Monday, March 5, 2018

Is New York Trying to Stop the American Energy Revolution?

The analogy is just too rich to ignore.

A giant tanker full of Russian liquefied natural gas sits in Boston Harbor, challenging our nation’s energy independence. Two hundred and forty-five years earlier, a merchant ship carrying 114 chests of British tea sat in the same harbor, challenging our colonial self-determination. In both cases, those ships entered Boston Harbor because of a governor’s hubris and unbridled political ambitions.

The first scenario—which was the direct result of then-Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s desire to curry favor with King George—sparked the Boston Tea Party, which escalated into the American Revolution and ultimately led to our independence from Great Britain.

The implications of the second scenario—which is the direct result of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desire to curry favor with leading environmentalists—have yet to be seen. But Gov. Cuomo would be wise to study the missteps of his historic counterpart lest he be condemned to repeat them.

Just a decade ago when we depended on OPEC and other exporters for our fuel “security,” an argument could have been made for importing Russian natural gas to generate the energy needed to heat homes, schools, hospitals and businesses during record-breaking cold winters like the one New England is experiencing this year.

But domestic natural gas production has increased so dramatically in the last ten years that the U.S. is now a net exporter of natural gas for the first time in 59 years. So why the reliance on natural gas from a Russian company that was specifically sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2014?

Despite our nation being awash in clean-burning natural gas—particularly from the abundant Marcellus Shale reservoir under West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York—New England cannot access this resource without running pipelines through New York State. But New York politicians, led by Gov. Cuomo, have banned fracking and are blocking pipeline infrastructure projects at every turn, despite the fact that Cuomo himself said, “Realistically you have to move fuel, so a pipeline is the safest way if it's done right."

According to a recent Politico article, Cuomo is taking “an increasing stand against the construction of new natural gas infrastructure” to curry favor with leading environmentalists in an effort to shore up the “weakness on his left flank” as he positions himself for a possible 2020 presidential bid.
And the political pandering seems to be paying off.

“I think environmentalists have no choice but to pay some respect to Gov. Cuomo's moves—banning fracking was a big step, and he's followed it up with some other courageous decisions” on pipelines, said climate extremist and founder of, Bill McKibben.

As a result of Cuomo’s political ambitions, New England " does not have sufficient gas infrastructure to meet demand for both home heating and power generation … when it gets cold,” according to ISO New England, the Northeast region’s electric grid operator. The energy infrastructure deficit is so severe that utilities will almost certainly be forced to implement rolling blackouts in the coldest days of winters to come, ISO New England warned.

Without access to affordable, abundant domestic natural gas, New England states are turning to other, more expensive fuel sources. In fact, the pipeline constraints have caused New England to have the most expensive spot natural gas prices in the world—including this January.

In the brutal cold snap between last Christmas and January 9, Massachusetts electrical generators burned about two million barrels of more expensive oil, “which is more than double the amount burned throughout all of 2016,” according to Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton.

All of this could be prevented, of course, if Gov. Cuomo would allow the construction of the pipeline infrastructure needed to transport affordable and desperately needed natural gas to the birthplace of the American Revolution. Not only would that prevent the now-inevitable rolling blackouts, but it would demonstrate that Cuomo, unlike his historic predecessor, is dedicated to serving the American public and not some powerful special interest.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Are electric vehicles the trans fats of the highways? A case could be made.

Back in the 1980’s when people—driven by the belief that “you can never be too rich or too thin”—relentlessly jazzercised to Richard Simmons video cassettes, trans fats were touted as a “heart healthy” way to lose weight.    

Encouraged by public interest groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which called trans fats “a great boon to American’s arteries,” food processors replaced saturated fats with trans fats in thousands of products.

Unfortunately, researchers soon discovered that trans fats were also causing 30,000 fatal heart attacks in the U.S. each year. The promised benefits of trans fats, it seems, were more hype than reality. And the same appears to be true for electric vehicles.

Once touted as the environmentally friendly substitute for internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE), new research suggests that EVs are much more expensive and significantly more toxic than their ICE counterparts.

A big part of EVs’ toxicity to both people and the planet is the process of producing the cars’ batteries. The Washington Post recently published a scathing investigative series about the dangers associated with lithium-ion battery production including: water shortages in Argentina caused by lithium mining, air and water pollution in China caused by graphite mining, and the children who are injured and killed while mining for cobalt in the Congo.

And  because of the added emissions incurred in producing car battery cells and packs, “the emissions caused by manufacturing an electric vehicle far exceeds the emissions caused by manufacturing a conventional vehicle of similar size,” according to a new report from the American Consumer Institute (ACI).

The ACI report also cited recent research by Arthur D. Little which found that EVs are much more expensive to purchase and operate. Specifically, they found that “a compact electric vehicle costs 44% more and a mid-size electric vehicle costs 60% more than their gas-fueled counterparts” over a 20-year period of ownership.

The good news—if you’re wealthy enough to afford an EV—is that they are heavily subsidized by the government. According to ACI, car buyers can qualify for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits for buying an EV and state tax credits of up to $5,000. But because EVs are so expensive to begin with these tax incentives are being lavished on the wealthy, with as much as 60% of EV subsidies going to households earning over $200,000 per year, while only 10% of electric vehicles subsidies went to households earning less than $75,000 per year.

“These explicit and implicit subsidies,” ACI wrote, “represent welfare for the rich at the cost of all taxpayers.”

In their report, ACI warns policymakers that “incentives designed to encourage electric vehicle ownership can have adverse consequences on society that outweigh their benefits.” Let’s hope they get the message before our nation’s highway arteries are clogged with these heavily polluting vehicles.

Friday, August 11, 2017

There’s a P320 in My Future

I’ve been a PR flack for 30 years and a Glock owner for just a few months. In fact, my Glock 19 is the first firearm I’ve ever purchased. But after witnessing firsthand the potential public relations crisis surrounding the Sig Sauer P320 semi-automatic pistol, I’ve decided that I’m going to buy a Sig.
I didn’t make this decision lightly.  (I understand from reading countless firearms forums that allegiance to a firearm brand can rival allegiance to a beloved sports franchise.) But I’ve read enough to know that Sig Sauer firearms in general, and the P320 specifically, are among the safest handguns on the market today. And Sig’s handling of this situation tells me that they care as much about the safety and integrity of their products as they do about their sterling reputation. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to preserve both.

Unless you’ve been wearing your ear protectors all week, you’ve heard about a video that shows the Sig P320 firing when dropped at a certain angle. Omaha Outdoors, which produced the video, was quick to point out that the P320 and all of Sig Sauer firearms meets and exceeds all U.S. standards for safety, including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, Inc. (SAAMI). But the fact is, at a very specific angle, the P320 does appear to fire when dropped.
Frightening stuff, right? Not really. First, as Sig points out on page 25 of the P320 owner’s manual, “Although extremely unlikely, it is still possible for any loaded firearm to discharge when dropped.” That includes Sig, Beretta, Ruger, even my Glock.
In fact, Glock has its own problems associated with having to depress the trigger when disassembling it—an issue that the P320 owner never has to worry about. Does that mean I’m going to stop firing my Glock? Not likely. I’ll just be extra careful when I take it apart.
And other pistols have other safety “issues” that the P320 does not. Some 1911 owners, for example, often install extremely light triggers to improve accuracy which, while rare, can lead to unintended discharges and serious legal consequences—issues that P320 owners simply do not have to worry about.

Looking at this issue from a PR perspective, I was really impressed with the way that leading firearms bloggers and correspondents comported themselves. As someone who is brand new to this community, I saw an amazing amount of fact-based, informative reporting on what could have been a volatile issue.
Unlike the kind of hysterical and intentionally misleading stories you often find in the general media, the firearm community showcased their expertise and rationality. Jeremy S. over at The Truth About Guns did a great article explaining the mechanics behind how the P320 failed the drop test as well as how Sig was going to fix the problem. Soldier Systems’ piece on how Sig tests their firearms was very helpful for a newbie like myself to understand exactly what was going on. And Mark Keefe at the American Rifleman wrote a great piece putting the P320 “sharknado” of concern into perspective while providing helpful context. He even wryly reminds us that “The first lesson is that dropping guns, regardless of on what axis, is bad.”

The fact is guns are inherently dangerous, which is why all responsible gun owners practice safe gun handling. And that’s also why responsible gun owners have made Sig Sauer one of the most popular firearms company on the planet—because compared to other leading gun manufacturers, their safety record is outstanding.
I’m looking forward to hearing the details of the Sig P320 voluntary upgrade on Monday. In the meantime, I plan to keep calm and Sig on.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Allergan's blog post is nothing to sneeze at

Did the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company really publicly vow to “not engage in price gouging actions or predatory pricing”?

Yes, Allergan president and CEO Brent Saunders really did, in a blog that he posted on the company’s website this morning.

When I learned about the blog post from an article on, I jumped to the post itself looking for fodder for a piece I planned to write about the dangers of making false promises in the digital age. I mean, we live in the era of the 300 EpiPen, where you have to increase the price of your pharmaceutical products by 4,000 percent before anybody pays attention to you. There was no way Allergan’s CEO promised to “take price increases no more than once per year and, when we do, they will be limited to single-digit percentage increases.”

But he did. And he encouraged his CEO peers to do the same.

And while this is fascinating in itself and good news for shareholders (Allergan closed up 1.34%), what I found most intriguing about Saunders’ blog post is that it was a textbook example (or would that be a “kindle example” now) of effective 21st century communications.

Here are four lessons you need to learn from one of the most unlikely blog posts on the Internet today.

You have to have something significant to say. I’ll admit I struggled a bit as I waded through the first few paragraphs of corporate-speak about “commitment to innovation, access and responsible pricing ideals” before I got to “we will limit price increases.” But then I was hooked.

You have to be candid. Check this out. Not only does Saunders vow that, “We will not engage in the practice of taking major price increases without corresponding cost increases as our products near patent expiration,” but he accentuates the point by admitting they have done just that in the past. “While we have participated in this industry practice in the past, we will stop this practice going forward.” That’s gold, Jerry! GOLD!

It helps to speak from the heart. I’m sure Saunders’ post had to get cleared by Legal, but it still contains the language of a man who is being honest. One small example: “I don’t like what is happening, and despite the fact that it is hard to speak out publicly on this, now is the time to take action to spell out what this social contract means to me.” 

Deliver a call to action. A good blog post inspires. A great one directs people to act. And Saunders does just that. “For our industry to remain a vibrant and important part of the healthcare ecosystem, Allergan commits to this social contract and I encourage others to formulate their own self-policing actions.”

It’s not often that I am impressed by a corporate blog post, especially one signed by the CEO. But this one is worth the read.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Four tricks to help you build a loyal, engaged, and responsive Millennial audience. Sirius-ly.

"Look at me! Look. At. ME!"
At 11:02 a.m. on May 25, Millennial Ashley Parker, a New York Times reporter embedded with the Clinton campaign, tweeted: “Young embed (born in ’91!) next to me: What the hell is Whitewater?! [Begins Googling].”

Minutes later, Baby Boomer Karen Tumulty, the Washington Post’s national political correspondent, responded: “SMH. Seriously, youth is not an excuse. You are covering this candidate. READ A BOOK, PEOPLE.”

And so began the great generational tweet-off of 2016

But as entertaining as the dust-up was, the fact is there was no reason Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter and child of the digital age, should have heard of Whitewater. Just as there is no reason we relics of the Huntley-Brinkley era (google it) shouldn’t have.

We had no choice … and he had no need.

We old dogs got our news dolloped out to us on a strict schedule by a handful of “trusted” news hounds. When Whitewater was declared news, we wolfed down Whitewater stories every weekday night at 6:30/5:30 Central.

Our reporter pup and his millennial pack, on the other hand, are grazers who consume their news all day long from countless sources. They don’t have many cultural touch stones catalogued in their heads for two reasons. 1. With so many news outlets today, it takes a monumental story indeed to achieve “cultural touch stone” status. And 2., if they do need to learn about a historic news item, they know how to find everything they need.

So if you plan to communicate with Millennials, you need to understand that their way of consuming information is very different from ours. You can’t simply shout “news treat!” and expect them to come running. You’ve got to create content that interests them, and then put it where they can sniff it out themselves.

Here are four simple ways to do just that:                 

Discover your passionate audience. You need to identify who really cares about your issues. If your strategic communications plan calls for you to target “women 35 to 54,” you’re not really targeting anybody. To discover your passionate audience, you have to forget size and focus instead on common interest. I can guarantee you that there are plenty of people you’ve never even heard of who are passionate about some aspect of your organization’s quest. Your job is to discover who they are so they can discover who you are.

Learn where the Venn diagram of your story overlaps with their interests. Nobody cares about every aspect of your organization’s mission, except your CEO. And he may be jiving, too. To understand what your audience wants from you, you have to understand what aspects of your quest people care about enough to talk about. To do that, search Twitter using terms that reflect your quest and see who is tweeting (and re-tweeting) about them. Or visit the sites that cover issues directly and indirectly related to your quest and read the comments section see who has dropped by. 

Keep the relationship alive. When you have found your audience, connect with them on social platforms, subscribe to their blogs, react to their posts, react to their influencers’ posts, comment on articles that they are reacting to. (You’ll recognize the more fruitful avenues by the enormous number of “shares” and “likes.”) In short, develop a genuine relationship with your audience.

The power of the “share.” Nothing pleases a blogger more than someone sharing her post. If you find interesting content, share it. But don’t just put it on your website, because nobody goes there—not even you, if we’re being honest about it. Instead, scotch tape it to the Internet’s refrigerator—Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms.

It will take effort to build your audience. And your metrics will not be nearly as impressive as the proverbial “three billion impressions,” which as we all know is the teacup poodle of metrics: fascinating but absolutely useless. But this investment will result in a dependable, useful, and exponentially more engaged audience—a King Shepherd of an audience, if you will. And that will make all the difference.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Turks and Caicos!

Welcome aboard! You represent the 96th nation to visit this little shake shack! Come on in and meet all the folks!! There're are cold beers in the fridge and some M&Ms and pretzels on the coffee table. Mind the iguana. He tends to snap at strangers.

To reach your audience today, fire Ted Baxter and color outside the lines

"Oooo, part-time clerk
at Toys-R-Us! That sounds
fun, daddy!!"
I discovered the secret to effective online communication before Mark Zuckerberg lost all his milk teeth.

It was in the mid-1990s and my new boss, Rick Berman, was not pleased with my progress in generating media coverage of an economic study entitled, “Effects of Minimum Wages on Teenage Employment, Enrollment and Idleness.” I just couldn’t seem to craft a press release that made that topic interesting to reporters. Imagine that.

Following yet another of his increasingly menacing pep-threats, I locked myself in my office, thought back to my days as a reporter at The Red Bank Register, and tried to imagine what might make me pick up the phone and call the guy flacking this report. Then I drew my “press release.”

It was a mock-up of the faux resume of one “Les Likely,” an unremarkable teenager with a spotty work history and a very poor command of the English language. I added a coffee-cup ring stain in the corner and a red stenciled “REJECT” stamp in the middle of it and had the graphics department lay out and print 150 copies. Then I sent them to my media list with this short note attached: “Les Likely is about to lose his job again. Give me a call and I’ll tell you why.”

And they called. And I never wrote a traditional release again.

The lesson I learned then—which I use to this day—is this: before delivering any message, I must first determine exactly what it is about what I have to say that could possibly be of interest to my audience.

And as important as that lesson was in the 1990s, it is imperative today. You see, the days of making declarations in your best Ted Baxter voice and expecting the fish to bite are over. In fact, the more Ted Baxter-y you are the less likely you are to connect with your audiences.

Of course, there are inherent risks whenever you color outside the lines, but the benefits of creativity 
are worth the occasional ding, such as that time my laminated dollar-bill plan got us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, above the fold. I’ll let them recount it, since they tell it best:

We were intrigued by The Employment Policies Institute's latest cost-saving endeavor. To protest President Clinton's proposed minimum wage increase of $1 an hour, the Washington, D.C., business-funded think tank mailed laminated $1 bills to 300 reporters at various news outlets. According to our calculations, the cost of that little stunt could've furnished a minimum-wage earner with more than two months of the boosted hourly rate.

It’s true that my heart stopped beating briefly when I read the Journal that morning. But that hit actually lit up the phones with calls from other reporters interested in the study, demonstrating once again that any press is good press.