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Astroturf Alert: Rallies Against Congressional Oil Spill Measures Represent Industry Views – Not Citizens

Sept. 1, 2010  

Astroturf Alert: Rallies Against Congressional Oil Spill Measures Represent Industry Views – Not Citizens

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

 Today marks the start of rallies across the country organized by the oil and gas industry to block Congress from passing much-needed measures to address problems that came to light during the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. 

 The American Petroleum Institute (API), which is organizing the events in Texas, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and Colorado, claims to speak not only for industry workers but for “countless consumers” who are concerned about the proposals.

 Don’t be fooled. This is phony grassroots. Americans were aghast at the BP oil disaster and what they learned subsequently: that the government exercises little oversight over offshore oil drilling, that there is a ridiculously low cap on oil industry liability in the event of a major spill, that technology has far outpaced the safety measures and much more.

In response, lawmakers drafted legislation that would set new safety standards for blowout preventers and other equipment intended to shut off wells in an emergency, eliminate the existing $75 million cap for oil companies’ liability for spills, restructure the industry-friendly agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, reform the royalty system to ensure oil companies pay their fair share to taxpayers for use of public land, and add protections for whistleblowers who call attention to safety violations in oil and gas operations, among other things.

 By staging these rallies, API is trying to distort public perception. In fact, people want the government to ensure that another BP oil disaster never happens again. Lawmakers would be derelict in their duty if they didn’t respond to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

 Last summer, API President Jack Gerard sent a memo to API member groups that laid out a plan to create astroturf rallies as a tactic to oppose climate change legislation. The memo asked recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warned: “Please treat this information as sensitive … we don’t want critics to know our game plan.”

Well, a year later, the game plan hasn’t changed, but the legislative focus has. We can’t let API – and its fake grassroots and well-funded media campaign – kill the oil spill bill.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.