With the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill headed for a vote in the Senate sometime after Labor Day, oil and energy companies have embarked on a coordinated series of rallies aimed at derailing the environmental legislation. The campaign is a prime example of what has come to be known as “astroturf” advocacy, in which corporations and interest groups stage faux-grassroots events and letter-writing campaigns intended to project and create populist outrage.
In the coming weeks, Energy Citizens—a group birthed from the American Petroleum Institute—will be holding rallies in 11 states that will serve as both celebrations of the oil industry’s history in those states and as protests against the cap-and-trade system outlined in Waxman-Markey. Greenpeace recently obtained a memo sent by the API to its member companies directing them to ensure high turnout at the events.
“The measure of success for these events will be the diversity of the participants expressing the same message, as well as turnouts of several hundred attendees… our member company local leadership—including your facility manager’s commitment to provide significant attendance—is essential…”
Apparently the API would have preferred to keep its involvement at least somewhat secretive though. “Please treat this information as sensitive,” the letter says. “We don’t want critics to know our game plan.”
Though several key API members are on the record as supporting the legislation—both BP and Shell are also members of the Climate Action Partnership, a group established in part to advocate for cap-and-trade—the API’s role in these astroturf campaigns certainly calls their motives into question.
According to the industry, cap-and-trade would cause companies at all levels of energy production to incur higher costs. API claims those costs will lead to increased gas prices which will in turn stunt economic growth and hurt the jobs market. It’s precisely this message that Energy Citizens was created to convey to a public that has never held Big Oil in particularly high esteem: carbon-limiting legislation doesn’t just hurt corporate profits, it also hurts the middle and lower-class workers.
In conjunction with the rallies, the lobbying firm of Bonner & Associates was also retained to carry on a phony letter-writing campaign aimed at congress. Representative Tom Perriello recalls receiving a series of letters purporting to be from members of the NAACP and a Hispanic community activist group called Creciendo Juntos. “They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich of Creciendo Juntos to the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Bonner & Associates has since admitted to being behind the phony letters and apologized.
Though astroturf campaigns have thus far been successful in derailing the Democrat-backed healthcare reform bill, it remains to be seen whether they will find any traction on the energy policy front. A majority of Americans would like to see some form of climate change legislation signed into law, but according to a May 11 Rasmussen poll, only 24 percent of Americans even know what cap-and-trade is. If the largely despised oil industry can succeed in keeping its role in these campaigns a secret, it could very well succeed in framing the debate on capping carbon emissions.