Trade Group Asks Oil Companies to Recruit Employees for ‘Citizen' Rallies

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009

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's 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 on by the Financial Times Saturday.

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 as events of education and discussion. He said they are designed to be standalone rallies, not efforts to pack lawmakers' scheduled meetings.

"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 the bill passed by the House would cost millions of jobs and burden the U.S. economy with higher energy costs.

This skirmishing over the memo shows how hot the debate on climate-change legislation has become, even with health care dominating the Hill. Last week, the Center for Public Integrity found that 1,150 firms and advocacy groups were lobbying over climate- change legislation.

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 buying more allowances.

Democratic leaders in the Senate have said they will use the House bill as a model for their version of the legislation.

The oil industry seems divided on the issue. Shell Oil and BP America, both members of the American Petroleum Institute, are also members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has supported a "cap and trade" approach. Spokesmen for both companies said yesterday they would not participate in the "Energy Citizen" rallies.

And former vice president Al Gore's group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, is part of an effort to hold rallies attended by people who have -- or would like to have -- jobs in the renewable-energy sector. Their economic prospects might improve if a climate bill passes.

Alice McKeon, a spokeswoman for the group, said she did not think attendees were being recruited through their employers, in the way the oil group aims to do.

"They're reaching out to the businesses directly and getting their people involved in it, as employees, and that's not something that we've used as a tactic," she said.

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