True Confessions: I Am Dr. Evil

Bacon exposed as Dr. Evil, mouthing Dominion lies

Unmasked! A lying liar mouthing Dominion lies.

I can reveal the truth at last. I, Jim Bacon, posing for years as publisher of the Bacon’s Rebellion blog, am in fact Dr. Evil.

I have long hidden my identity in the hope of furthering my insidious aims. A few readers may have long suspected my secret identity — LarrytheG and PeterG have bumbled perilously close to it on occasion — but even they never imagined the depth of my deception.

Now I have been unmasked by the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. There is no point in hiding in the shadows. From now on, I will conduct my campaign to render the world a toxic, smoking, inhabitable ruin in full public view.

Curses, foiled again. Ivy Main and Seth Heald unveiled me, along with my villainous co-conspirators Donald Trump and Dominion Resources, in Main’s Power for the People VA blog. Bilious Virginia, oops, I mean Blue Virginia, then disseminated the exposé through the blogosphere and Twitterdom for all the world to see.

Read the piece, and you will learn that Dominion is not only misguided and wrong but it spews “lies.” The utility is part of the “fossil fuel crowd” that, having observed the “fake news” and “conspiracy theories” of the Trump campaign, is “stepping up its own use of half-truths, diversionary tactics and outright lies.” In the pursuit of profit, the fossil-fuel industry is “undermining the very foundations of American democracy.”

So nefarious is Dominion that, among its other sins, the company courts right- wing forces through its work with the American Legislative Exchange Council, its lavish contributions to lawmakers… “and its sponsorship of the libertarian Jim Bacon’s blog, Bacon’s Rebellion.”

Even before Dominion signed up as a Bacon’s Rebellion sponsor, the exposé says, I, Jim Bacon, exhibited “an exasperating credulity” when examining claims by Dominion and other fossil fuel companies, no doubt endearing myself to Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell. “If I were selling poison under the guise of medicine,” write Main and Heald in speculating upon Farrell’s thinking, “I too would value a man who advertised my wares while proclaiming his independence.”

But my calumnies go beyond merely peddling Dominion’s mistruths. I have adopted unsavory tactics of the Trump campaign and the “alt right” — “putting the onus on others to disprove absurd, baseless claims.” As evidence of such claims, they point to a column I wrote arguing that electoral fraud occurs frequentlty in the form of illegal registrations. Although I described Trump’s assertion of two million fraudulent votes as “reckless” and a “huuuge stretch,” I had the temerity to describe the mainstream media’s over-the-top response to his claim as “unhinged.”

My reprehensible deeds are all part of what Main and Heald see as a “calculated disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry and a cadre of front groups like ALEC  to make people believe the science is unsettled, exploiting the natural human tendency to do nothing in the face of uncertainty.”

But in the hierarchy of evil, I am a mere Beelzebub to Dominion’s Satan. Where I merely endorse “spurious reports and lies,” Dominion is the fount of dishonesty itself, dishing out “sham reports, fake news and false claims” for the express purpose of bamboozling regulators, legislators and the public.

Mwahahaha! The last laugh — or should I say, the final evil chortle — is on Main and Heald. They failed to recognize the trap that I laid for them. In trying to discredit me, they discredit only themselves! In conflating Bacon’s Rebellion with Donald Trump, alt-right racists/white nationalists, Dominion, the fossil fuel industry, and even tobacco companies as manifestations of the same malign force, they put on display the same bent for conspiracy theorizing that they attribute to others.

Indeed, Main and Heald demonstrate the shallowness of their thinking for the whole world to see. For the most part, their essay consists of a string of ad hominem attacks, maligning the motives of their foes and calling them liars. They provide only two tangible examples, and in each one their arguments consist mainly of appeals to authority or appeals to the prejudices of their readers.

Polluting the world for fun and profit. Rather than cherry pick a few quotes out of context, I present here the essay’s brief against Dominion’s claim that the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, of which it is the managing partner, will lower carbon emissions by substituting gas for coal as a boiler fuel.

Dominion Resources has gone further, adopting disinformation tactics in claiming its proposed fracked-gas pipeline will actually lower carbon emissions, and implicitly endorsing spurious reports and lies on a blog it sponsors. Dominion has gone from spinning facts to its own advantage, to actively misleading the people of Virginia.

Dominion is one of the partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which if built will bring massive amounts of fracked gas from West Virginia through Virginia and down to North Carolina. An analysis of the ACP’s climate change impact and that of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, conducted for the Sierra Club by physicist Richard Ball, showed that building these two pipelines would result in the emissions of twice the climate pollution of Virginia’s entire current greenhouse gas footprint.

Yet in a recent Facebook posting, Dominion claimed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would “play an instrumental role in reducing carbon emissions in Virginia and North Carolina, which will allow both states to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan. In fact, the ACP alone could contribute as much as 25 to 50 percent of the carbon reductions necessary to meet interim goals in 2022.”

In the words of the Virginia Sierra Club’s former director, Glen Besa, “This is just not true and does not pass the sniff test. My personal rating is: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire. Both of Dominion’s new gas plants in Virginia are fueled by existing pipelines. The ACP will bring in more fossil fuel for burning. At the same time Dominion has made NO new commitments to retire existing coal plants. Dominion can meet the Clean Power Plan without the ACP, but more importantly, the ACP will markedly increase carbon emissions, not decrease them.”

Main and Heald are referring to a report, released January 2016, by Richard Ball, a retired EPA scientist, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,  and the Energy Chair for the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. This report raised a legitimate issue: When calculating the carbon intensity of plans for transporting and burning more natural gas, it is not sufficient to consider only the CO2 emitted by combustion and power generation. Any calculation also should include “fugitive emissions of methane from fracking in the gas fields [and] leakage during transmission and storage.”

By Ball’s calculations, the lowest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions for Atlantic Coast Pipeline, 40.7 million metric tons a year, are more than five times the annual carbon output of just one Dominion plant, the Chesterfield Power Station. Emissions from the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, advanced by a different consortium, would be seven times.

However, there is another side to this story. Decide for yourself if it sounds like a “calculated disinformation campaign.” The Natural Gas Council acknowledges that fugitive emissions of natural gas do occur on a wide scale. However, it notes that such emissions per unit of gas produced have declined by 43% between 1990 and 2014 as the gas-drilling industry has recognized and responded to the problem.

Driven by federal regulations and self-interest (leaked gas represents lost profits) the gas industry replaced old, leak-prone, cast-iron pipe at the rate of 3% per year.  The process has been slow, however, because utilities must receive approval from state regulators who often prioritize safety and cost to consumers over emission reudctions.

The Gas Council also contends that 10% of gas-leaking sites — so-called “super emitters” — account for 50% of of fugitive emissions, while the lowest-emitting 50% of sites account for only 10%. The big emitters are concentrated among collector pipes on the production side and the ubiquitous retail pipes on the distribution side, especially in urban areas.

Ball’s report is no longer online, so I cannot check his methodology. But given the nature of the data, I would postulate — and am willing to stand corrected — that he extrapolated the pipelines’ impact from national figures. What we don’t know, and I doubt Ball could know, is the extent to which those general figures apply to the specific instances of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline collection-transmission-distribution ecosystems. If those two pipelines serve primarily gas-fired power plants operating with state-of-the-art controls under strict permits, there would be a fraction of the leakage than, say, if the gas were flowing through ancient, corroding, gas distribution lines in the Northeast. Similarly, new collector pipes installed in the Marcellus shale basin in accordance with the latest federal standards would leak less than feeder gas pipelines installed decades ago.

Ball raises a legitimate theoretical point — fugitive gas emissions from wellhead to boiler should be taken into account into any calculation of the pipelines’ climate impact. We should take the idea seriously, and we should not take Dominion’s own estimate of climate impact as gospel. But Ball’s methodology, if only we could see it, is likely based upon a series of assumptions that, let me be charitable in saying, stack the numbers in favor of his argument. Unfortunately, the report is no longer available online, at least not at its original web address, so it is impossible to subject his numbers to scrutiny. I would be willing to wager that his numbers are far squishier — not wrong necessarily, just more difficult to verify — than the Sierra Club would lead us to believe.

I ask you, good reader: Have I, the insidious Dr. Evil, embraced a “post-truth” world by raising these questions? Or have Main and Heald embraced a dualistic view of the world, pitting good against evil, that is devoid of complexity, nuance and uncertainty?

Bacon’s lying embrace of the Alt-Right. Now we come to the second tangible example of my supposed contempt for the truth, my column about voting fraud. If you’re so inclined, you can read what I actually wrote: “No Simple Answers about Illegal Voting.”

The background: Trump’s infamous tweeted that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for voter fraud, which inspired a furious backlash in the national media. The thrust of my column was (a) there is reputable, empirical evidence to suggest that voter fraud, primarily in the form of illegal registrations, does take place in Virginia, but (b) that it was “reckless” for Trump to have concluded from this evidence that illegal voters gave Hillary Clinton a majority of the popular vote, and likewise (c) that it was “unhinged” of the national media to assert that there is no evidence whatsoever of illegal voting.

I cited two studies using different methodologies to demonstrate the existence of illegal registrations in Virginia: one by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which gathered documentary proof of non-citizens registering, voting, getting caught and being de-registered; and an Internet survey based on the 2008 and 2010 elections, in which thousands of non-citizens admitted to voting.

I did not describe these studies as flawless. “All studies of electoral fraud are based on imperfect data and assumptions that can be challenged,” I wrote. “There is a fuzzy halo of uncertainty around any estimate. But it is patently wrong to say that there is  ‘zero evidence’ that wide-scale illegal voting is occurring.”

This, my minions of evil, is how I embraced the tactics of the racist, white nationalist Alt Right. But don’t believe my characterization of what Main and Heald wrote. See for yourself:

Bacon’s post about supposed voter fraud is particularly instructive, as it adopts the “alt right’s” tactic of putting the onus on others to disprove absurd, baseless claims. Recall that Trump recently claimed, with no evidence, that he would have won the popular vote but for two million fraudulent votes supposedly cast against him. On the one hand Bacon (in perhaps the understatement of the year) acknowledged that Trump’s claim is a “huuuge stretch.” But then Bacon chastised “the news establishment” for not “distinguishing itself in debunking” Trump’s allegation. Indeed, Bacon posits, the national media’s reaction to Trump’s baseless allegation was “unhinged.” This, Bacon reasons, lends credence to Trump’s claim that the media is biased.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with Dominion, the fossil fuel industry, climate change and energy regulation? Frankly, the logic is not entirely clear. What Main and Heald appear to be doing is using the antipathy many feel about Donald Trump and the Alt Right to discredit in a vague vast-right-wing-conspiracy kind of way my reporting on Virginia energy issues.

Never, however, do the authors address the validity of the evidence I presented or the logic I employed. Their argument consists of an appeal to what their readers know in their hearts to be true without needing any proof. I did not defend Trump in my piece. But the notion that I would dare criticize the logic of those who went overboard in attacking the president-elect is deemed to be sufficient proof that I am helping usher in the “post-truth world.”

Sons of light versus sons of darkness. Broadly speaking, there are two ways to look at the world. One way is dualistic. There is right and wrong, good and evil. Those who think differently than you are not merely misinformed, guilty of flawed logic, or animated by different values. They lie. They pillage the environment. They subvert American democracy. You can identify these people because their arguments consist of primarily of ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority — authorities that support their worldview. (This is not an exclusively leftist tendency; many on the right are guilty of the same thing.)

The other way of viewing the world is that reality is messy, complex, and often difficult to discern. Partisans of this approach acknowledge that they don’t have a monopoly on the “truth.” I belong in this camp. One thing I have discovered in covering energy and environmental issues that others see as black and white are in actuality unfathomably complex. There are many layers of perceived reality. On more than one occasion, I have bounced back and forth between Dominion and fossil fuel advocates on the one hand and environmentalists on the other, asking one to respond to the arguments of the other, then asking the other to respond to the response, descending into ever-deeper layers of complexity. Almost invariably there is some degree of uncertainty at the bottom.

If you like your information doled out in black and white, if you seek only to confirm your own biases, then don’t waste your time with Bacon’s Rebellion. If you regard reality as a messy, complex thing, and if you believe that the path to “the truth” is better perceived through reasoned, civil dialogue than the embrace of orthodoxy, then join the Rebellion. And take any message issued by Ivy Main and Seth Heald with a grain of salt.