American Petroleum Institute’s “Energy Citizens” Website Is Not a Pretty Picture

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When it comes to combating climate change legislation, the American Petroleum Institute (API) plays dirty (pun intended). In its efforts to prevent the climate bill from passing, the API recently launched a website – “Energy Citizens” – which allows site visitors to e-petition legislators and speak out against the bill. (API’s launching of the site is in line with recent goings-on at town hall meetings by (alleged) oil lobbyists and absurd “clean coal” advertising.) What kind of long-term social and economic effects will this “astroturfing” have?

According to the website, Energy Citizens is a “nationwide alliance of organizations and individuals” striving to “remind Congress that energy is the backbone of our nation’s economy and our way of life.” The website implies that, by opposing the bill, Americans will contribute to job preservation and the creation of affordable energy. It paints a picture of concerned “Energy Citizens” raising their voices to protect the American way of life. After all, aren’t self-expression and freedom among the most cherished American values? And if I’m an “Energy Citizen,” I must care about energy, right?

Yet a closer examination of the website – okay, any examination – reveals a carefully rigged system. One of the first things I noticed was that the site seems to rely on viewer video testimonials (instead of verifiable information) to spread its message. I also noticed that the first testimonial (a Texas resident’s description of “costly climate change legislation”) was from, well, Texas – something of a mixed-bag state when it comes to renewable energy support. I also noticed that the site’s unsupported claims that climate change could raise energy costs for American families and eliminate jobs are sprinkled throughout the site.

Perhaps most disturbing is the list of participating organizations. This list includes the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers, American Conservative Union, American Highway Users Alliance, Independent Petroleum Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a number of private petrol firms and non-energy companies in several states. (According to the Huffington Post, the API asked its member companies to recruit employees to participate in “Energy Citizen” rallies.) This list hardly depicts a grassroots movement, as one Grist.com blogger noted. It also confirms my suspicions that the API and its cronies will use whatever manipulative techniques it needs to use to accomplish its purpose.

API’s tactics, and those of other organizations with the same agenda, are downright scary. After all, Congress is due to pass the climate change legislation in September, and many Americans who are unconvinced of the realities of clean energy and climate change are vulnerable to their techniques.

Will climate bill supporters be able to convince the public that these powerful corporations are not telling the entire story? While we have the right communication tools and a leg to stand on, will these be enough?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.