Oil lobby and its allies manufacture ‘astroturf’ rallies against climate legislation

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The American Petroleum Institute, with an “eyes only” tactical memo, urged member companies to recruit their employees, retirees, vendors, and contractors to attend ‘Energy Citizen’ events across the country during the August congressional recess to show opposition to climate legislation. Other corporate and anti-tax interest groups joined in.  Greenpeace released the leaked memo, the story was developed in the ‘netroots’ news media and blogosphere, then picked up and reported in the leading newspapers.  Activist groups, bloggers, online alternative media, and good newspapers—all essential.

Here’s a case example of how alert, online new media journalism and progressive bloggers are the first to cover a story that then is picked up by leading mainstream media:

On August 13, Kevin Grandia, writing in DeSmogBlog, a Canadian website devoted to investigating and counteracting the global warming disinformation campaign, had this:

Leaked Memo: Oil Lobby Launches Fake “Grassroots” Campaign

An internal memo obtained recently by Greenpeace USA details polluting interests’ plans to launch a nationwide astroturf campaign attacking climate legislation at public events scheduled throughout the final weeks of recess before the Senate returns to debate the issue in September.

The email memo (download a PDF copy), which appears to come from the desk of American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard, asks API’s member companies to recruit employees, retirees, vendors and contractors to attend “Energy Citizen” rallies in key Congressional districts nationwide in the closing weeks of the August recess.  The campaign plan places a special focus on 21 states picked by API for having “a significant industry presence” or “assets on the ground.”…

Taking a page from the playbook of astroturf campaigners currently crashing health care town hall events across the country, API hopes to similarly sully productive communications between Congress members and their actual constituents at public events scheduled for the coming weeks.  Gerard states that API is ready to bus in company members and provide logistical support, and reveals that API has retained “a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups.”

Gerard’s email states that API is partnering on the rally campaign with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, confirming that the groups are staging a coordinated effort to attack climate legislation despite the fact that several prominent members of these groups have stated support for strong Congressional action to combat climate change.

Greenpeace sent a letter to Gerard yesterday asking him to verify the authenticity of the email, and pointing out that the plan “runs contrary to several prominent API members’ public support for climate action, namely Shell, BP America, ConocoPhillips, General Electric and Siemens.” 

The memo closes with a ‘for your eyes only’ plea: “Please treat this information as sensitive and ask those in your company to do so as well… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.”…

David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post picked up the story on August 16:
Oil Group’s ‘Citizen’ Rally Memo Stirs Debate—Firms Asked to Recruit Employees, Retirees

Then, Kate Sheppard, a good political reporter with Grist, an online environmental news and commentary site, wrote on August 17:

Astroturf wars continue as more info comes to light on ‘Energy Citizen’ rallies

News broke on Friday that the American Petroleum Institute is urging member companies to recruit their employees, retirees, vendors, and contractors to attend “Energy Citizen” events across the country over the August congressional recess. Today, we have some updates to the story:

It’s not just energy interests backing the astroturf efforts; major conservative and anti-tax groups are jumping in. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are both part of the coalition, and API tells TPMMuckraker that its campaign is funded by a variety of corporate and conservative groups —including 60 Plus, FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union, National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Tax Reform….

On August 18 Sheppard followed up with:
Industry groups launch astroturf ‘Energy Citizens’ website

This morning, August 19, the New York Times has a good article covering one of these corporate ‘astroturf’ creations:

Oil Industry Backs Protests of Emissions Bill

HOUSTON — Hard on the heels of the health care protests, another citizen movement seems to have sprung up, this one to oppose Washington’s attempts to tackle climate change. But behind the scenes, an industry with much at stake — Big Oil — is pulling the strings.

Hundreds of people packed a downtown theater here on Tuesday for a lunchtime rally that was as much a celebration of oil’s traditional role in the Texas way of life as it was a political protest against Washington’s energy policies, which many here fear will raise energy prices.

“Something we hold dear is in danger, and that’s our future,” said Bill Bailey, a rodeo announcer and local celebrity, who was the master of ceremonies at the hourlong rally.

The event on Tuesday was organized by a group called Energy Citizens, which is backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main trade group. Many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces….

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