In every field, there is a standout. In swimming, it is Michael Phelps. In tennis, it is the Williams sisters. In the packed field of boring press releases, there is one unquestioned master: Taxpayers for Common Sense. This has been true for years.
As expected, in this year’s Rhetorical Special Olympics, the gold medal went to TFCS.
This comes as no surprise to aficionados of press releases. Year after year, the TFCS has dazzled the PR world with its ability to turn interesting and even crucial discoveries about government malfeasance into narcoleptic masterpieces.
“Liberals try hard,” said R. Blatant Duress, a long-time Washington Beltway insider, “but they cannot get the hang of it. With Taxpayers for Common Sense representing the conservative movement, the liberals don’t stand a chance.”
The TFCS won the gold with this stellar performance. The press release began with this paragraph — the paragraph which determines whether anyone will actually read the entire press release. Here is what the reader was forced to get through.
The Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program was created in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to provide Treasury-backed loan guarantees for selected energy projects. These include fossil fuel technologies such as coal-to-liquid, or converting coal into a liquid fuel through the Fischer Tropsch Process, and advanced coal gasification. Several companies are actively seeking these loan guarantees and currently being reviewed by the DOE loan guarantee office for final approval.
One judge explained: “To lead off with a paragraph this long, with this little eye-catching information, is evidence of real professionalism. It usually takes ten years or more of working for a federal bureaucracy to be able to write a paragraph like this. We call this the ‘lead balloon’ factor. Rarely do we see any press release with this degree of mastery.”
Another judge said he was greatly impressed by the insertion of the utterly obscure “Fisher Tropsch Process” into the first paragraph. “Not one judge had ever heard of the Fisher Tropsch Process. Then we checked with Wikipedia. Here is what it says.”
The Fischer–Tropsch process, or Fischer–Tropsch synthesis, is a collection of chemical reactions that converts a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons. The process, a key component of gas to liquids technology, produces a synthetic lubrication oil and synthetic fuel, typically from coal, natural gas, or biomass. The Fischer–Tropsch process has received intermittent attention as a source of low-sulfur diesel fuel and to address the supply or cost of petroleum-derived hydrocarbons.
“Not one judge understood this entry. We realized that the press release was simply a masterpiece. We gave it a 16 out of 16 for obscurity.”
A third judge said that what had impressed him most was the overall impact of the press release. “It paralyzes reader interest by means of the ‘reversed hope technique.’ It offers one lure of possible interest early in the document, and then, five excruciatingly boring paragraphs later, takes this hope away. Let me demonstrate. First, the hope of interest: government waste.”
But because the Department of Energy loan guarantee program lacks basic taxpayer protections and has overall structural flaws, taxpayers stand to lose billions on risky projects. To date, the loan guarantee program has provided 30 conditional and final guarantees for renewable and energy efficiency, as well as one nuclear reactor and one uranium enrichment facility. DOE recently stated that two advanced fossil energy loan guarantees could be approved in 2012. Based on the current finalists, this would risk more than $4 billion in taxpayer funds.
“Then, five paragraphs later, we read this: no money has been committed to a single boondoggle. Not one!”
The loan guarantee authority has no expiration and has yet to be committed to any project. In 2008, DOE held a solicitation for fossil applicants. In response, eight companies applied including DKRW Advanced Fuels LLC, Christian County Generation LLC, Mississippi Gasification LLC, Indiana Gasification LLC, Baard Energy, TX Energy LLC, MEP-I LLC, and Mississippi Power Company. Since then, four companies have withdrawn.
The judge continued: “Well, which is it? Is this a standard, run-of-the-mill story on bureaucratic waste, or is it the astounding story of a government agency that has had $8 billion in the kitty for seven years, and has yet to spend a dime? The confusion factor won this press release a 15 overall. I can tell you that all of the judges were impressed.”
The judges were also impressed with summaries of four applications for government guaranteed loans that were withdrawn. Another judge explained. “For turgidity, these four sections earned at minimum rating of 14 — very high. But then there was this: none of the projects received any money. Usually, a press release from a right-wing organization hones in on wasteful spending. The document speaks of eight projects that have been considered, yet focuses entirely on four projects that have been withdrawn from consideration.”
He went on. “Do you see the brilliance of this strategy? Most press releases by right-wing organizations focus on government waste. This one focuses on the absence of any evidence of waste. We had never seen seen anything like this before. It was a tour de force.”
He gave this example of the combination of sheer turgidity coupled with irrelevance.
Eight companies applied for advanced fossil fuel loan guarantees but only four remain in the queue. From 2007 to early 2009, Baard Energy pursued a loan guarantee worth $1.2 billion for its proposed $6 billion coal-to-liquid plant near Wellsville, Ohio. The plant aimed to produce 53,000 barrels of liquid coal per day while creating 250 MW of electricity. In March 2009, facing repeated project delays and cost increases, Baard Energy was forced to withdraw their application.
“Do you see it? Not a dime was wasted by the government. The company was looking for $1.2 billion, but blew the project so badly before it received any loan guarantees from the government that it withdrew the application. Then the press release follows with three more examples, all equally turgid. Yet the stories appear in a press release on government waste. How often do you see that? We judges never do.”
Duress, cited earlier, is a long-time donor to Taxpayers for Common Sense. He said how proud he was that his money was having this kind of impact. “We conservatives are always looking for ways to spend money inside the Washington Beltway. This kind of performance is what keeps us going.”
Taxpayers for Common Sense had no comment.
To read the gold-medal press release from start to finish, click the link.