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of the Washington University Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization
openly admits to "perpetuating the myth that coal can be used in a clean and sustainable manner," to being a "public relations tool for industry," to advancing coal industry "propaganda," distorting "public understanding" and hindering "real solutions." At first glance.
The consortium's real
website at cleancoal.wustl.edu
admits to no such thing, obviously. But an almost identically-named parody website, cleancoalwustl.org
, does. And now, the man behind it, Brian DeSmet of St. Louis, is under legal pressure from Peabody Energy
-- the world's largest private-sector coal company -- to quit his online hijnks.
The consortium is a research partnership between Washington University and corporate sponsors Peabody, Ameren
, and Arch Coal
. The stated goal
to "foster the utilization of coal as a safe and affordable source of
energy." It was founded in December 2008. Within months, the CEOs of
Peabody and Arch joined the school's Board of Trustees
"There's no such thing as clean coal," says 40-year-old DeSmet, who works for the non-profit Missouri Coalition for the Environment
but set up his site in the Fall of 2009 as a private citizen.
"There's nothing wrong with doing research, but [the people at Wash U
are] allowing themselves to be co-opted as a PR campaign for the coal
DeSmet isn't the first to make this point. A flash mob of students protested a consortium event in early November
DeSmet says he drew inspiration from the activist stuntmen known as the Yes Men
who specialize in what they call "identity corrections," defined as
"impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them."
The Yes Men now have a movie
out and claim their "targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."
his own site was up and running, DeSmet was contacted by a Wash U
official asking he take down the University's logo. He obliged her
Then, at about 6:30 Wednesday evening, DeSmet received a letter
via e-mail from local attorney Paul Fleischut
representing Peabody. The letter demanded that DeSmet "immediately remove the Site" by 8 a.m. the following morning.
Brian DeSmet's parody site
he wants to post his opinions under his own name, more power to him,"
Fleischut tells Daily RFT
. "But here, he's doing it under the banner of
the clean coal consortium...He's using our real name and our real logo,
so in that respect it's different from the South Butt case
...It's fraud and identity theft."
after receiving the letter, DeSmet took down the corporate sponsor
logos from his site. Thursday morning, Fleischut asked for additional
changes, such as changing the URL and deleting any mention of the
"I was like, 'Well that negates the whole idea of a parody website,'" DeSmet recalls.
He says he's sought legal assistance from a San Francisco attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
, a firm that's currently representing the Yes Men against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Fleischut confirms he'll be speaking with this attorney sometime today.
has known that people are objecting to the website for a long time,"
Fleischut says. "And he could just suspend [the site] until we work
this out. He has not yet done that."