- - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

American manufacturing has been undergoing a tough transition for decades. Import competition and currency manipulation by other countries as well as regulatory excess at home have all taken a toll in many sectors of manufacturing. Just as manufacturing in America appears to be coming back, it faces a formidable new threat: a cabal of activists, cunning lawyers, ambitious politicians and a network of well-heeled benefactors.

The mainstream media’s bias casts this alliance as a fellowship of white knights with limited resources taking on the rich and powerful oil and gas companies to save the planet. But this narrative is simplistic, misleading and dishonest. It ignores the sizable investments manufacturers in America are making in environmental stewardship, not to mention the reality that the global economy depends on affordable, reliable energy. The average manufacturer in this country is in a constant uphill battle to stay internationally competitive, and the determined campaign to disparage these businesses is unfair to them and their employees.

The notion of an imbalance in power and financial clout between business interests and environmental activists does not hold up to scrutiny. Hedge-fund mogul Tom Steyer, currency speculator George Soros and other wealthy individuals are channeling millions of dollars to various foundations and environmental groups and bolstering the public profile and reach of individuals such as activist Bill McKibben. The result is a mature and increasingly well-orchestrated and coordinated attack on energy manufacturers in America. The image of the scrappy environmentalist against the corporate fat cat is a cartoonish distortion of reality.

Take for example, attorney Matt Pawa, who has made a career of suing manufacturers of energy. His legal strategy, based on dubious assertions using public nuisance and racketeering laws, has often been rejected by judges. Nonetheless, his tactics are making him rich. Last fall, his firm was acquired by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a plaintiffs’ powerhouse based in Seattle. Over the last 15 years, Pawa’s firm received more than $3 million from various foundations to run the Global Warming Legal Action Project (GWLAP). This organization has been at forefront of an effort to combine political state attorneys general, top civil litigators and environmental groups in coordinated legal and political assaults against energy manufacturers.

Among the most high-profile politicians in these efforts is New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. He has spearheaded legal investigations by other Democratic state attorneys general asserting energy interests in America had for years concealed information related to the environment and also deployed vast financial resources in a public disinformation campaign. With a paucity of evidence to support his allegations and pushback from private policy groups as well as the U.S. Congress over his aggressive use of subpoenas, only Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is sticking with Mr. Schneiderman in his crusade. Nonetheless, he and allies are exploring new avenues of attack.

Recently, The Washington Times reported that many governors, including Washington’s Jay Inslee, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Jerry Brown, seem in lockstep in messaging to go after energy manufacturers. If these officials are receiving consulting services from privately funded organizations, this could represent a violation of ethics guidelines for elected officials. At the very least, it reveals the highly partisan and extremist ideological attack on energy manufactures.

Media coverage is almost invariably predisposed to take as gospel the views of environmentalists and to reject the contentions of manufacturers. However, manufacturers in this country take environmental stewardship seriously. Not only because it is the right thing to do but also because there are commercial opportunities in innovation. Manufacturers have been working successfully for years to reduce their impact on the environment with energy efficiency, saving and recycling water and pollution reduction.

The good news is that these efforts are yielding results. Over the last 25 years, concentrations of carbon monoxide are down 77 percent, lead 99 percent, nitrogen dioxide 54 percent and sulfur dioxide 81 percent, according to official (Environmental Protection Agency data. The bottom line is that manufacturing in America across all sectors is a cleaner endeavor today than it was in previous generations, thanks to adoption of new technologies and increased energy efficiency.

To be sure, the struggle to keep America’s economy growing, competitive and creating jobs must continue. And manufacturers, including in the energy sector are making important contributions in this endeavor and will continue to do so. The network of lawyers skilled at distorting the law, strident activists and their deep-pocketed supporters, and the phalanx of grandstanding politicians united to criticize manufacturing will not change this goal. Building an economy for the future can combine access to American energy and attentiveness to environmental imperatives. Politically motivated lawsuits, higher energy costs to families, and distorted media coverage hinders that goal for all Americans.

George Allen a former Republican governor of Virginia and U.S. senator, is president of George Allen Strategies, LLC.

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