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Energy and climate rallies – real or astroturf?

Energy rallies organized by coal and oil industry.

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Mr. Gore's group, she says, is rallying supporters and claiming that the energy climate bill will create green jobs. "Well, we're for oil sector, trucking, and farming jobs," she says. "We need a real dialogue about the climate bill -- and that should be both sides. But those with opposing views see it as somehow wrong for us to express that."

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API is hardly the only group organizing events. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which opposes the climate-energy bill, is launching a $1 million campaign that will deploy its 225,000-member "America's Power Army," to "townhall meetings, fairs, and other functions" in Michigan, Ohio, and Virgnia, Greenwire reported.

Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Mass. is investigating one of ACCCE's public relations firms Bonner & Associates, to determine whether it sent faked public letters on energy issues sent to several members of Congress. (Here's our earlier post about these letters.)

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), another group that receives much funding from an ideologically driven foundation with ties to the oil refinery industry, has been touring key states in the Midwest on a "Hot Air Tour" offering free balloon rides.

For those showing up to view them in Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia, the message is focused on the congressional push to cap carbon emissions and trade emissions. Written on the side of one of the huge red balloons: "Cap-and-trade means: lost jobs, higher taxes, less freedom."

A key problem, critics say, is that such events are often covered by news media outlets, especially television news, although it may never become clear who sponsors them.

"We don't have any issue with folks wanting to attend rallies or speak their mind," says Michael Oko, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington environmental group. "What we're concerned about is that it seems these groups are intent on spreading misinformation and fear to the public. It's not being made clear who is funding and supporting these events."

But Mary Ellen Burke, state communications manager for AFP, says such events are not "astroturf." "These are people who live in the community of the region, and bring their own signs," she says. "They talk about upcoming tea parties, town hall meetings. It's all organized among themselves. We just provide an event where they can come together."

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