Friday, August 21, 2009

Vets to Big Oil: Enough Astroturfing

Add veterans to the growing list of groups slamming the American Petroleum Institute's tactics in creating a false movement against clean energy and climate reform. Operation Free, a coalition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and national security experts, criticized the "Energy Citizens" Astroturf campaign orchestrated by the API and other Big Oil interests as harmful to America’s energy security. Per the Huffington Post:
“Veterans understand the connection between energy security, climate change and national security,” said Jon Powers, Chief Operating Officer of the Truman National Security Project and an Iraq war vet.

Describing climate change as a “threat multiplier” for the armed forces, Powers denounced the ‘Energy Citizens’ campaign, stating that Big Oil does not have America’s best interests at heart. “Veterans do not want to see America’s national security in the hands of Big Oil,” said Powers during the press teleconference today.
Drew Sloan, another Iraq and Afghanistan vet with Operation Free:
Sloan denounced ‘Energy Citizens’ and other oil and coal industry Astroturfing as “lies and misleading innuendo,” and described an unstable future in which American soldiers could lose their lives fighting wars over dwindling resources.
The veterans are, of course, spot on. In addition to revitalizing our economy, creating millions of jobs and cutting down harmful greenhouse gas emissions, producing more clean energy here in America means our economy won't be dependent on access to a foreign countries that don't really like us in order to keep running. Coming from those who have seen the dire consequences of this dependence firsthand, that's a pretty powerful message.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Weak" in Review: Letter Fraud, Astroturf, And Funny Nicknames

This has been a banner week for exposing as a fraud the so-called “grassroots” movement to stop clean energy reform. In fact, so many dirty tricks have surfaced that we thought it might be helpful to offer a brief review:

First, Politico reported that investigators with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming turned up six more fraudulent letters sent by the now-famous Bonner & Associates to House Democrats pretending to represent senior citizens, Hispanic groups and the NAACP. While that makes a total of 13 different letters sent to Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Christopher Carney (PA) and Tom Perriello (VA) now proven to be fakes, Bonner & Buddies – working for the front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity – sent a whopping 45 more letters that have yet to be confirmed as false. Although the company has blamed a temporary employee who has since been fired, a former Bonner staffer who now works on Capitol Hill described forged letters as standard practice, observing that the company “just got caught this time.”

Of course, this week has also seen the beginning of oil industry "Astroturf" events. Calling themselves “Energy Citizens,” some great on-the-ground reporting by Sarah McDonald at Texas Public Citizen revealed that the crew that showed up to the rally looked more like ExxonMobil’s softball team than a broad coalition of concerned citizens (via Grist):
About 2,500 energy employees were brought by charter bus to the Verizon Wireless Theater, a private location that could be easily secured to keep undesirables out. David, Ryan, and Andy were all denied access, but stealthily dressed in Banana Republic and spectator pumps, I was able to blend in with the crowd and slip into the hot dog line.

Inside the theater it became evident quickly what a polished, professional event this was. Right at the door you could pick up a bright yellow t-shirt with a clever slogan on it like "I'll pass on $4 gas", "I'm an Energy Citizen!", and "Congress, Don't Take Away My Job!" The same lines could also be found on bumper stickers and the same kinds of cardboard signs you would wave at a football game.

My favorite aspect of the rally by far, however, was the high school marching band and star spangled dance team. When I asked one of the teenage dancers what she thought the rally was about, she told me she thought that it was about conserving energy.

Finally, it seems bad things come in twos. Yesterday, another industry front group posing as grassroots popped up under the banner Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security. Seems like a mouthful, but it’s so cute when you abbreviate it: “FACES of Coal.” As the Charleston Gazette reports, this newest PR campaign from the coal industry bills itself as “an alliance of people from all walks of life who have joined forces to educate the general public and lawmakers about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies.” The whole article is worth a read if you’d like a closer look at which local officials in West Virginia totally heart the coal industry.

There are, of course, no real faces behind "FACES of Coal" (also thanks to our friends at Grist):

FACES is allied with Friends of Coal, Coal Mining Our Future and the Coalition for Mountaintop Mining .

Grist tried to find out more about FACES, as the website does not list members or funders. The only contact information listed is an email address, and our email inquiry bounced back.

Weak indeed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Memo to Big Oil: Activism Shouldn't Be Mandatory, Require Salary

Yesterday, we witnessed the initial step in Big Oil's plan to launch a grassroots campaign opposing a clean energy and climate bill. Apparently stoked by the news coverage explosive healthcare town halls were receiving, Big Oil lobbying arm the American Petroleum Institute along with their oil and coal buddies held their own event in Houston, Texas.

Now, besides the fact that the event itself was not an official town hall but instead sponsored by API and friends, there were a few signs that perhaps indicated that this wasn't a traditional grassroots event. For example, it was held in the middle of the workday, a time at which most activists would be busy at their normal jobs.

The reason? All 3,000 attendees were technically on the clock. For Big Oil.

It turns out that in order to create the perception that there is indeed support for the oil industry's scare tactics, the only people to which they could turn were those who they pay. And they couldn't even get them to attend in their free time (via the Wall Street Journal):
More than 3,000 oil company employees on Tuesday flocked to a downtown Houston venue to listen to anti-climate bill spokesmen such as National Black Chamber of Commerce president Harry Alford and Houston Astros CEO Drayton McLane. The attendees were handed yellow T-shirts with slogans like “Higher energy taxes wipe out American jobs.”

A lot of them were bused in by their employers and asked to send letters to their Senators urging them to vote down the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House.
Of course, it shouldn't be a surprise that, facing actual pressure to curb their pollution and protect public health, the industry has had to resort to using their fat pocketbook to fund a "grassroots" movement. As we've seen time and time again, the only green Big Oil cares about is the kind with presidents' faces on it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

ConocoPhilips and Friends Drill Oil, Have It Too

As Big Oil launches their own campaign of fear in town halls, the question arises as to how certain member groups of the American Petroleum Institute, who is spearheading the clean energy smear campaign, reconcile their memberships with groups that are in fact advocating for a clean energy and climate bill, like the U.S. Climate Action Partnership?

In particular, oil giants ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Shell claim memberships to both of the groups in conflict.

The Guardian sought to get the three groups' responses:
Five members of Uscap are also in API, including BP which said its employees were aware of the rallies. Conoco Phillips, which was also a member of the climate action partnership, has also turned against climate change, warning on its website that the legislation will put jobs at risk, and compromise America's energy security. The company is also advertising the energy rallies on its website, urging readers: "Make your voice heard."

However, Shell, also a member of both groups, said it did not support the rallies. Bill Tenner, a spokesman, said: "We are not participating."

So there you have it: Conoco Phillips, having reaped the initial good publicity from joining USCAP, conveniently decided to go back to being a major impediment to creating an clean energy economy, improving our national security, and stopping the catastrophic effects of climate change, presumably because their bean counters determined it would hurt their bottom line. Of course, they had no such issue entering USCAP, who's express purpose is to "to call on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

BP's non-response and Shell's position of non-support, although appearing marginally better, don't really excuse the fact that their membership in both organizations is a major conflict of interest that allows them to appear as responsible corporate citizens while continuing to fund a campaign of misinformation that threatens to block meaningful energy and climate legislation.