Did An Energy Company Pay Actors To Support Fossil Fuel Plant?

Actors have come forward saying they were paid to show support for a new power plant in New Orleans during public hearings. Was the company behind them?

During a public hearing last October, dozens of people showed up in bright orange shirts in support of Entergy’s plan to build a $210 million power plant in New Orleans. But now that at least four of the people present that day admit to being actors, questions regarding the legitimacy of that event are being raised.

The Lens reported that the actors who spoke to reporters admit to being paid $60 for every time they showed up at similar meetings in October and February. Others even got $200 for delivering a speech.

“They paid us to sit through the meeting and clap every time someone said something against wind and solar power,” said Keith Keough, one of the actors.

At first, he thought the gig was a commercial

“I’m not political,” he explained. “I needed the money for a hotel room at that point.”

While only a few talked to reporters, at least one of the actors said he recognized 10 or 15 other individuals in the audience who were also known to work as actors locally. Despite the fact that the actors were required to sign non-disclosure agreements and were told to "tell nobody you're being paid," three decided to ignore the document and talk to The Lens. They also provided evidence that they got payment for endorsing the company.

A fourth actor also said he was paid to support the company in one meeting.

The actors, The Lens reported, were “literally paid under the table” after the October meeting at a local Dave & Busters.

After the report went live, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben called it a “mind-boggling story.” Not just because actors were used in these meetings, whose sole purpose was to gauge the local population’s support for the plant, but because in the end, "it worked."

On March 8, the city council approved the project 6-1, with the sole vote against the proposal coming from Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

In an interview with The Lens, Guidry said that while the reporters’ investigation did not directly link the use of actors with the energy company behind the bid, she thinks that there’s really nobody else who would be willing to go this far to get the ball rolling on this project.

“How can you not link Entergy to this?" she asked. "Who else would have paid all these people to come there and say they want a gas-fired power plant?"

While Entergy said it isn’t aware of ordering or having a third party organization order this particular campaign, it did say that it had launched an internal investigation.

Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, said that a dirty fossil fuel plant is the last thing the people of New Orleans need.

"What we deserve is a focus on more reliable infrastructure instead of this expensive gas plant from Entergy," Burke said.

"We demand a smarter energy future for our community and want investment in clean energy that truly provides resilience in the face of climate change. The world is watching and we cannot say we are preparing for a sea-level rise if we are doubling down on a gas plant in a floodplain," he said.

Astroturfing, the act of paying individuals to create the illusion that a particular agenda has the support of the people, may not be illegal, as The Lens found out. But the very fact that a company needs to pay for a public show of support demonstrates just how low it’s willing to go to get their project approved. 

Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Reuters/Jason Lee

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