Two Lumps of Coal in the Green Linen Sheets


It’s like seeing a Heart Association 10k race sponsored by a tobacco company.

Two big coal companies are sponsoring the October conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists

The registration page lists the sponsors - the premier two are:
American Electric Power
Dominion Power

The Society of Environmental Journalists is a very active organization offering wonderful workshops, mentoring, classes and serious support for journalists covering all things environmental. Well maybe not all things. They seem to get into bed easily.

The non-profit Society has a multimillion dollar yearly budget — a pretty big organization for a membership of just 1400. From their non-profit filings we see that much of their revenue comes from renting out their mailing list. These journalists are prime targets for energy companies wanting to ‘deliver information’ - and explains why coal companies would want to cozy up.

When it comes to the environment, these two companies have a long, abysmal and controversial record. A quick Google search reveals why they may want to ingratiate themselves to environmental journalists:

American Electric Power is the largest electricity generating utility in the United States and the 35th-top air polluter — emitting roughly 88 million pounds of toxic chemicals that will combine to make acid rain. American Electric Power was in court starting in 1999 and just recently agreed to install $4.6 billion in pollution-control measures at 16 existing plants and pay $75 million in penalties.

Virginia based Dominion Power controversially worked closely with the state corporation commission to receive state legislation that gave Virginia’s utilities, including Dominion Virginia Power, “billions of dollars in guaranteed profits to build coal and nuclear plants … before spending anything on energy conservation”

The Society of Environmental Journalists might want to examine themselves first.

======== SEJ’s Thoughtful Response =============

Hello Richard.

As  executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists, I’d like to provide some accurate information  and clear up your misperception on the nature of the relationship between SEJ and Virginia Tech’s list of supporting sponsors for our Roanoke conference October 15 - 19.

By long standing policy of the SEJ board, SEJ does not accept gifts or grants from non-media corporations, government agencies or environmental advocacy groups. Our organization is funded by foundation grants, university sponsorship of the annual conference, gifts from individuals, and earned income (including dues, subscriptions, mail list rental, conference registration, exhibition fees and advertisements in SEJ publications).  

Virginia Tech invited us to bring our 2008 conference to their state and they pledged $160,000 to help underwrite direct expenses of the meeting (catering, buses, printing, and so on).  SEJ has raised another $200,000 from the above noted revenues to pay the balance of personnel and nonpersonnel costs of the meeting. 

Virginia Tech is very proud to be hosting and sponsoring SEJ this year. Dominion Power and American Electric Power are listed as “Premier Sponsors” for Virginia Tech because they are the most generous contributors among the companies, agencies and groups that are donating funds to Virginia Tech to help them fulfill their long-standing pledge to SEJ. If you look more closely at SEJ’s Web site at, you will see this relationship explained, as well as Virginia Tech’s list of other, including the City of Roanoke, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Smithfield Foods and Rainwater Management Solutions, among others.  SEJ’ s list of supporters this year includes The Roanoke Times, Animal Planet and Planet Green, the Hewlett Foundation, Turner Foundaion and Keith Campbel Foundation among others.  Many groups, businesses, industry trade associations, government agencies, publishers and others have written checks to SEJ in exchange for exhibit space at the conference and ads in the program booklet.

Dominion Power, American Electric Power and other Virginia Tech sponsors have no direct relationship with SEJ. Employees of these companies have absolutely no role in agenda planning for the conference. All SEJ programs are designed and led by member-volunteers, in this case conf. co-chairs Ken Ward Jr., environment reporter for the Charleston Gazette and Bill Kovarik, journalism professor forRadford University.  SEJ members choose all conference speakers and set all itineraries for reporting tours.

One final correction: SEJ expenses in 2007 came to $963,150  (audited figures). We rarely have more than four or five months operating funds in the bank at any given time. I wish we could be a multimillion dollar group, as we have a very important mission!  ”To advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality accuracy and visibility of environmental news reporting.”  Indeed, I’ll have to get back to work on that=2 0goal!   But don’t hesitate to contact me for fact checking purposes in the future!  Accuracy is important to SEJ also.

By the way, there’s still time to register for the conference and all are welcome.  See for details.

Thanks.  Beth Parke, Executive Director, Society of Environmental Journalists


Thank you so much Beth Parke, I do feel like you have presented your case along with some good lessons in journalism. An improved analogy might be that of a track meet being held in a stadium that shows tobacco advertising. It may not be connected to the team, but they have to run below the sign. I am confident that when a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists covers the coal industry, they will work hard to ignore any imprints of the sign of coal. - RP

Leave a comment

Recent Entries

The moral decay of the American Petroleum Institute
The American Petroleum Institute (API) just got caught astroturfing.   The biggest fossil fuel trade organization now wants to…
Suborning Murder, Encouraging Mass Suicide
Suborn 1. To induce (a person) to commit an unlawful or evil act. Hey EnergyTomorrow, API and the entire…
Amercian Petroleum Institute is killing our future - just to extend theirs
Contrary to that Other Web Site Presenting contrary arguments to Petroleum Industry propaganda site. A study guide for interpreting that…
Mitigate and Adapt - the squabbling twins that will only grow louder
It was only a few years ago that scientists shifted their language about global warming.   Saying that it is…
Alaskan village of Kivalina vs. ExxonMobil, et al
UPDATE: On October 15, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Saundra B. Armstrong dismissed the lawsuit. On November 5, 2009, the…
Let science set global warming policy
Science defines global warming so well, and science can tell us how to best mitigate the problem What is the…
Elephant in the room is named CO2
Just like an alcoholic who refuses to admit the problem, the API American Petroleum Institute is denying the danger of…
Fun with Math and Global Warming - to the NY Times
Big thanks go to the NY Times for finally putting away the myth of clean coal.  Their opinion concludes:…
The Ultimatum Game in the Garden of Eden
Playing the Ultimatum Game in the Garden of Eden Behavioral economists, seeking to understand just how humans will face global…
Just up ahead...
Now we are in the midst of crafting our long term economy while adjusting to the ravages of a…