NEW YORK (Reuters) - The environmental group Greenpeace posed as a pro-coal organization to become a sponsor of the 2008 McCloskey Coal USA conference and deliver an anti-coal message at the gathering, officials said on Friday.
When The McCloskey Group figured out that the Institute for Energy Solutions was really Greenpeace, they decided to let the group retain its booth under the phony name and make brief remarks, organizers said.
The conference managers did take the precaution of adding security because of Greenpeace’s reputation for confrontational, disruptive tactics, they said. The muscle was used once, to eject one Greenpeace member.
Greenpeace spokesman Carroll Muffett was allowed to speak twice. He blasted coal as a polluting fuel and accused coal executives of failing to protect the public. The team manned a booth offering information and anti-coal paraphernalia.
“It’s a lot of value for the money,” said Muffett of the $8,500 co-sponsorship fee that allowed the Greenpeace front group be an official sponsor.
In the conference brochure, an ad for the fake Institute seems pro-coal, but readers that go to the www.tomorrowsenergytoday.org Web site are redirected to www.coal-is-dirty.com.
The Greenpeace team handed out business cards that read: “The Institute for Energy Solutions is a joke. So is clean coal.” The cards were signed Greenpeace.
Muffett said the environmental action group merely copied a tactic used by several industries, creating a benign-sounding but phony front to promote their position.
Gerard McCloskey, chairman of the consulting and publishing company that bears his name, said it was his second experience with Greenpeace recently.
The group disrupted a conference in London several months ago, and he decided to try to have a conversation with Greenpeace, McCloskey said.
“I thought what we should do was engage them,” McCloskey said. “All of us have children, grandchildren. It was good to see Greenpeace here willing to put their argument out.”
As the conference broke for lunch Thursday, Greenpeace had three children, including Muffett’s nine-year-old daughter, handing out asthma inhalers and masks.
That offended some attendees. “I think that using kids ... was inappropriate,” McCloskey said.
Muffett demurred, saying one of the 12-year-old boys has asthma and the youngsters wanted to be there.
“What to me is unconscionable is to sell a product when you know it gives children asthma,” Muffett said.
Muffett said he was pleased with the effort and called the conference attendees “quite receptive” after they listened quietly and responded to his remarks with polite applause.
“Maybe the coal industry’s excessively polite,” McCloskey said.
The second time Muffett addressed the conference, however, a moderator cut off his speech before it ended.
McCloskey said he would like to address a Greenpeace meeting. “I would like to persuade them that they’re wrong in key areas,” he said.
Editing by David Gregorio