API’s Faux Grassroots Campaign Draws Greenpeace’s Ire


God bless Greenpeace.

Faced with a multimillion dollar media juggernaut devised by the American Petroleum Institute (API), Greenpeace countered with simplicity and honesty: A grassroots campaign that speaks the truth to power, and turns up the heat on oil executives.

To cut to the chase, last week Greenpeace came to possess an API memo that described an expensive misinformation campaign — under the banner of Energy Citizen rallies — in great detail.

To their credit, API execs admitted that the email was authentic — perhaps because it was ready to launch — and that the $45 million initiative is designed to look like a grassroots rally, and not a staged event run by an experienced marketing company. It’s all about optics, and getting on the nightly news.

And that’s about as fair as I can be to API.

This is dirty pool. For one thing, rallies are to be held during business hours, and oil company employees are paid to attend. They’ve turned it into something of a carnival, and employees, contractors, and retirees are picked up in air-conditioned buses and driven right to the rally’s door where everything — including hand-lettered signs and pamphlets — are offered to all and sundry. Rally participants are supplied with T-shirts, hot-dogs and drinks, and then told that cap-and-trade legislation will lead to skyrocketing energy bills, and massive job losses

It’s playing to fear and uncertainty in an uncertain time. It’s also playing fast and loose with the truth. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Waxman-Markey bill will cost the average American family less than a dollar per day.

Greenpeace is having none of it. The letter-writing campaign they’ve designed asks executives at GE, BP, Shell, Chevron, Conoco and many other oil and energy companies, to denounce the API’s tactics by resigning.

It’s interesting as journalists solicit comments from various oil companies to Greenpeace’s challenge. At the very least, the Energy Citizen campaign should embarrass API members who have signed on with the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP) which ostensibly supports the The American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Greenpeace wants US-CAP members to counter this faux public relations campaign by API telling the truth. So far, Shell and BP have announced that they are not involved in organizing any rally events, but that they will not leave the API.

“Our focus is on seeking common ground with stakeholders that can aid Congress in enacting a fair and effective cap and trade program,” said a Shell spokesman from company headquarters in The Hague. “We will continue to express our position within API and other business and trade associations of which we are members.”

Cindy Baxter, a Greenpeace campaigner, said the contradiction inherent in many oil firms’ membership of both the API and the US-CAP group means they must to clarify their position on climate change legislation. “If they do not know what their lobbyists are doing, they need to find out,” she said. “There’s a contradiction in belonging to both groups. They need to distance themselves publicly from the API’s dirty tactics, and if the API no longer represents their views, they need to leave.”

I know where I won’t be buying my gas. And which nonprofit will get my next donation.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.

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