Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Oil Industry Behind 'Energy Citizens Rallies'
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
The U.S. oil industry's main lobbying organization is behind a series of "energy citizens rallies" against pending climate change legislation, including two in New Mexico later this month, according to a memo obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace.
"We don't want critics to know our game plan," American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard said in the internal memo, which Greenpeace provided to the Journal. A spokeswoman for the institute confirmed the memo's authenticity.
Greenpeace U.S. executive director Phil Radford, in a response addressed to Gerard, characterized the rallies as "astroturf," an effort by corporations to create the appearance of grass-roots support for an issue.
An American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman said they are a legitimate effort to give voice to concerns held by the companies' employees and various other groups.
The institute argues that climate change legislation will cost jobs and raise energy costs. Advocates counter that it will contribute to a new green energy sector that will actually lead to economic growth.
Greenpeace research director Kert Davies called the rallies a "behind-the-scenes plan to disrupt the debate and weaken political support for climate regulation."
The New Mexico rallies are scheduled for Roswell on Thursday and Farmington on Friday. A list published on oil giant ConocoPhillips' Web site lists 21 events nationwide.
In his memo, Gerard acknowledges that the primary reason particular states were targeted was "to aim a loud message" at those states' U.S. senators.
New Mexico's senior senator, Democrat Jeff Bingaman, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. As such, he is likely to play a key role in the final climate change and energy legislation taking place this fall in the Senate.
The target of the oil industry's ire is the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House of Representatives in late June.
It would set a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases, which come from burning fossil fuels and have been linked to global warming. The bill also sets up a trading mechanism, allowing companies to buy and sell emissions credits. That would establish a market aimed at finding the most cost-effective ways of reducing climate change emissions.
The Senate plans to take up the issue after deliberations on health care reform are completed, Bingaman said during a luncheon talk Monday in Albuquerque.
American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Cathy Landry said Monday the purpose of the rallies is to send a message to Congress that the House-passed legislation "will cost American jobs and it will raise energy costs."
Landry said a wide range of organizations have signed on in support of the rallies, from the Farm Bureau to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
A group of activists gathered outside the Embassy Suites Hotel on Monday, where Bingaman was speaking to an energy group, to send a different message.
Standing outside Bingaman's talk holding a sign that said "Make Our Energy Clean, Make It American," Sierra Club organizer Shrayas Jatkar said he and other activists had shown up to send a message that supporting climate change legislation means supporting green energy jobs.
"It's not just trees and frogs and the environment," Jatkar said. "It's business."
That message was echoed inside the meeting room, where Albuquerque technology entrepreneur Rusty Schmit said climate change, and the resulting need to change our energy infrastructure, could be a good thing for business.
"A lot of us believe it creates a lot of business opportunities," Schmit said.