Another Astroturf Campaign
It was probably only a matter of time, but the oil lobby has taken a page from the anti-health-care-reform manual in an effort to drum up opposition to climate change legislation in Congress. Behind the overall effort — billed, naturally, as a grass-roots citizen movement — lie the string-pullers at the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade organization and a wily, well-funded veteran of the legislative wars.
Greenpeace, the advocacy group, uncovered a letter last month from the A.P.I. president, Jack Gerard, to industry C.E.O.’s revealing that the campaign’s central objective is to “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” specifically the Waxman-Markey bill recently passed by the House.
The Waxman-Markey bill seeks a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, partly by requiring emitters like power plants and oil refineries to invest in cleaner technologies or, if they cannot reduce their own emissions, to buy permits from companies that can. Either way, the bill will saddle polluters with new costs. The Senate will take up its own version of the bill this month.
So far, A.P.I. has organized nearly 20 rallies in oil-producing centers like Houston and smaller Rust Belt towns like Lima, Ohio, and Elkhart, Ind. The immediate audience typically consists of several hundred local residents, and the atmosphere is festive — marching bands and hot dogs.
Local residents are not, of course, invited to debate the consequences of global warming, or dwell upon those parts of the bill that could lead to a whole new industry — and the jobs that would go with it — based on alternative energy sources, or to a future in which people save money by buying more fuel-efficient cars. The narrative they get is one of unrelenting gloom —unaffordable gasoline, stratospheric home heating bills and shuttered industries.
One can always expect hyperbole from Washington lobbyists when billions are at stake, but two elements of the industry’s campaign are particularly annoying. One is the assertion that Waxman-Markey will inevitably mean $4-a-gallon gasoline. Two reputable studies of the bill — by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Administration — say that gasoline prices will increase by about 20 cents a gallon at most by 2020, an estimate that does not account for the effects of new investments in clean vehicle technology.
The second claim is that the bill treats the oil industry unfairly compared with, say, the electric utilities. But the bill does not prevent the oil companies from passing along whatever costs they incur to consumers. And let’s not forget that over the years few industries have profited as handsomely from government policies as the oil and gas industries.
What the oil companies are probably worried about is that people and industries will use less of their product as alternatives appear and consumers become more energy-efficient. But isn’t that the point of the exercise?