Truth In Agitating On Climate

by Bill Chameides | August 18th, 2009
posted by Wendy Graber (Researcher)

Permalink | 2 comments

Are rallies today more apt to be genuine grassroots or astroturf events?

Those rancorous town hall meetings on health care are about to be replicated on climate; only this time they will be brought to you by the American Petroleum Institute.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) characterizes itself as “the only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry,” and includes nearly 400 corporate members.

Not surprisingly, the climate change issue has been a difficult one for API and its member organizations. Addressing climate change will mean lowering carbon dioxide emissions which in turn will require a reduced dependency on fossil fuels – the sale of which goes directly to the bottom line of most energy companies.

Sea Change in Petroleum Industry?

But there have been cracks in the energy industry’s opposition to climate legislation in recent years. After all, if you are an entrepreneurial and nimble company, change can be an opportunity rather than a liability. A reduced reliance on fossil fuels does not mean the end of our need for energy. It just means that other types of fuels and energy generation techniques will be needed. The companies that take the lead in developing those new fuels and techniques will almost certainly reap huge profits in the new low carbon economy. Those that sit on the sidelines will almost certainly lose out.

And so petroleum companies have been changing their tune, investing in alternate energy, and trying to play a constructive role in the design of climate change legislation in the United States. Even ExxonMobil, notorious for its opposition to climate change and its programs to debunk climate change science, has gotten into the act, making a huge investment in developing biofuel from algae. ExxonMobil has also announced support for a carbon tax to reign in greenhouse gas emissions.

Most notable among the API community are BP America, Shell, and ConocoPhillips who joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) that has endorsed [pdf] the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 recently passed in the House and, in a similar form, is being considered in the Senate.

No Sea Change at API

Nevertheless, API has come out in opposition [pdf] to Waxman-Markey, claiming cost increases for consumers that are not consistent with predictions of the Congressional Budget Office  and EPA.

API further argues that there is no “low carbon source to fuel the nation’s 250 million cars.” Compare that with the op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal from natural gas mogul T. Boone Pickens (and Ted Turner).

API Orchestrating “Spontaneous” Demonstrations

Apparently taking a stance against legislation has not been effective enough for API so they have decided to get proactive… well proactive on the “QT”.

Recently Greenpeace got a hold of an interesting memo [pdf] that came from the desk of API CEO Jack Gerard and describes plans to hold organized rallies parading as grass-roots protests (otherwise known as astroturfing). The full memo has not appeared in the press, but copies abound on the blogosphere where it is garnering much attention (see here and here).

Here are some of the highlights.

The memo’s salutation is “Dear API Member Company CEO/Executive.” It describes plans for noontime anti-cap-and-trade climate legislation “Energy Citizen rallies” in 20 states to put “a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states’ U.S. Senators.”

According to the memo, API “will provide the up-front resources…This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups. It also includes … providing a field coordinator in each state, conducting a comprehensive communications and advocacy activation plan for each state, and serving as central manager for all events.”

The memo goes on to request the assistance of all API members; and specifically to “indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies.” I have never worked for an energy company so I don’t really know, but I think someone might find it hard to stay at his or her desk after the boss indicates he’d really like you get out and protest.

Wither USCAP Members?

This whole thing must be a bit of an embarrassment for companies like Shell and BP America, who belong to API but support Waxman-Markey (ConocoPhillips does not support Waxman-Markey in its current form). It will be interesting to see if their support is deep enough to disavow the efforts of their trade organization. Absent this, I could see some questioning the sincerity of their Waxman-Markey support and wondering if their association with USCAP is tinged with just a little greenwashing.  We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out in the coming weeks.

Just Give Me Some Truth

Rallies are as American as … tea parties. And if API wants to organize rallies so be it. But let’s have some truth in agitating. If it’s a rally organized by API and whose attendees are composed of employees of API companies who were encouraged to attend the rally by those very same companies, then call it an API rally.

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  1. Chris Winter
    Aug 21, 2009

    A rally for “Energy Citizens” in Dallas was apparently closed to anyone but invited guests — meaning some bigwigs and the energy company employees who were bused in. Even some locals holding anti-ACES Act signs were excluded. I wonder if this study will change any minds. (I’m surprised you haven’t picked up on it, since one of the researchers is at Duke.) Renewable Energies Will Benefit US Workers’ Health, Expert Predicts ScienceDaily (Aug. 19, 2009) “The energy sector remains one of the most dangerous industries for US workers. A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1300 worker deaths over the coming decade,” says Dr. Sumner.

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