News Story

A DTE Push Poll? Utility Cagey About Ratepayer Survey

Refusing to release questions could allow cherry-picking responses for misleading PR

DTE Energy recently sent an online survey to residential ratepayers asking how they view the electric utility company and whether they approve of its actions and plans related to the environment.

Eric Younan, senior communications strategist for DTE, told Michigan Capitol Confidential that the survey was meant to gauge customers’ opinions on the “environmental progress of the company.” It would also help the company “understand the effectiveness of our customer communications.”

But when Michigan Capitol Confidential asked DTE for a copy of the full survey, the company said it was unable to supply one. Requests to Emicity, the market research firm which created the survey, were not answered.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has obtained parts of the survey from other sources. One question read, “‘Changes in global or regional climate pattern in the mid to late 20th century onwards that have been attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels’ is often referred to both as ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change.’ Which term is probably the one you would prefer that DTE use in its communications with you?”

Response choices included “Climate change,” “Global warming,” “Doesn’t matter—both terms are clear to me,” and “Neither—I don’t believe it’s a thing.”

Jason Hayes, environmental policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that DTE’s unwillingness to share the survey raises questions about its real purpose. The company, he said, could cherry-pick the results and only publicize responses that serve its interests. Hayes recommends the utility release all the questions. “That way people can look at the questions and say, ‘that was actually pretty leading’ or ‘that was pretty fair’,” he said.