asked Adams and Reese government relations coordinator Kayla Seawell, who sent the release, if that meant Alabama Power was part of EIA. Pretty simple question, right? She wrote back and told me, again, this was an independent study and that Blake Hardwich, an Adams and Reese attorney, serves as EIA’s executive director. So I asked again if Alabama Power is involved with EIA.
This time she sent me to the EIA website, again not answering the question. There, under “about us,” it said EIA is made up of representatives from six electrical companies, including Alabama Power, the Tennessee Valley Authority and PowerSouth Electric, all of which are dealing with coal ash pond closures. So yeah, the “independent analysis” was conducted by an organization made up of the utilities whose plans were being studied.
I suppose if I hadn’t asked, Adams and Reese would have been happy to let Lagniappe run a totally misleading press release, joining the rest of the “news” being pushed out by Alabama Power ahead of the ADEM hearings.
Guess who did run it? Alabama Political Reporter and Yellowhammer News. Both posted it Tuesday morning.
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