Oil Companies Plan to Sponsor “Citizen Rallies”

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 20, 2010
While members of the US Senate make the town hall rounds in their home districts this summer, they are likely to hear at least two opposing viewpoints on clean energy.  On the one hand, environmental groups and supporters of federal action to curb global warming plan to use the Senate’s summer recess to vent their frustration at senators’ inability to pass climate and clean energy legislation this year.  In contrast, other voices at the town halls are likely to insist that energy legislation which cracks down on big polluters would cost jobs in the US.  On the face of it, the situation seems like a perfect example of two opposite viewpoints each employing the democratic process to make their own arguments. 
But a closer look at what’s going on reveals a very different picture.  It turns out the major force behind so-called “citizen rallies” that oppose curbing carbon emissions is an oil-industry sponsored campaign to give the impression that there’s widespread opposition to climate legislation.
There is nothing new about oil companies and other fossil fuel industries using their influence to generate a less-than-genuine “grassroots” movement.  In fact the practice has become so common that environmentalists have a word for it: initiatives that appear citizen-driven but actually originate with corporations are referred to as fake or “astroturf” movements.  In one example from last September, a major Labor Day event in West Virginia which was billed as a jobs rally turned out to actually be the brainchild of corporations like the coal mining company Massey Energy.  The rally appears to have been part of Massey’s strategy to convince law makers that coal mining provides essential jobs in the eastern US. 
In a similar manner, this summer industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute plan to turn out as many oil industry sympathizers as possible to senator town hall meetings, presumably hoping the movement will appear to be locally based and supported by the grassroots.  Whether these “citizen rallies” will be able to shake off the appearance of a corporate PR campaign is another question.
Meanwhile environmental and climate groups argue that the real grassroots movement brewing this summer is an increasingly loud chorus of voices calling for action to reduce global warming and create green jobs through investments in renewable energy.  Citizen advocacy groups like 350.org, 1Sky, True Majority, and Public Citizen are encouraging supporters to attend town halls and ask senators why they failed to pass a climate bill.  350.org alone has already registered more than 2,500 people to “shadow” senators at upcoming town halls.  A coalition of environmental groups known as Clean Energy Works is getting creative, and will be holding CarnivOIL street theater events in 25 cities, designed to make a mockery of senators’ beholdenenss to the oil industry.
In the end, it appears to be an over-simplification to say two equally authentic viewpoints will be dueling to be heard at town halls across the US this summer.  Rather, one truly grassroots movement will be pushing for solution to global warming and invetsments in renewable energy.  At the same time a corporate-based campaign to prevent action on climate issues will be attempting to use senator town halls as an opportunity to push oil industry interests.
Photo credit: Futureatlas.com

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