A petroleum industry trade group is asking oil companies to recruit employees and retirees to attend rallies attacking climate-change legislation, an approach to grass-roots politics that resembles strategies used recently by some opponents of health care reform.
In a memo this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard detailed plans for “Energy Citizen” rallies to be held in 20 states during the final two weeks of Congress’ August recess. Gerard wrote that the intent was to put a “human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” including a climate-change bill passed by the House in June.
“Please indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies,” Gerard wrote in the memo, saying that contractors and suppliers should also be recruited.
Environmental groups on Saturday criticized the rallies, which they described as manufactured events intended to pass as organic assemblies of concerned citizens. Greenpeace activists said they saw parallels to the health care debate, where opponents of reform – including some organizations that receive heavy funding from industry groups and individuals – have organized efforts to shout down lawmakers at town hall meetings.
“It’s the most powerful among us, masquerading as grass-roots outrage to stifle debate on global warming,” Michael Crocker, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said of the oil group’s plans. “These are manufactured concerns, and the people who get involved in this are paid to put on this theater.”
The memo, obtained by Greenpeace, was first reported Saturday by the Financial Times.
Kert Davies, another official with Greenpeace, said the group opposes the climate bill, too, deeming it too lenient on polluters.
In a telephone interview, Gerard defended the meetings – which he said are designed to be standalone rallies, not efforts to pack lawmakers’ meetings – as events of education and discussion.
“There’s a lot of folks out there that would like to suggest that anybody that doesn’t agree with their views somehow doesn’t play by the rules. We disagree strongly with that,” Gerard said. His group says that the bill passed by the House would cost millions of jobs and burden the U.S. economy with higher energy costs.
The House bill calls for a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, measured against 2005 levels, by 2020. It would also require polluters to buy “allowances” for each ton of emissions and allow them to exceed their allotted share of pollution only by purchasing more allowances.
The oil industry seems divided on the issue. Spokesmen for Shell Oil and BP America, both members of the American Petroleum Institute as well as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has supported a “cap-and-trade” approach, said Saturday that they would not participate in the “Energy Citizen” rallies.
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