Coal Export PR Flak Caught on Tape

Green in public, but black as coal in private.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

Screen shot of audio recording.As far as gotcha journalism goes, you’re not going to do a lot better than Mike Stark’s takedown of coal industry PR flak Lauri Hennessey.

Hennessey loves to posture as an environmentalist, often citing her roots in the Northwest or her former employment at the EPA. Yet she’s the spokesperson for a major coal industry front group—one that’s pushing huge export terminals in order to ship hundreds of millions of tons of low-grade coal to Asia.

In public, she feigns concern about global warming and pollution, but in private she mocks the public process and thinks it’s funny her employers deny the reality of climate change. Sightline has called her out before for taking money from big coal. And now thanks to Mike Stark, we really have the goods.

Stark recently attended a big coal conference where he was able to record Hennessey talking and joking with a senior VP of Arch Coal. The recording and transcript posted over at DeSmogBlog make for a case study in duplicity and hypocrisy. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: she is a key player in the coal industry, and an affront to the Northwest’s heritage of clean energy, progress, and basic honesty.

I’m curious. What do Sightline’s readers think of starting a Lauri Hennessey divestment campaign? As it happens, she runs a small communications consulting firm on the side where she has the gall to tout her environmental values. She claims that her clients include the City of Seattle, the Greater Seattle YMCA, and the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. Would it be worth contacting her clients to see how they feel about hiring a member of the coal industry to handle their communications?

Let me know what you think.


Update 10/10/13: A senior official at the City of Seattle informs me that the City has reviewed its relationship with Hennessey. There is only a single contract on record and it dates to 2007, which of course predates the current administration as well as the Northwest’s coal exports debate.



  1. S Wood says:

    I would want to know that the person hired to represent my company was promoting coal. Please do share this information with her clients!

  2. david jaffe says:

    Yes, I think we should educate her clients.

  3. Michael Laurie says:

    I think personally going after this person
    may not be the best way to win more
    people to the Sustainability team.

    I think words like empathy, forgiveness,
    reaching out, bridging the gap come to mind
    for me. Trust me, I have seen and been
    a part of more harsh ways of responding.

    But I think more kindness might be the better way.

    • Christin says:

      Inaction is not the same at empathy, understanding, or forgiveness, even if they are all very important concepts to keep in mind in this kind of situation. It’s also important to note, from her comments, that this woman probably has not yet reached a high enough level of emotional intelligence to be capable of exercising empathy. Combined with political and financial power, this is extremely dangerous. Thus our predicament of what to do when our children’s right to a habitable planet is being deliberately destroyed for the sake of profit.

  4. Christin says:

    I don’t think attacking her personally would be a good idea. However, bringing to her connections out in the open, in a noninflammatory way is a good idea.

    It’s like whistle blowing, we don’t want to cause trouble, but when we see someone violating the trust of others to the detriment of many, the truth must come to light.

    Consider the alternative. How much damage will this woman do in her position of power?

  5. Michael Laurie says:

    I think you make some great points Christin. I agree that trying to maintain some of the traits I suggested should not mean inaction. For what it is worth, I have spent most of the last 40 years working on conservation and sustainability projects, first 10 years in parks and forestry, then 30 years in energy and water efficiency and green building consulting – I do those last 3 now. And I lose sleep most nights over the fact that while we are making some progress we are not making enough progress fast enough. To me the best approach on fighting this coal problem is to continue the combined actions that Sightline and other have suggested including education, politics, protest, implement the alternatives to coal, make the benefits of clean energy more obvious to everyone and the costs of coal more clear, work for a carbon tax, and much more.

  6. Christin says:

    Absolutely, Michael! I completely agree that a combined effort is the way to go. We should be attacking the issue from all directions. I only meant to point out that allowing the spreading of lies and misrepresentation of facts is part of why progress to this point has been so ridiculously slow, and we should start by clearing up some of those misrepresentations by bringing the power connections at play to the surface and letting people decide for themselves. It’s perfectly possible to do so, while keeping your concerns in the forefront of our minds and making sure we are acting in a compassionate manner.

  7. Louise Stonington says:

    What do you say when someone tells lies about a friend? Tell the truth, every time. No more apathy in the face of destructive misinformation.

  8. Wells says:

    Here is an (acurate) transcript of the conversation recorded for reference. Do copy for reference.

    Matt Ferguson: I really enjoyed your presentation, by the way.
    Lauri Hennessey: Thank you.

    Matt Ferguson: It was really good, you lay it on the line, tell it like it is.

    Lauri Hennessey: Well that’s the thing, You guys got what I call the insider version, which is like, ‘here’s what we’re facing out here, here’s how wacky it is. We want to do more.’ We have different kind of focuses with this crowd, it’s definitely an insider crowd. But yeah, Deck is great. [Deck Slone, Arch Coal Senior Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy]

    Matt Ferguson: I talk to Deck a lot about it, and ah, as well as, ahh, Ken Cochran. [Kenneth Cochran, Arch Coal Senior Vice President of Operations]

    Lauri Hennessey: Yeah. And who’s the, Tom Altmeyer? [Tom Altmeyer, Arch Coal Vice President of Government Affairs]

    Matt Ferguson: Yeah he’s the guy in Washington. Yeah, he’s our….
    Lauri Hennessey: DC yeah, I talk to him sometimes too.

    Matt Ferguson: Yeah, OK, and uh, so, yeah, it’s an exciting project. We were just in the Far East last week, and of course we’re telling everybody, “It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming. [laughter] I just hope it is! [laughter] I hope we’re not lying to them.

    Arch Coal representative 2: You need to make it happen.
    Matt Ferguson: We’re just depending on you, Lauri.

    Lauri Hennessey: Yeah, no pressure! [laughter] No, it’s, it’s a hard- it’s a, it’s a very, it’s a very, um, interesting experience for people who don’t live out there [in the Northwest] – like our board on the Alliance, you can just tell them “it’s awesome” but it’s like, ‘No! This is so weird!’ So, yeah it’s kind of like an education process.

    Matt Ferguson: Your comment on the civil unrest was quite funny.
    Lauri Hennessey: Oh wasn’t it? Yeah, I got, I got hassled.
    Matt Ferguson: Yeah, it’s like, let’s be adults here.

    Lauri Hennessey: That was a project like a year ago, and, I think it was my second week on the job. So, I grew up in the Northwest, and I don’t know if you saw, I used to work for EPA a long time ago?
    Matt Ferguson: Did you? [laughter]

    Lauri Hennessey: Yeah. [inaudible] So I have – and I also worked for Bob Packwood on the Hill – so I have both sides. But we’re connected. I worked with EPA, and I pull that out in the right crowds, because in the Northwest, that’s a good thing, right? But it’s funny because I never really went out of my way to mention it to our Alliance board before. And one day I was quoted in the paper, because again I was speaking to the audience in Seattle, and I was like, “Well of course we’re concerned about climate change. Everyone’s concerned about climate change. But what we’re saying is this is not going to contribute to climate change. But someone from Peabody got on a call, it was my second week on the job, and said, “You were quoted saying coal’s worried about climate change? We don’t believe in climate change!” And I remember I was on the phone and I was like, “I can’t say that..ha. I can’t say that in Seattle!” [laughter]
    Matt Ferguson: Not worried about it!

    Arch Coal rep II: You can say that in St. Louis,
    but you can’t say that in Seattle.

    Matt Ferguson: Yeah. It’s not gonna happen.
    Lauri Hennessey: Yeah, I can’t say it in Seattle, and I remember she just goes, “Wow, we really have different regions, do we?!”
    Matt Ferguson: I think what you do is say, you’re trying to help people out of poverty in the Far East. Yeah.
    Lauri Hennessey: Exactly! And I did that.
    Matt Ferguson: Do they not deserve to enjoy prosperity? Like we have? Don’t be so selfish, you jerks! [laughter]

    Lauri Hennessey: And I said, ‘These are countries that are going to get coal,’ and ‘how are you going to say which coal they can get.’ You know, you try to take them down that path. But it was just more this great metaphorical “Welcome to the Alliance” moment. She’s like, “Why would you ever say we care about climate change?” And then she goes, “I looked at your bio, you worked at EPA. What’s going on here? You’re just a…”

    Arch Coal rep 2: You’re an insider, a narc! [laughter]

    Lauri Hennessey: Exactly… It’s been a long fun road of getting to know each other.
    Matt Ferguson: So… excellent.
    Lauri Hennessey: So yeah, let’s talk again.
    Matt Ferguson: Absolutely, I really enjoyed that.
    Lauri Hennessey: Ok, thanks.

  9. Ray Steiger says:

    I can not believe the 2 faced comments of Ms Laurie. No conscience, just $$$$. Here we have sea life dying in Puget Sound and off our coast, scientifically proven to be a result of an increase in the off-shoot of burning coal and other products. So we sell coal and oil to China, they burn it, and where do you think the airborne products go? How about the prevailing winds that end up depositing those dangerous poisons on our Northwest waters, killing our sea life, the economy of some of us, and the environment for ALL of us

  10. Fritz Ulrich says:

    ABSOLUTELY!! It’s a matter of life and death for us all and our planet.

  11. mb says:

    The epitome of Chump.

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