Energy and climate rallies – real or astroturf?
Energy rallies organized by coal and oil industry.
Thousands rallied at a Houston theater yesterday to protest a new energy-climate bill pending in Congress. But was that "energy citizens" rally for real -- or just a bought-and-paid-for "astroturf" public relations event in the city that made the faux grass famous?Skip to next paragraph
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"Astroturf"campaigns that aim to mimic spontaneous grassroots public reactions -- rallies and public gatherings -- to public policy are on the rise in the late August muggy heat, many say.
Astroturf questions lurk behind news coverage of a spate of rallies often portrayed as spontaneous citizen outpourings about pending energy and climate legislation, but which may actually have much more to do with corporate PR muscle aimed at influencing policy.
During the healthcare debate, angry citizens shouting at US Senators made some speculate that some showing up for the town hall-style meetings reflected not broad public sentiment but perhaps corporate interests.
Now, even as the heated healthcare debate holds center stage, some analysts say the energy industry is taking a page from the healthcare debate playbook and creating or mobbing rallies, parades, and other events pretending to be a spectrum of concerned citizens.
Target: US senators returning home for their late-August congressional recess.
Despite signs and T-shirts, the Houston rally of more than 3,000 people – which was sponsored by a group calling itself Energy Citizens -- actually had a boatload of funding and logistical support from the oil and gas industry, according to an American Petroleum Institute (API) memo leaked late last week by the environmental group Greenpeace.
The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states' US Senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill and the Obama Administration's tax increases on our industry.
The memo was addressed to chief executives whose companies are members of API. It touted the use of a major event planning firm and identified 11 states where rallies could be held for maximum impact on the senators, who will vote on the climate-energy legislation in September.
One key, Mr. Gerard wrote, would be ensuring that company employees show up:
The measure of success for these events will be the diversity of the participants expressing the same message as well as the turnouts of several hundred attendees. In the 11 states with an industry core, our member company local leadership -- including your facility manager's commitment to provide significant attendance -- is essential to achieving the participation level that Senators cannot ignore. In addition, please include all vendors, suppliers, contractors, retirees, and others who have an interest in our success.